Rector's Ramblings March 13, 2019
A few Christmases ago, I rented a trailer to haul a family heirloom home. Donna’s uncle, who lives in his parents’ restored farmhouse on the family farm, also has the original barn. He and her cousin were beginning to clear the barn out, in the hopes that it could be used as an event venue. In the process, they came across the old wood-burning stove that Donna had gotten at the estate auction after her grandparents had both died. The stove had sentimental value; she had stood at that stove with her grandmother for countless hours and had watched her grandmotherly magic worked on that stove for much of her childhood.
After the auction, the enameled wood stove, with six burners, an oven, and hot water reservoir, was put into the garage. Donna didn’t have a place to put it as a kid, and hey, that’s what barns are for, right? So we went over to the farm and inspected the stove. It was pretty much worn out. The years of use and high heat of the stove had virtually burned up much of the interior. All the exposed cast iron had rusted over the years, and the enamel had been chipped in places. Donna was still in love with it, so I rented a U-Haul trailer and brought it back from Pennsylvania.
I did some initial work to figure out what I could do to repair it. I also bought some of the equipment I would need, like an air-powered paint sprayer, for the restoration work. As I began to get into it, though, it overwhelmed me a bit, and it became a part of the landscape in our garage for a couple of years. Recently, however, I dusted it off, literally, and continued to figure out how to bring it back to some form of usefulness and attractiveness, so we can bring it into the house and put it to work. It will never be a working stove again, but it will make a beautiful serving station and conversation piece, for sure.
Rust has been my biggest issue to deal with. I found an iron works in Brunswick that sandblasted all the surfaces I need to restore, while I have painted the other surfaces that will never be seen with rust converting products, to stop the rust process in its tracks. I almost have all the parts primed and ready to go, and I even managed to find a paint product that makes some of the original chrome shine again. Re-chroming isn’t in the budget! Rust, as you probably know, is insidious. It never stops its slow march to overtake its host. Rust is a chemical reaction that takes place between iron, air, and water. When left unchecked, it will gradually convert the base iron to an oxide, which is weak and crumbly. Something once strong can be reduced to a pile of dust, literally.
In this season of Lent, we’re all about dust, but we’re not about destruction. One of the hallmarks of this season of penitence, with its ashen beginning last week, is to remind us that our dustiness is not really the final word. We can claim our sinfulness, name it, and hear the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness that is promised through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The reason it’s so helpful to name it, is so that it doesn’t eat us alive over time. Sin, when ignored, is not unlike rust; it will keep eating away at its host until it leaves us a pile of dust. This is not the avenue for our return to dust that God wants, however.
The worst rust is the kind we don’t see and is therefore easy to ignore. It can work in shadows and behind the scenes where no one sees it, until we fall apart or are broken by it in some way. Sin need not be a source of shame, not the shame that makes us steer away from God, anyway. Our instinct may be to hide in the trees or behind fig leaves like our proverbial ancestor, Adam; however, we must remember that there is no place where we can hide from God. God calls out to us to come to him, not to destroy us or end the relationship between us, but to remind us that even when we screw up and fall short of the mark, we are loved.
There is no spray paint for the rustiness of the Christian life or the human condition. But there are other remedies. Prayer and confession are chief among them. The Church has within our prayer book, the Rite of “Reconciliation of a Penitent.” There are two forms, beginning on page 447 of the Book of Common Prayer, if you want to look them up. Where our Roman roots called it confession, we rightly acknowledge that it is an act of reconciliation between God and us. Our sinfulness is not a block from God’s perspective, so much as it represents one from ours. Our shame and our nature of hiding are what keeps us from God. Jesus taught us that God loves sinners, too.
To reconcile ourselves, however, it can be helpful to intentionally convert our shameful sense of sinfulness once and for all to prevent it from growing and consuming us ever so slowly. The Rite of Reconciliation is a time of sharing, confession, prayer, and forgiveness between a priest and the “penitent,” as the BCP calls them. It is a rite of sacramental confidentiality. What is shared with the priest in the rite is sacrosanct; unless someone confesses a genuinely heinous crime that must be dealt with, the priest cannot and will not disclose anything shared during the rite. We also believe, that once something is confessed in this way, it can help a person to let go of something they’ve held onto, sometimes for decades. It is not a magic pill, but it is a powerful rite, to be sure. To experience it is to find a sense of freedom that is rarely attainable elsewhere.
God loves us despite our imperfections and the places where we’ve burned up, burned out, or rusted away. We’re prized, nonetheless, and worth God’s effort to seek restoration and new life for us. That is the joy of the Good News and the underlying source of the energy of the season. I pray that we can all realize it in the weeks to come. If you have an interest in the Rite of Reconciliation in this season, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of your priests. The old adage about the Rite is that “all may, none must, and some should.” We’ll walk through it with you, if you think it would be helpful. Regardless, blessings on your journey this season.
…Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Abide in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins. Thanks be to God. BCP, P. 451