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Peace in the Plumbing Isle

Probably like many of you, my mettle as a homeowner was put to the test this past week. Although the snow was beautiful, and a welcome break from the monotony of our COVID quarantine life, there is often an unfortunate, and literal, dark dimension to the glistening white wonderland outside. I am talking, of course, about basements, crawl spaces, boiler rooms, and attics–all of the uncomfortably tight, dangerously dank places that we don’t typically frequent. They all of a sudden draw a great deal of our attention when the temperatures drop into the teens and the snow begins to fall. We wonder about our home’s most vulnerable places, where the pipes are most exposed to the elements, where they are most likely to freeze and, God forbid, burst, wreaking all kinds of expensive havoc and likely knocking a couple of years off of our lives as a consequence of the added stress.

So, I got the opportunity to don my handyman alter ego a few times, and even dig out my favorite Carhart coveralls and ExtraTuff boots to venture into some of these domestic dungeons. It turns out that old churches, Like my wife’s church in Little Rock—Christ Church—are just as susceptible to the strain of cold weather as old homes are. I now know much more about rooftop water coolers and basement boilers than I ever thought I would. And I’m also forever grateful for the calm demeanor of the wizened HVAC pro who came out and educated me. Wielding his trusty blowtorch, thawing and soldering, he bravely exposed those leaky pipes for what they were. Instead of panic inducing, paralyzing nightmares, they were simply problems to be solved. I was humbled, and encouraged, by his willingness to work in the dirty darkness, headlamp ablaze, shining light—and hope—into a troubling situation.

The liturgical season of Lent, if you will, is not unlike a great snowstorm. The prayers we say together and the liturgies we celebrate draw us into those veiled places in our lives, which we tend to keep veiled for a reason. Lent encourages self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial. Kind of like facing the prospect of a pipe breaking in our basement when the mercury drops, moving into Lent can be somewhat wince-inducing. Like a crawlspace, though, our interior spiritual life is foundational. And a healthy spiritual life is only healthy insomuch as we are honest about what’s going on in there. Have we been paying attention to God’s movement in our lives, God’s prompts for us to make particular choices, to persevere or pause on the paths that we walk. Are our piers—our prayer life—solid, or are they in need of repointing? Where has our spiritual insulation frayed, or decayed, leaving us vulnerable when we encounter the creeping cold of temptation? Lent invites us to shine a light into that crawlspace.

In today’s passage from Mark, the disciple Peter—and I love Peter, by the way. He’s just so perfectly human—Peter gets thrown off by Jesus’ stark words about suffering and rejection. No, Jesus is not going to gallop into Jerusalem, guns a blazing and put down the Roman occupation. Jesus’ uprising, so to speak, is of a different sort altogether. So, Jesus asks Peter—he invites Peter—to examine himself. Is this “Jesus movement” about Peter and his desires, or is it about God’s desires for Peter? The latter means less control, it means that change might be involved, it means living life in a way that doesn’t set personal benefit as a priority, it means taking up the cross, bearing the burdens of others, it means believing, that is, putting our trust in God’s way. And sometimes it takes a snowstorm to push us to do the necessary preparation or repair to more clearly see, value, and ultimately move along that holy path.

Now, Peter doesn’t immediately get it—again, I love this guy—but it is important to note that Jesus’ words here are not just meant for Peter. Jesus “called the crowd with his disciples,” says the Gospel. Jesus was speaking to everyone in earshot. This was not privileged wisdom only for the initiated, this was food for the masses. Jesus didn’t say “take up your cross alone in your room.” No, Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me,” implying that this Christian journey is one that we take together. We are not meant to patch up our leaky pipes or shore up our foundations alone. No, you go find your neighbor with the ShopVac or the HVAC pro with the blowtorch and you brave those dark places together.

You know, last week I did get out to Home Depot on a quest to find a pipe fitting, and the plumbing isle was a sight to see. It was packed, and the shelves resembled the potato chip and bread isles at Kroger—you know what I’m talking about. There had been a run on fittings. There were pros and homeowners alike sifting through what was left. The 3/4” was mixed up with the 1/2,” only the expensive 300’ rolls of pex pipe were left, it was chaos I tell you. Now, you might expect a crowd-crushing, Black Friday-type situation here, and yet that was not at all what I experienced. Despite the stress everyone was under and the problem with the limited stock, the Home Depot plumbing isle was a sanctuary of camaraderie and mutual support. People were helping others find parts, plumbing tips were humbly sought and freely given. Each of us knew, by the dirt and mud visible on our clothing, that we had all been in crawlspaces that day, and that we were preparing to go back. And so, in that unlikeliest of places, we all relaxed for a moment, finding some measure of peace in the knowledge that we weren’t doing this difficult but vital work alone.

Lent is like a snowstorm in Arkansas, an event that comes around seasonally yet always seems to catch us off guard. You have been invited to take a closer look at your spiritual lives, to realign your desires with God’s. It’s not easy work and you may get dirty. But as followers of Jesus, we do it together, every step moving us closer to knowing God’s profound promise of peace.

Lent 2, Year B

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