One more year. That’s all I need. One more year. One more month. One more week. One more day. Of course, the fig tree doesn’t get a choice in the matter, but we feel for it anyway. Life, especially now, seems like I am constantly longing for more — more time, more attention, more notice — not for the sake of some sort of self-aggrandizement, but because I long for others to see me. I long for more from myself to produce, to complete a project, to make a difference. I know there is fruit to bear, I feel it like a weight on my shoulders, but I just can’t seem to get there — does this sound familiar?
There is an urgency in this lection from Luke for this fourth Sunday in Lent which is matched, I think, by the tone of the Psalm. There is a sense of need that can’t seem to get filled. A sense of longing, as the Psalm commentary on the website notes, for something or someone, that we just can’t put our finger on.
Because it appears that when our longings are met, our chances of bearing fruit increase significantly.
A perfect Lenten theme, if you ask me.
Longing is powerful, potent. For what do you long? For whom? It denotes promise but also points to absence. It intimates need and the loneliness felt when needs cannot be met. Longing even causes one to move toward irrational expectations — of others, of yourself. Why? Because it hurts. The distance, the desire, creates a feeling that is almost indescribable — loss? Sadness? Grief? Some kind of pain? Disappointment?
Where and how our longings are met is never as secure as we want. People leave. Relationships get strained. That which is necessary to maintain closeness seems like a constant uphill battle. Persons and institutions disappoint, never change, perpetuate behaviors and attitudes that make our willingness to bear fruit difficult. Our longing gets rooted in a deeper and more potent truth — that, in the end, our longing is about wishing for different, on so many levels.
This passage from Luke and this Psalm together this week is an interesting pairing. The juxtaposition unearths the truth that often our longing is lodged in a deep-seated need to produce, to bear fruit. Why? That seems to be what people notice and it seems to be on that which we are judged and even judge ourselves.
But bearing fruit? Not sure how much more I can if someone doesn’t see me. I know that feeling during Lent for working preachers. To make Lent and Easter happen is a feat beyond many. It matters. It makes a difference. But I know you wonder if anyone pays attention. I suspect that while you may be able to encourage your parishioners to bear fruit in this rather dormant season, that is not as easily said to yourself. You’ve done enough. Now you ask, when will people realize it? Appreciate it? When will I appreciate myself?
It’s hard to bear fruit when there’s just not that much left to give. I get thirsty in a dry and weary land. I get the need for utter and true sanctuary known only in God. I get the need for a steadfast love that is better than life. I like that we can transition from Jesus gathering his brood under his wing, to singing for joy under the shadow of God’s wing.
And that is why I needed the Psalm this week. I needed these words to assure me that my longing to bear the fruit of the kingdom might be lodged not in my own sense of what I have to do, but in what I need to do — not to gain the closeness of God, because God does not need me to secure that promise. God already made that promise to me. Yet God needs my work for the kingdom, regardless of whether or not anyone notices. I think God wants me to know that my longings can truly be satisfied in God’s presence, God’s plan for me, God’s vision of the world. Not completely, maybe, but certainly more so than I am will to give God credit.
This is why the Psalm in response to the deep desire to bear fruit. Words to fill a need. Promises to sooth the emptiness. Provision when it seems that all you do is give. To bear fruit is just plain hard. We are grateful for the extra time, the second, third, fourth chances, but sometimes we wonder if we really can. Where will the comfort come? Where will the encouragement be felt? When will we know we’ve done enough for now?
I like imagining the possibility that soon my lips might indeed be able to offer praise and thanks, worship and honor because I have been able to experience God’s promises — not because they were not manifest before, but because before I simply could not see them, feel them, taste them before. I long for that praise to happen today, right now, immediately. But what I hear God saying to me in response? “It’s OK if you need one more day, one more week, one more month, even one more year, Karoline.”
And, it’s OK for you, Dear Working Preachers.