A Time To Tear and A Time To Sew
July 23, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan
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“A time to tear and a time to sew…”
Rev. Melanie Homan
July 23, 2017
Ephesians 4:1-6, 29-32
4 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.[c]
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7a
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
A clergy friend of mine, Rachael Warner, recently shared a story. It was in response to a colleague of ours who has been facing a lot of heat lately in his ministry. It’s a hard time to be a clergy right now. I also think it’s hard to be a police chief, as well as a mayor, a school superintendent…anyone, in a very public role, who is trying to lead a group of people, is a target for a lot of criticism. Sometimes it’s warranted. But, other times – well… I think that our communities are in such disarray, whether we’re thinking on a global, national, or city level, that the job of trying to lead can feel impossible. It can feel like you can’t do anything right. All the best intentions and efforts in the world can still lead to failure and an onslaught of criticism. We are seeing that right now in Minneapolis.
Here’s the story Rachel shared:
I once attended a Lenten worship where congregation members took turns taking on the personas of various characters in the story of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus. Then the rest of us asked that person questions and they tried to answer in character. A ten year old girl raised her hand when it was time for someone to be Jesus. After a few softball questions, someone asked her, “How did it feel to have the crowds grumbling at you when you were doing the right thing?” She looked the man in the eye, sighed with a weariness beyond her years, and answered, “I’m used to it.” All that to say, when we follow Jesus, the crowds are likely to grumble. And it is so wearying. And it hurts. And it could very well mean you are right where you are called to be.
Her story has been with me all week, because I know how hard it is to try to do the right thing, see the grumbling, and say, “I’m used to it”. The thing is, I’m not used to it. I don’t know how anyone ever gets used to it. It hurts. But, as leaders, we keep trying to lead because we believe that somehow we can be part of making a difference and somebody’s got to do it. So, I look out at our business leaders, political leaders, education leaders, church leaders, and my initial reaction is compassion and empathy. The fact of the matter is most of us, even when we fail catastrophically, really are trying to make a difference. Better to try and fail than to not try at all, right?
In Ecclesiastes, it says, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to tear and a time to sew.” Another translation says, “There is a time to tear and a time to mend.” Or, a time to rip out and a time to repair.
This imagery has come to life this week, as volunteers have been ripping out the edging along the sides of the walls in the commons area. Volunteers have been tearing things off the walls and pulling things away in order to paint and make our space ready for something new. There is a time to tear and rip out, and we are in that time right now at Lake Harriet!
Tearing and ripping out can be a good thing. It’s a good thing, especially when it comes to things like old carpet and asbestos tiles that need abatement. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is tear and rip out.
As I shared a few weeks ago, tearing and ripping are considered holy in the Bible. The heavens are torn open at Jesus’ baptism and a dove descends on Jesus, with God saying “This is my beloved, with whom I am pleased”. The heavens are torn open at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and then there is more tearing at the end of his life. The curtain in the temple is ripped in two at Jesus’ crucifixion. Karl Barth describes this tearing apart as the essence of our whole gospel story. It’s this “astonishing claim that God does not (want) to remain hidden in the heights of heaven but descends to the depths of (our) earthly life in order to be seen and heard by us creatures.”
This “tearing open” at crucial points in Jesus’ ministry, it goes back even further. In the book of Isaiah in the Hebrew scriptures, Jerusalem had just been conquered, again, and the people were lamenting. It was a communal lament, for all the difficulty and doubt they were facing. So, they cry out to God, saying “If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!” They wanted the mountains to quake and their enemies to be filled with fear. Their very survival was at stake, so they cry out to God for help. TEAR OPEN THE HEAVENS AND COME DOWN!
There is a time to tear and a time to sew. Mend. Repair. I think it’s important to note that the mending and repairing happens AFTER the tearing and ripping out. The heavens are torn open, God comes among them, and THEN, the people in Isaiah say, “God, you are our God. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. Don’t rage against us. Mend us. Form us. Repair us.”
After all that crying out, God responds. God says, “Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past. Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I’m creating: I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy, create my people as pure delight. Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow, lion and ox will eat straw from the same trough, Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill anywhere on my Holy Mountain.”
This is God’s vision for a glorious future.
It’s God’s “Dream”.
It’s a vision where all will be repaired and mended.
We cry out to God. Mend us. Form us. Repair us. But, the thing is, we don’t get there without first being torn! Things need to be ripped apart before they can be reformed into something new and amazing.
When I look at everything that has happened in our community in the past week, I can’t help but think that there is so much need for repairing and mending. But, we can jump too fast to do the mending, feeling like we can just fix the brokenness in our community by sewing a few patches here and there. One adjustment to body cam policy here, another adjustment to gun use policy there, and the problem can be fixed. But, there is no quick “fix” to Justine’s death. There is no adjustment or mending of policies that will keep this sort of thing from happening again.
Before we can figure out the reforming, repairing, and mending, our systems and structures need some ripping apart. We keep resisting the tearing apart – the ripping up – thinking we can just keep mending what we have, fixing what we have. In a similar light, we can feel the same thing in our own lives, much like we can convince ourselves that the carpet we have is perfectly fine, it doesn’t need to be changed. We can keep getting down on our hands and knees and cutting all the frayed strings off with a scissors and it’ll be perfectly fine. But, the reality is it’s not. Sometimes, the whole thing needs to be torn out. But, it’s not easy! It’s disruptive. And anxiety producing. And chaotic – hence all the “excuse our mess” signs out in the commons area. Well, as a culture, we need to put up the “excuse our mess” sign, say we’re under construction, and tear out what isn’t working anymore and replace it with something new.
God is in that! We cry out to God – tear open the heavens and come down. Come among us. Create something new. Help us to see your vision, as you described in Isaiah, where we are the clay and you are the potter and you form us into a new creation. A creation where neither animal nor human will HURT or KILL any more on God’s holy mountain.
There is a time to tear up and to rip out. And THEN there is a time to mend and repair.
We are in that time right now.
My heart breaks for Justine’s family.
My heart breaks for every family who has lost a loved one to gun violence.
My heart is heavy for police who show up every day trying to do the right thing and my heart is heavy for police who pull the trigger of their gun.
My heart is heavy for Mohamed Noor because I don’t understand what was going through his mind.
My heart is heavy for the Minnesota Somali community who, like the rest of us, are just trying to do our best.
We have some painful work ahead of us. Our structures need not be mended, they need to be under construction. But, those are just words. It takes work! And, we believe we are called to be the hands and feet of God in our community. This means action. It means feet marching in protest and hands ready to be put to service.
Through the efforts of some of the member of Lake Harriet, we reached out this week to our city councilperson, Linea Palmisano. I also reached out to the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community. The message was the same. We are here to help.
Did you know that the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community, that Justine was part of, is housed in our old building? I reached out to them and Justine’s family and offered our space for a memorial service. It turns out they need more space than what we can offer, but they know we are available, if needed.
We are currently in the process of working with Linea Palmisano, and the Fulton Neighborhood Association to host a townhall forum here at the church. We were working on confirming a date and time when word of Harteau’s resignation came out, so the plans have not been confirmed.
We offered our space for community conversation because God is IN the tearing apart and the mending that needs to happen, and we are God’s hands and feet. So, here’s what we need from you. We need you to show up, on short notice. If they decide our space can still handle what is needed, and our volunteer coordinator Lorrie Sandelin puts out a call for help by email, please respond. Help us greet, welcome, usher, direct traffic, and help make this a space where tearing and mending can happen for the community.
Unfortunately, not all tearing means that God has descended from the heavens to be with us. The letter that Paul wrote to the Ephesians reminds us of the harsh reality that communities often do not live with God’s vision in mind. Paul writes, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander and malice.” Clearly, the Ephesians were having a problem with how they spoke to one another, how they were treating one another. It seems like there was tearing one another down instead of building one another up.
There is a time for tearing open the heavens and tearing down structures that are oppressive. There is no “time” for tearing down people. Yet, it is so easy. It’s easy for evil talk to come out of our mouths.
Often, it takes intentional effort on our part to not fall into the easy trap of bitterness and resentment. Paul knew it. That’s why he implored the people to be kind to one another and gracious. Humble. Gentle. Patient. Kind.
I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to never be angry. We are often angry for good reason. Be angry. But, don’t let anger turn into bitterness and resentment. Use it as fuel and energize your work for justice! Paul implored the Ephesians to live and act out kindness to one another. Be kind, in order that there can be mending. In order to repair, be kind so that we can build the kind of world that we have been seeking and long for.