Lent 3, March 24, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

LENT 3  Year C

Exodus 3:1-16; Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, March 4, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

 

There’s no historical record

of either of the tragedies

in today’s Gospel –

 

the slaughter of Galilean pilgrims

in the Jerusalem temple

by Pilate’s soldiers

 

or

 

the deaths of 18 people,

construction workers or passersby,

in the collapse

of the tower of Siloam.

 

But whether those particular events

actually occurred

doesn’t really matter . . .

 

they represent the tragedies

that happen all the time . . .

 

 

Like last week’s murder

of 50 Muslims at Friday prayer

in two mosques

in Christchurch, New Zealand.

 

Or the deaths of 157 people

in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

after takeoff from Addis Ababa

the Sunday before.

 

 

Bad things and good things

happen

to good and bad people alike.

 

“Do you think

that because these Galileans

suffered in this way

they were worse sinners

than all other Galileans?”

 

Jesus’ response

to those who told him

about the temple tragedy

suggests they had implied

in their telling

that the Galileans slaughtered by Pilate

were somehow at fault.

 

 

Because if those killed were

“worse sinners than all other Galileans,”

if the tragedy were understood

as God’s punishment for their sins,

 

then perhaps Galileans

who could manage to stay

on the right side of God

could count themselves safe,

be reassured such a tragedy

would never happen to them.

 

Perhaps if construction workers

or passersby

were less sinful than those

killed at Siloam,

no such disaster would happen to them.

 

But Jesus rejects the flawed theology

of divine retribution

that blames the victim

and makes God a punisher,

a perpetrator

of suffering.

 

 

 

 

The sin in the massacre

in the Jerusalem temple

surely lies with

Pilate himself,

those who obeyed his order,

the rapacious Roman occupiers

of the land.

 

The sin in the collapse

of the tower

may lie with

shoddy construction materials

and lax safety measures.

 

Surely the Muslims

worshipping in their Christchurch mosques

were not greater sinners

than other worshippers in Christchurch,

whether Muslim, Christian, Jew,

Sikh, or Buddhist.

 

The sin

belongs to the man

who planned

and perpetrated the killings,

to the proponents of White supremacy,

to social network sites

that allow hate speech and violent rhetoric

to spread unimpeded.,

to the deadly weaponizing of the world.

 

 

Surely the passengers

on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302

were not greater sinners

that all other airline passengers that day.

 

The sin may lie,

as current reports suggest,

with shortcuts taken in manufacture,

insufficient pilot training,

lax government oversight.

 

 

The supposition that victims

have somehow broken more rules

than we have

creates the illusion

that we can keep ourselves safe

by obeying whatever we think

the rules are.

 

Behind it all

lies the warped theology

that God is a God of rules

who punishes, in the most horrific ways,

the breakers of rules.

 

Behind it all

lies the fallacy

that if we can just figure out what people did

to deserve their punishment,

we can, by avoiding what they did,

assure own safety –

 

 

But there is no

“safety assurance,” no “life assurance” policy

in this world.

 

At first,

Jesus seems

to suggest otherwise,

when he says

“. . . unless you repent,

you will all perish as they did.”

 

Repent = not suffer the same fate.

 

But hear the parable of the fig tree.

 

Three years it had been growing,

and still had borne no fruit.

The landowner was ready to cut it down.

 

“Sir,” said the gardener,

“leave it for this year also,

and I shall cultivate the ground around it

and fertilize it;

it may still bear fruit next year.

If not, you can cut it down.”

 

 

The tree is given a year of grace,

a year to continue to mature

so it can bear fruit –

for the gardener knows,

as the landowner,

(probably a city-dweller)

apparently does not,

 

that it takes at least three years

for a fig tree to mature

and produce its first crop.

 

But, eventually,

if the tree fails to be fruitful,

if it continues to draw nutrients from the soil

without any return,

it will be cut down.

 

There is time to bear fruit,

but not all the time in the world.

The parable of the fig tree suggests

that we are, as usual,

worrying our heads

about the wrong thing.

 

Jesus turns the question back on us –

 

If there is no life-assurance policy,

then,

what really matters?

what is really important?

 

“Unless you repent . . .”

Imagine what it might be like,

when we go through the barrier

between this life

and the next,

and we, who now see only dimly,

meet God’s overwhelming goodness

face to face.

 

In the mirror of God’s goodness

we see reflected with excruciating clarity

all the ways, big and little,

we weren’t as gentle, as loving,

as merciful, as generous,

as forgiving, as truthful,

as good

as we might have been.

 

Every unkind thing we’ve said . . .

every cruel and thoughtless thing we’ve done . . .

all the suffering we’ve caused . . .

present all at once . . .

and much of it

we may not even have realized

we had done.

 

How many times

did we knowingly and unknowingly

break others’ hearts . . . and God’s . . .

 

That is the moment of judgment

toward which our lives carry us,

day by day.

 

 

After the seeming eternity

of that terrible moment,

God breaks the silence.

 

God speaks.

 

“Welcome, beloved.

How good that you are here.

You must come in, sit down and eat.”

 

Love’s banquet is served,

the saints from every generation appear,

and the celebration begins.

 

A celebration of the good we did do:

the small and large acts

of courage, compassion,

forgiveness, reconciliation –

 

much of it

we may not even have realized

we had done . . .

 

but holiness was growing in us all the time . . .

when we told a risky truth,

when we comforted someone who was sad,

when we pushed back

against a racist or homophobic joke or slur,

when we let go of a grudge or a prejudice or a                                           resentment,

when we stood up against injustice,

when we reconciled with someone we had hurt,

or who had hurt us.

when we repented . . .
When we look back at our life

from that banquet table,

when we look back

at the beautiful world in which we lived,

at the amazing human community

of which we were a part,

 

when we look back

at the countless opportunities we had

to love friends and family,

co-workers and strangers,

to enjoy books and paintings and music,

and mountains, lakes, flowers, birds and bugs . . .                                      dogs!

to run and play and work and dance,

to do justice, love kindness,

and walk humbly with God . . .

 

When we look back . . .

 

how we have used that gift,

who we have been and what we have done

will be the only thing that matters.

 

Jesus says

the time to be attentive to that is NOW.

 

 

NOW is the time of grace.

 

NOW is the day of salvation,

not tomorrow, or next week,

or next year.

 

NOW, in Lent,

in the springtime of the Church’s year,

when the earth is warming

and tender shoots of Easter life

are stretching toward the sun,

the barren fig tree may yet spread its leaves

and bear fruit.

 

Ash Wednesday’s liturgy

invited us to the observance of a Holy Lent

“by self-examination and repentance;

by prayer, fasting and self-denial,

and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

(The Book of Common Prayer page 265)

 

NOW, in this Lenten spring,

is the time to cultivate the ground of our soul,

loosening, aerating, turning it over,

letting in the light of the gospel

and uprooting the sin and self-absorption

that chokes new growth.

 

NOW is the time to

apply the nourishment

of spiritual reading,

daily prayer,

quiet meditation.

 

 

These Lenten disciplines

prepare the soul

to bear fruit.

 

And what is this Easter fruit

but reconciliation?

 

Reconciliation

with God –

giver of life

with its glorious and frightening freedoms,

its chances, changes, choices,

its infinite possibilities

for joy and for sorrow.

 

Reconciliation

with self –

letting go of hurts and failures and angers,

forgiving ourselves the past,

as God does,

for the sake of the future.

 

Reconciliation

with others –

seeing in every human being

the God with whom we must make peace,

the self with whom we must make peace,

and

to know that we are all one,

and to live at peace.

 

 

Reconciliation

with life itself –

accepting the things we cannot change,

working to change the things we can,

seeking always the wisdom

to know the difference.

 

The daily spiritual practice

of reconciliation

cultivates in us

an Easter way of living,

in communion with

God, self, others, and all of creation.

 

 

The very stuff of life is the

freedom of the wide world,

the freedom of every living person

in each moment

to be wise or foolish,

to create beauty or ugliness,

to hurt or to heal,

to be at war with one another,

or to be reconciled.

 

 

Rather than

providing life-assurance,

which would require the end

of those life-creating freedoms,

 

God gives us grace-assurance –

that there will always be

strength and endurance

for the tests and challenges

a freely-lived life brings.

 

Bad things happen,

and the only positive thing about them

is they may get our attention,

may remind us

that NOW is the time

to be fully alive,

to do justice, love kindness

and walk humbly with our God.

 

Lent is a vision of God’s grace,

and a stretching toward it,

toward the goodness of God

that seeks always

to enlarge our hearts, our minds, our spirit.

 

 

Sooner or later,

the tree of our life,

having borne its fruit,

will be cut down by death –

 

Let us play, work, struggle,

laugh, rejoice, strive, sorrow, reconcile,

live fully, freely, expansively,

wholeheartedly for God

and one another.

 

Let us,

as the Lenten Eucharistic prayer bids us,

prepare with joy

for the Paschal feast,

 

when Good Friday’s cross,

bearing the broken body of Christ,

becomes Easter’s tree of life,

yielding the fruit of reconciliation.

 

 

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