Just as I am, and as God would have me be.
First Reading Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm Psalm 63:1-8
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Gospel Luke 13:1-9
“For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN
‘Hey Jesus, did you hear Pilate mingled the blood of Galileans with pagan sacrifices?’ Today’s gospel begins with what sounds like gossip. Some are telling Jesus of what seems to be a violent, horrifying act carried out by Pilate. Perhaps like a terrible auto accident, we don’t want to see the carnage, but we can’t look away. We don’t know the details of the incidents mentioned, but they sound terrible.
Then and today, many believe that suffering is the consequence of and in direct relation to our sin. Jesus refutes the idea that somehow these bad things happen because the victims are bad people. Are the sins of these worse than the sins of any of us? We have become quite adept at judging the severity of others’ sin. Of course, there are the BIG TEN recited in the Decalogue at the beginning of our worship. Certainly ‘those’ people who do not keep these Laws have a special place in hell. Then there are the sins some allocate as egregious, such as gambling, drinking, and dancing. Sexuality of anything other than ‘normal’ seems to hold the spotlight. How about disrespecting the dignity of another? What about valuing another as less than a child of God? How do we measure the sin of crushing the human spirit, or refusing to acknowledge another’s personhood? We have become preoccupied with judging others’ sin and deciding who is righteous and who is not. This person is a ‘good Christian’, or there is no way that person could say or do what he did and call himself a Christian. All of this divides humanity, when we are meant to be one.
Jesus brings us back together, in the unity of our human condition, by proclaiming that all sin, and all are in need of repentance. All of us require metanoia, or turning away from our former beliefs and actions, and turning toward God. Jesus preaches repentance, not out of fear or guilt, but with promise, that those who repent and believe shall not perish, but have everlasting life. All are included in this promise. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. And we are pilgrims on this judgement free journey together.
When we seem to sidestep misfortune, we utter, “but for the grace of God go I.” Jesus might rephrase, “Through the grace of God go we.” We all share in one another’s journey, including the darkest times. We are called to compassion, which at its root means ‘with suffering.’ It should be no surprise that we confess together, WE have erred and strayed, WE have followed our own hearts, WE have offended, and WE have done what we ought not to have done, and not done what we ought to have done. We are all complicit in the sin of the world. We are not to qualify, rank, or judge.
Rather than judge others, Jesus offers us a story of compassion and mercy. A fig tree is supposed to bear figs. That’s what they are created to do. When one fig tree does not bear fruit, human judgement might say, “Cut it down.” The compassionate, merciful gardener believes the fig tree can bear fruit. After all, that is what is was created to do. With love and care, nurture and nutrient, encouragement and patience, the gardener abides.
Paul encourages the young Christian community in Corinth to have confidence in their journey together. He wants them to consider their journey a continuation of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Despite their grumbling and apostacy, Paul reminds them that God remained present and faithful. Paul reaches forward in time to remind the community of St. Paul’s Macon that God continues to abide with us, always present and faithful.
God loves us just as we are. But God does not expect us to stay that way. God knows we are flawed. God also knows what we are capable of. If we are spending time gossiping, comparing who is more righteous, or who is the bigger sinner, we are not focusing on who God would have us be.
Brothers and sisters, the Good News of the gospel is that God is a loving and patient gardener. It is a radical love for a people and world that is so broken, yet full of such promise. God loves who we are and who we are meant to be. God sees such great capacity in humanity that God refuses to give up on us. God knows this, for God created us, declared us good, and dedicated us to bear the fruits of the Spirit and build the kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.
Move 3: Reflecting radical love.
Jesus expresses the urgency of repentance. We have choices. We can give in to the temptation to judge and condemn, or we can each begin with ourselves, turning and returning to God. Jesus does not command us to be perfect, but to have faith in God’s perfecting work. God is not finished with us.
Jesus also proclaims the patience of a loving, compassionate, and merciful God. We are called to reflect God’s radical love for one another as we journey together. It is our communal call of discipleship. When one sheep is lost, we cannot be whole. When one suffers, we share in the suffering. When one wanders, we are to be patient. If one is not bearing fruit, we are to provide nurture and care. This is how we help build the kingdom. The rest is up to God.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry writes, "No statement of faith says all that could be said; no prayer fully expresses our faith; no pastoral visit brings wholeness; no program accomplishes the church's mission; no set of goals and objectives includes everything that needs to be done. We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that need future development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. Being freed from managing the results of our actions enables us to do something, and do it well. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Lent helps us focus our repentance, our turning away from ourselves and toward God. Lent also helps us redirect our journey, away from our own concerns, and toward the promises and possibilities of God. As we journey together through this holy Lent, let us learn from the past, live in the present, and lean into God’s future. Amen.