Nope. Not thinking about the 2000 release of the Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer horror movie of the same title. I’m thinking about a tree. An apple tree. An apple tree that stands in the northeast corner of my yard. An apple tree whose days are numbered.
On Saturday night, as I was returning from picking up some take-out and turning into my driveway, my eyes were drawn to my apple tree, which had a fairly large limb displaced from where it had been when I left the house, to the sidewalk which adjoins my tree. It was too late to do much about it, since night was falling, so I left it till the next day, when my kids, who were coming into town, could help me cut it up. Sunday afternoon arrived and with a little help from my chainsaw, limb lopper, and my kids, we made short work on the limb and deposited the pieces in a few plastic trash cans that I would take to our township recycling site later that day. A few hours later, as they packed up to head for home, I glanced toward the tree, and lo and behold … another smaller limb was down. Long story short … both limbs had dropped from a much larger limb, that upon examination, looked like it was dying. A little more work from my chainsaw revealed a lovely colony of carpenter ants living in the middle of this larger limb, which also bit the bullet, after I christened it with a final baptism of Terro Ant Dust. I have no doubt that the ants have other rec rooms in the trunk of the tree, so the rest of the tree will be disappearing soon, also.
The weekend experience invited me to ask myself the question … what destructive ant colonies live within me, unbeknownst to the world? What cancers eat away at me from the inside, while those around me have no clue about the disease that is consuming me? What choices do I make each week or each day, that invite an erosion of the spirit of God that is within me? Ants aren’t the problem with my inner life … sin is the problem. And it masquerades in my choices to embrace anger and resentment and jealousy and envy. The solution is not so simple as cutting off an arm, or leg, or finger and sprinkling some “sin dust” into the wound. The solution is a systemic examination of my sin, coupled with an intervention of the grace and forgiveness that only God can grant.
Liturgically, we call this solution … “Confession and Forgiveness.” We have observed this rite in a somewhat isolated way this past fourteen months, throughout the pandemic, as part of our live stream worship services. It is the best we have been able to manage, given the restrictions around gathering that common-sense health protocols have required. But our recent return to in-person worship at the 8AM hour, and the coming return of in-person worship also at 9:45 AM on July 4th, now allows us a fuller, in-person, face-to-face engagement of the rite of confession and forgiveness as God has intended it. Thank God for that. For the anthills of sin that gain purchase in our spiritual lives can only be banished by the powerful, forgiving Word of God, spoken among God’s people, gathered in community, as we speak words of grace to each other.
Man, is it good to be back to in-person worship. Amen.