When the kingdom is coming, the sky will darken, the stars will fall, the earth will shake. When the kingdom is coming, it will be like leaves growing on a fig tree? Leaves growing. Our gospel reading today talks about the end times, the signs that the Kingdom of God is drawing near. We get these great and terrible apocalyptic images. Then Jesus compares those signs to leaves on a fig tree being a sign of summer drawing near. When someone says something is like watching grass grow, they don’t usually mean something exciting is happening. The growth of a plant is slow, subtle. Frankly, when compared to an earthquake it’s kind of boring.
The coming of God’s Kingdom on earth is something that we spend all this time waiting for, a whole season of waiting. It feels like the sign for it should be something more dramatic, something big and sudden so we know the wait is finally over. It is so much easier to see an earthquake than the buds just beginning to peak out of the branches.
December 1st, 2017 was going to be one of those earthquakes. After years of planning, and saving, and waiting, December 1st, 2017 was the day I was scheduled to have gender confirmation surgery. I just knew that my whole life would turn on that moment. As a transgender person, even before I knew what it was, I had always been plagued by the shadow of dysphoria, that discomfort in my own skin. In some ways, I felt like my life wouldn’t really begin until I was whole. Until that surgery could be a concrete sign that I am a man and then I could start living.
In mid September, I got a call from the doctor’s office. My insurance had fallen through. I had already had a party to celebrate that surgery. I had told all of my friends. And now my surgery, that earthquake that would usher me into my newfound life, was cancelled. To say I took the news poorly is an understatement. I stopped seeing friends. I stopped volunteering. I stopped doing anything. I came home from work everyday and slept. All I knew how to do was wait for my next shot at that surgery.
The more I became convinced that my life wouldn’t really begin until I had that surgery, the more it seemed to come true. I had given up on all of the other little things that brought joy and fullness to my life. All that was left was waiting for my earthquake.
It’s an easy trap to fall into and I think it is the one Jesus is warning us about in the Gospel today. He tells us to keep alert. Stay awake at evening, midnight, cock crow, and dawn. These are the four traditional watches of the night. Jesus is telling us that throughout the entirety of the darkness we need to be aware. If we are not, we will miss the master’s sudden coming. But it will only seem sudden because we haven’t turned to notice his gradual coming up the path throughout the night. God comes to rest with us, brings his Kingdom down upon us, a little at a time. Slowly as a tree coming into bloom, God presents us with opportunities to intact his will here on earth.
As it turns out, it wasn’t an earthquake that shook me out of my pit of depression three years ago. It was a whispering, that was like the slow unfolding of a leaf from a bud. It was the feeling that I should find a church. I had stopped going to my Catholic Church because the rhetoric about gender coming from the bishops combined with my cancelled surgery was too much to bear.
I tried a few churches. I got used to getting out of bed on Sunday mornings again and making a little small talk at coffee hours. It’s hard to avoid that when you are a younger visitor to a church. People tend to excitedly seek you out.
I would love to say that I finally walked in the door of a church, immediately knew I was home and everything was all better, but that’s not how it works. It’s not an earthquake. It was a whispering that maybe this place is a piece of the life that I only expected to have after surgery, a single leaf beginning to grow. It was a conversation with the rector about our mutual love of Ignatian Spirituality, an invite to an inquirers class, confusion but maybe a little intrigue about using champagne as communion wine. So I came back the next week. And the week after that. And I joined a bible study, and I led a bible study, and before I knew it I was enrolled in seminary because I dream of one day leading communities like All Saints. Communities that keep watch for those little moments where they can welcome someone who had been feeling lost, welcome them into the kingdom that God is building in our midst.
I think, All Saints, we sometimes need to be remined of the beauty of that small subtle kingdom building work, but it’s only because we are so good at the earthquakes. When we hold a bake sale, it raises $30,000 dollars. When we have a Christmas pageant, it includes a horde of roadies or little priests who fill the church. You know, I think we might have a flair for the dramatic here. And that’s beautiful! I think it has drawn many people through our doors. But it can also be frustrating because right now, those big earthquake events that we are so good at showing up for are a bit hard to come by. We can’t gather together like we are used to doing and it can be tempting to feel like we are just waiting. Waiting for a vaccine to fix everything so our lives can begin again. Waiting for a chance to have those big events again because that’s what we think it means to do God’s work.
Let me tell you from experience, curling up and sleeping until the medical industry comes to save you is not the answer. For the record, I’m not saying you shouldn’t socially distance. Please stay home. But what I’m saying is that staying home doesn’t mean doing nothing. Keep alert! In the darkness of our isolation, the Holy Spirit is bringing forth those little buds, giving us small subtle moments to live out God’s will. Where are those buds forming in your life? And what earthquakes are you waiting for that are keeping you from noticing them? Maybe you are waiting on in person services to resume, but maybe that bud is to invite someone who lives far away to join you for church and talk about the readings after. Maybe the earthquake you are waiting for as an end to the systemic racism in this country, but maybe that bud is speaking up when a loved one makes a racist comment when normally you would let it slide. Keep watch! These buds are all around, small opportunities given to us by the Holy Spirit to bring the kingdom just a bit closer. In time they build on one another and grow. The kingdom of God is a beautiful, expansive tree in full bloom and it is made up of countless tiny leaves.
If you’re wondering, I did eventually get that surgery and my life is better for it. We will eventually be able to have big in person events again, and the world will be better for it. But the important things is that we do not fall asleep while we wait for that time. Keep watch because the kingdom is budding all around us even as we wait for the earthquake.