Saturday, March 6, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn Again

7 March 2010 – Lent 3C * Exodus 3:1-15/Luke 13:1-9
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Sin, Repentance and Grace

When the God who declares from a burning bush, “I AM who I AM….tell them I AM sent you!’ becomes flesh and dwells among us, life gets very interesting. Pilate slaughters a group of Galileans. A tower in Siloam kills eighteen others. Do you think they are worse sinners than anyone else, asks The Word made Flesh?

It is still a common perception. Look at the lunatic suggestions of Pat Robertson regarding the earthquake victims in Haiti! We think of this kind of Blame Game as some kind of ancient mindset, but we may as well admit that we all get into it at one time or another.

Jesus, as I AM made flesh, can hardly believe people think this way. After all as God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had he not made it perfectly clear: for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Jonah 4:2, Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Joel 2:13, Matthew 5:45).

Jesus announces in effect, “The sin is found in those who think the sin is found in those who have misfortune fall on them.” [Timothy Shapiro, New Proclamation, Fortress Press, Minneapolis:2006 – p.199] What separates us from God, then, is our sense of justice, not God’s sense of Justice.

So Jesus says to repent of this kind of thinking, turn away from the Blame Game altogether, and show some mercy, the kind of mercy God aka I AM likes to show for everyone, everywhere (Note: Please re-read the Book of Jonah).

To repent means to turn around or turn back. The idea is that we are walking with God, or walking with Jesus, and then suddenly we find ourselves distracted by say the 3,000 commercial messages that bombard us each day. Or, some personal crisis. Or, the day to day cycle of dropping kids off, picking them up, driving them somewhere else, picking them up again. Or, the boss just gave us two weeks notice. And on and on it goes. We find ourselves walking in circles at best, rather than walking with or at least toward God.

To repent means to come to our right mind about the way in which we are walking and to turn, or re-turn, to walking in the Way with Jesus, the Great I AM in the flesh. Or, get crushed by the weight of your sin. Notice, by the way, it is always our choice – we can walk with God or be crushed by the weight of our sin. Repentance seems, all in all, a very good idea for all of us.

Included in all that is the Grace God shows for all people, at all times, everywhere – especially when we choose to Repent! (Note: Read Jonah one more time!)

Then comes this enigmatic little agricultural metaphor or parable just dripping with Judgment and Grace. It seems there is a joke in the Greek. The word for manure is in fact not so refined – it is street slang, or what we in some more innocent era called a swear word.

So think of the harshest possible word for manure, and imagine the gardener – read tenant farmer – saying it to the wealthy absentee landowner, followed by “and if in a year you are still not happy YOU cut it down”! There would be serious snickering among the tenant farmers and servants in the crowd who only dreamed of ever shooting back at their superiors in such a fashion.

And what the story seeks to convey in part is that the absentee owner does not get his hands dirty, knows little of how to tend fig trees, and is trying to tell someone who knows the tree, the soil and the kind of care necessary how to do his or her job.

On the other hand, perhaps what the landlord is getting at is that the gardener has not been doing her job of caring for the tree – perhaps, oh I don’t know, the way we have not been particularly good at caring for God’s creation.

And it is the gardener who introduces the notion of Grace – “Sir, let it alone.” Don’t blame the tree, don’t order me to cut it down – give it another chance; give me another chance! Give it a moment of Amazing Grace. Give it a chance and it will bear fruit in its own time. The problem being God in Christ wants it on God’s time, not ours!

When we are finished laughing do we get that we are the Landowner blaming the tree for its lack of fruitfulness? Or, we are the gardener who has slacked off on our God given responsibility to care for God’s tree, whatever that may represent: creation, the poor, widows, resident aliens, etc.? And that we are the tree, standing in need of God’s Amazing Grace?

God only knows every day we wake up and get out of bed God is bestowing upon us a great deal of Amazing Grace whether we deserve it or not. Another way to put this, we are all, at the end of the day, complicit through what we do or don’t do to contribute to the misery of others and the devastation of the very planet God created and calls “good” – and not just good but, “very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

Let those who have ears hear: we are called to bear fruit, fruit that will last (John 15:16) – or be chopped down and become so much firewood.

Lent is a season that means to remind us that we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under God’s table. But it is God’s primary attribute to have mercy upon us as long as we keep on repenting of our various sins, most especially it seems the sin of playing The Blame Game. The Good News is that God does not want to blame us, God wants to save us and so came to live among us as one of us to teach us about Sin, Repentance and Grace – so it is that the Great I AM becomes flesh and dwells among us to this day!

The Best News is there is time to accept God’s Amazing Grace, Repent and Sin no more before he begins to chop down our trees!

Walk with Jesus wherever you may be
Turn turn turn turn again
May he find good fruit growing on your tree
Turn turn turn to the Son and the rain

Even now my axe is set to your tree
Turn turn turn turn again
Turn back to me and set yourself free
Turn turn turn to the Son and the rain


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