3.7.10 sermon notes
It’s not quite spring yet, but we can see it on the horizon. Soon, the hot days of summer will be upon us and we will long for the cold days of winter. Here in the south, you can practically swim in the humidity. And for any of you who have ever been out in the southwest in the summer, you know how wonderful it is to get a reprieve from the stifling humidity. But the dry hot air can be deceptive. Water leaves your body and evaporates before you can even notice it – you don’t sweat as much. So it is common for people to think they are more hydrated than they really are, and this can be dangerous. In fact, I hear that Grand Canyon National Park has signs frequently along its paths that say: “Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not.”
Isaiah is talking about thirst and hunger – a deep spiritual thirst that is there whether we realize it or not. We try to fill it with other things – stuff we can buy, things that we think will make us feel good – but leave us feeling even more empty. And as if our own desires weren’t strong enough on their own, there is no shortage of advertisers willing to offer us things we never needed but we are convinced are now vital. We spend our money on that which fails to satisfy while blatantly ignoring that which is freely available to us and can sustain us abundantly.
As I have mentioned these past few weeks, Lent is a chance to get back on track. But first, perhaps we need to be painfully reminded of just how far off track we have gotten. As one scholar says, “Lent challenges us to consider the reality of our own sinfulness and our need for repentance. We may not be immediately aware of how we have wandered away from God – how life has lost its meaning in pursuit of a promotion or raise, how we have gotten buried under the demands of economic and social status. Isaiah’s words help us to hear the truth so that we can recommit ourselves to God’s offer of steadfast love and covenant relationship as the true way for our lives” (Feasting, p.78). Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty whether you realize it or not. Drink from God’s rich well of grace, which is ready for us to draw living water at any time. This text is about second chances. And in many respects, so is this odd story (unique to?) Luke’s gospel.
Both stories involve repentance. A turning away from those things that do not feed our souls and turning to those things which lead to abundant life.
Jesus is hanging out at home, among his own people. The Galileans are tired of these oppressive Roman occupiers and they are hungry for an opportunity to feed their nationalistic desires. Despite everything Jesus has tried to tell them to the contrary, many of them are still hoping he will emerge as a great military leader, crushing the Romans and restoring order. So some of them come to Jesus, hoping to stir up some fury in him. They tell him that Pilate has killed some of their people and even worse, has mixed the blood with that of the sacrificial lambs. Perhaps this really happened – perhaps it did not. There is no record of the incident outside of scripture. But either way, their intention was likely to get Jesus on their side – they engage in a little self-righteous anger.
Ah, delectable self-righteous anger. It is the guilty pleasure of so many of us. We love to be right – to catch our enemies in their moments of weakness, to wield our moral superiority over those with whom we disagree, just to make ourselves feel better and to make THEM look worse. We do this as a society all the time, “where everyone wants to blame everyone else for the ills of the world. Christians blame the Muslims, and Muslims blame the Christians. Fundamentalists blame Hollywood, the ACLU and homosexuals. Liberals blame fundamentalists, militarists, and pharmaceutical companies” (Feasting). And on and on.
But amid this cycle of blame, and in the face of the Galileans’ attempt to drag him into their understandable self-righteous anger, Jesus says “Hold on. Think about this homely old fig tree. It hasn’t borne much fruit in a while – it is a drain on the soil – taking more than it is giving. The farm owner is ready to cut the worthless tree down. But the head gardener, who has taken the time to be with that tree much more than the farmer, asks for another chance: ‘let me work with the soil a bit, throw some more manure on it. Let’s see if it bears fruit next year – if it doesn’t, THEN you can chop it down.’”
What an odd parable for Jesus to tell in response to this conversation about murdered Galileans and citizens killed in a tragic accident! Or is it? This is Jesus’ way of making his point. The Galileans there with him (and so often, you and I) are ruffled up and ready to fight and point the finger at someone else. And “Jesus knocks us off our moral high-horses. He brings us back down to earth and back to ourselves, with talk of fertilizer and a scruffy tree. He says, ‘Ask yourself if you are like that fig tree. Are you bearing fruit? Or are you just taking up space?’”
Also note that Jesus takes a moment to clarify some important theology in the midst of this conversation. In reference to these two incidents with Pilate and the tower of Siloam, Jesus addresses the common idea that people somehow did something to bring misfortune upon themselves. And when the news today reminds us of the tragedy of earthquakes and shootings and job loss and illness, we too, look for reasons that those who suffer might have brought it on themselves. Not so, Jesus says. Do you think those people in Siloam who died when a tower fell on them were somehow worse that the rest of you? Tragedy is not punishment for sin. God does not work that way. In fact, we all fall short of the glory of God. If God was going to punish those who do wrong, quite frankly, there would not be any of us left. Here, Jesus is saying “no” to simplistic answers and shallow theological thinking. So the question is not, what did they do to deserve it? Jesus’ question back to us is, “What kind of fruit are you bearing?”
Both Isaiah’s prophetic words and Jesus’ parable offer a second chance. An opportunity to turn away from the ways of consumption and judgment that are weighing us down, filling us with that which fails to satisfy – keeping us from being filled with the abundant grace of God. And what is Lent if not an opportunity to turn around – find our center again? Cast off those things that keep us from God. Seek those things that allow us to flourish as children of God – to bear fruit to a world in need.
Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not. Come to the table, receive God’s endless mercy and grace that we find in Jesus Christ. Come and be fed. Come and be filled. Christ’s table is open to all who hunger and thirst for a second chance, for a more just world, for the abundant life God can provide. Come and experience the sweetness of God’s amazing grace. Amen.