Mar 11, 2007
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This sermon is the third in our series on Christian practices and virtues. On the first Sunday of Lent we prayed together, if you recall Augustines words: Those who sing well, pray twice. And last week we waited for the Lord. She is all Wisdom and Grace.
This week we are presented with a curious tale from Lukes Gospel. Luke seemed to have a soft spot for odd tales about Jesus. Then again, most tales of Jesus seem a little odd upon first glance.
In our lesson this morning people approach Jesus with a simple question: Why do people suffer so? Pilate has killed those worshiping in the Temple. This is just one example of the atrocities that Pilate has committed in the name of the state. In my reading of this passage, I wonder if the other atrocities mentioned are in the minds of the crowd as they speak of the incident in the Temple.
Horrible things seem to happen for no reason at all. There are accidents and calamities. Help us to make sense of this, Jesus.
These are constant questions for humanity.
Jesus gives a two-fold response:
He addresses a popularly held notion that how we die is a reflection of the righteousness of our life. This is the first century version of the you get what you deserve school of thought. We still hear this kind of logic today
People equate death with judgment.
A friend of mine often says: Bad theology hurts people.
Jesus suggests very strongly that this kind of thinking about God and death and judgment is faulty because none of us measure up in the way the people in the lesson this morning suggest. If we all were to perish in ways that suggested our worthiness, says Jesus, then we would all die horribly.
This is an unpleasant message at first glance. But this is Jesus way of turning the logic back upon those who hold it. This shows the falseness of the logic. For Jesus, only God can be perfect, only God is truly righteous. None of us can measure up. Sometimes Lukes Jesus has a heavy hand.
But he is not yet done speaking to those gathered around him.
Jesus tells an odd parable:
A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil? 8He replied, Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down. With this parable, Jesus undoes the theology of retribution and death that the crowd seems to hold.
If you were a pious farmer from 2,000 years ago you would know something about growing fig trees. Sarah Breuer writes:
A pious Israelite who planted a fig tree would let it grow for three years to get it to a point where it was capable of bearing fruit, then would allow it to go unharvested for three years before coming back for three more years to harvest fruit and to assess its potential fruitfulness. In other words, the wealthy absentee landlord of the parable (not a particularly sympathetic figure in Jesus' parables, and especially not in Luke) is actually being more than reasonable in saying, "this tree had its chance for nine years, and it's fruitless."The landowner is at the end of the third step in this agricultural practice and has found the tree wanting. His attitude is not cruel. Its practical Hes just doing what you do when you grow fig trees.
But then there is the gardener.
This guy clearly knows nothing about fig trees.
Or does he?
His hope and faith are extravagant.
His desire to see something good come from the fig tree is so strong that he is willing to forgo good common sense and labor at the root of the tree.
This is Jesus answer to those who struggle to make sense out of how and why we die. To those who want to attach judgment to death, Jesus says, Dont.
Though Jesus surely thinks that there is judgment from God, he believes that it has a certain character to it.
God is the gardener. Jesus, in response to the questions about death and worthiness and what God must be doing has said: God has nothing to do with the deaths you have seen. Pilate did that. Not God. Death will come to each of us. We know this. It is not news. God does have a place in this part of our lives, but not in the way that the crowd seems to understand.
God is the one who stands by you
even when everything seems lost,
when good common sense says
there is no reason to go on
God is steadfast. God stands fast.
In the midst of conflict, frustration, heartbreak and yes, even death, God abides with us.
Glenn Hinson, a Baptist theologian, suggests that steadfastness or forbearance is a key discipline in the crafting of Christian community. It is partnered with patience and forgiveness. When faced with conflict, disagreement, relational disputes, forbearance is a Christian response.
It is not that relationships cannot come to an end. They do. And some times the best way to love someone is to let them go.
But the discipline of forbearance, of standing fast with one another is the color of our first response to all conflict and difficulty in community. Disagreements will come. Debate will arise. People will become angry with one another. Our first response is to stand fast with them
even when it hurts. We are to stand fast even when it makes no sense at all.
This is a discipline, a practical approach to being together in Christian community. When the world says Flee at the first sign of difficulty, God says, Stay and love. Grow something.
Like God, we are called to be nonsensical gardeners. As someone said yesterday, our garden will ramble out into the streets. It is no manicured primrose path, but an extravagant overflowing of the Kingdom of God.
- A good turnout
- Christopher Miller led us beautifully
- We discussed debated and stood with one another
- And at the end of every stage we asked for commitment.
- We have a list
a healthy and long list of things to get done
most of them by June
- We have agreed to stand fast with one another for the sake of community, for the sake of ministry, for the sake of Gods love.
And what will seem like foolishness to those who have good common sense will, in the end, be the basis for all hope, love, and kindness. And, as our Gospel suggests, this is no mere societal habit.
It is a proclamation about the nature of life and death itself. It is the proclamation of the Resurrection. As absurd as it sounds to human ears, death is not the last word.
As absurd as it sounds, when the going gets tough, we stand fast. We dig at the roots. We nurture. We hold one another closer. We dream and pray and hope for the future. We make room for God and our neighbor.
It will seem foolish to the world.
Have no doubt.
But this is the nature of Christian virtue.
May God stand with us this day.
May we always be so foolish as to proclaim a God who will stand in the midst of conflict, confusion and even death and, with God, proclaim hope and love and life.