The sun is shining this morning and the harbingers of spring are singing from the trees. There is no evidence of budding leaves, but there is plenty of proof that winter is being pushed back.
It’s curious to me that I spied my first robin of the season nearly two weeks ago, long before the snow had disappeared from the ground. Yet, there he was, redbreast and sure, sitting in the bare branches of our front yard tree.
From somewhere inside, beating from the heart of instinct, the birds know to return north at the appointed time. Migration isn’t dependent upon the external assurances that spring has arrived. Birds don’t fly north when the grass is visible, the flower buds have sprung, and trees are about to burst. Before there is tangible documentation that winter has receded, robins are here showing up and singing on a sunny Thursday morning in Holy Week.
I was reading about Jesus’ last week on earth. He rides a donkey on Sunday to proclaim the kind of kingdom of which he was king. He turns over tables on Monday to show he's serious about this new kingdom. And then, for the next few days of Holy Week, until the table is set in an upper room, we are given a interesting collection of parables and conversations Jesus had.
In Matthew 21, Jesus encountered the religious leaders twice after calling them out in the temple courtyard on Monday. In both conversations, we are told that the religious leaders refrained from doing or saying certain things because they feared the crowd.
The word for fear, in both places, is “phobeo”, a Greek root from which we get the English word phobia. It means to “be afraid, seized with alarm, startled by stranger sights and occurrences.”
People who play a political game will always be playing a political game. Pharisees and Saducees seemed to have long forgotten whatever fledging faith compelled them in their early ministry. Somewhere within the walls of the temple, serving God had become a power play. A strategy that entailed keeping control and a semblance of peace instead of speaking for God regardless of consequences.
The religious leaders had become experts at reading the field and strategizing the next best move so that they remained firmly in control, not God.
The problem with that kind of existence, one where you always vie for power and strive to keep a peace that keeps you in control, is that fear is the motivator. Moves in the political game of cat and mouse are compelled by “phobia” even when the moves are offensive ones.
Fear is not rational.
Which is why I am particularly struck by the robin’s song this spring. Long before it makes sense for them to arrive, they have come and have begun their melody. Long before it would seem logical, the birds have taken to the air, flown north, and built a nest that will hold new life. They are a feathered promise to us, and they are not hindered by fear.
Spring is not ushered in by nature’s analysis regarding whether the weather is already laying witness. If there is any proof of spring, it’s the testimonial tune that is completely unaffected by a sense of startle.
I guess what I am trying to say is that birds aren’t afraid to signal the season change, even if the weather refuses to corroborate their witness.
They sing anyway.
I believe the kingdom of God is an actual reality that can be experienced, in part, right here on earth. I believe that God, in infinite wisdom, understands what true life looks like. I believe that God desires everyone to experience real life, in its fullest and best. I believe that the kingdom is when people are living as God longs for us to live. I believe fear is the greatest single barrier to this kind of living.
St. Ignatius said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
The second we allow fear to elbow it’s way into that picture, is the moment we forfeit living fully alive, and therefore surrender the right to show God as God is meant to be seen.
Long before there is peace on earth, I believe God is calling people to show up and work toward it anyway. Long before there is substantial proof that the kingdom of God can be an actual reality, we are to show up and signal a change is coming. Not might come. Not hope will come. IS coming.
The hardened ground of sexism may show no sign of thaw,
but we sing anyway.
The bloodied history of racism may hold little evidence of healing,
but we sing anyway.
The chaotic din of the gun conversation may seem impenetrable,
but we sing anyway.
The fight to end human trafficking may seem like a losing one,
but we sing anyway.
As long as the color of our skin alters our opportunities afforded us,
as long as women are considered second class citizens,
as long as sexual orientation means only hate and ostracization,
as long as sexual abuse is embedded as normalized male behavior,
as long as American schools are not safe,
as long as children are sold into slavery,
as long as there are still Trayvon Martins,
as long as Flint still lacks clean water,
and Haitian families are starving,
and Syrian refugees are fleeing,
And our song will become the confirmation of change.
Fear will not silence us. We will not succumb to the temptation of keeping a peace so we can keep our place.
The religious leaders had traded their song for fear, and they caved to political advantage and grew content with power and privilege. So when they came face to face with Jesus, they stayed silent because the were “afraid of the crowd.”
That can not be us.
We are to be robins.
We are to perch
in the branches,
the snow has left,
We are to push
aside the fear
Our song authenticates
the changing of the season,
not the other way around.
may be hard.
may be bare.
Winter may still appear
to be here,
but we sing.
We are a feathered promise
that the kingdom
that rode in on a donkey
and turned tables in the temple
is a reality.
We are robins.
So we sing.