God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines
“Deus escrive certo por lingas tortas”
A few years ago I needed a folk saying to use to describe a theological method by which we come to understand how we humans love one another and God. I was coming to the conclusion of a book I wrote on human sexuality and theology. How in the world do we describe the messes we humans make and how God meets us in the midst of those messes and guides us then into salvation? One of my favorite theologians is Marcus Borg and in one of his books; “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” he remarked that there is an old Portuguese saying; “God writes straight with crooked lines”.
Given what I know of human nature, the remark made good sense. Somehow we all know what’s right and what’s wrong, yet time and again we make choices that are harmful to ourselves and others. We seek our own will instead of the will of God. But God refuses to abandon us to our own willfulness, but time and again God seeks us out, through prophets, sages and wise men and women of every age. Again and again we turn away, and again and again God seeks us out.
In the fullness of time God sent Jesus, the perfect nature of God and humankind met in one Person. Announced by John, born in a manger, driven into the wilderness, and baptized in the River Jordan, he then recruited those who would follow, taught and healed us, fed us by the thousand on the hillsides in Galilee, sought out the outcast the rich the poor and the common fisherfolk of his time. He then went up to Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple and sealed his fate as the One who would die on the cross for the sins of the whole world.
Reflecting on the reality of this nature, the old Portuguese saying again comes back to me. Yes, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
I sought out the saying in an East Cambridge neighborhood near Boston where so many Portuguese folk live, but nobody seemed to know what I was talking about. Then one day I found myself with friends in the Portuguese Cultural Center in Peabody and I thought to ask the waitress if she knew this old folk saying. Of course she did! And she then taught me the words; “Deus escrive certo por lignas tortas; God writes straight with crooked lines”.
Ah, that’s it! Here we are, humans all. In our youth we often wander far in a land that is waste. How many times have I listened to the tearful stories of those who made marriages a shipwreck of impressive dimension? How many times have I heard those stories of myriads upon myriads of creative means by which we concoct schemes which muddle us up in a morass of misery? How many times have I stood by the hungry and the homeless? On and on it goes.
Yet neither God nor I, nor any of you will abandon those we love to their own devices. Not at all, it is out of the love God bears for us all, that we impose ourselves, sometimes by invitation, often through intervention, to salvage what we can of our own lives as well as the lives of others.
The scripture tells us that it was John’s ministry to announce the coming of the savior. John’s father, Zechariah, sang his song of joy in the canticle we recited this morning; “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”
Which comes first then; repentance or forgiveness? Now hear this, it was Christ who fist stood on the cross reaching out his arms of love on that hard wood to name it: “You are forgiven. I love you. Now go and repent and live a new life full of the joy of Jesus.”
It is a good idea, but still we’ll figure out a way to mess that up with amazing abandon and creativity. The prophet Malachi reminds us in today’s first lesson; “he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness”.
When forgiveness and repentance finally kick in we become joyfully filled with the creative and redemptive power of God. That’s when we get the point and we become the agents by which we extend God’s loving arms around our friends and loved ones and we all learn to become followers of God. This is what it means to be involved in the redemptive work of God.
I think of the music we sing at this time of year. What does it means when a young man sings in Chanticleer, when a choir sings for a beloved priest or then for evensong? What does it mean when one of our own leads a chorus in this church and and fills the place with sounds of such loveliness. And through it all, folk from all walks of life crowd in to hear of the message of the angels and the archangels.
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
Yes that’s the idea. And if you are a sailor going down east from Boston, it is pure simplicity. Simply set your sails, and let the prevailing westerlies take you on a straight shot to Maine and the Maritimes. Ah, shipmates, but when it is time to sail back to Boston, you’ll have to sail into the winds. That’s why we Yankees know you go up to Boston. You have to tack into the winds.
For example, if a vessel is sailing on a starboard tack with the wind blowing from the right side and tacks, it will end up on a port tack with the wind blowing from the left side. This maneuver is used when the desired direction is directly into the wind. Thus you’re sailing upwind.
You see, as in sailing so in life, “God writes straight with crooked lines. Deus escrive certo por lignas tortas.” The Portuguese are great sailors.
And it is the imagery of sailing that the church uses to call its clergy “Rectors”. The one who sets things straight. We set the course straight into a particular degree but obviously must amend the course due to the directions of the winds and the influence of the currents, and allowing for the raging of waves in the midst of a storm.
Just like life! It is impossible to sail a perfect and true due west, east, north, or south. Mid course corrections are the stuff out of which we navigate our way throughout the exigencies of life, because God writes straight with crooked lines.
The day of the lord is upon us right now, as the day’s Epistle puts it. What we do with our lives now determines where we will be miles and years from now. The day of the lord is fast approaching. In every breathing moment of life the decisions we make matter. The day of the Lord is upon us.
So what comes first repentance or forgiveness? It’s a false dichotomy really. The two clap their hands together, for the one is the flip side of the other.
Repent because you are forgiven. You are forgiven because you repent. May your life shine with the Glory of God’s love!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.