February 28, 2016
Third Sunday in Lent
Anthem: Dona Nobis PacemSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
So the news has come out about another mass shooting, another tower falling, another water system with lead in the pipes, another horrible thing done by some puppet dictator or regional warlord to an oppressed people, another person who does not conform to the world’s expectations of how to dress or how to love or how to live being killed, and the disciples wonder among themselves, “Good Lord, what did they do wrong to get shot or crushed or sacrificed like that?” Or maybe, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Twice Jesus says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” It is like a macabre refrain to the terrible stories of the day. And it sounds like a “scare people into church” story.
Except the parable that follows immediately after it is not one of hellfire and brimstone, but one of patience and mercy and waiting.
Repentance is one of those good churchy, Lenten words. Its roots lie in the idea of turning. To turn from wickedness or violence or evil; to turn towards compassion and healing and goodness. And often repentance is used in reference to sin. So if we think of individual sins and singular acts of sinfulness, repentance for each one is needed, turning from each one is necessary. But if we look at sin, meaning the state of being separated from God, not just the acts that arise from it, then we think of repentance not as all these little turnings, but as the turning of our lives from the violence and devastation of the world, to the creativity of life in the Spirit, to the generativity of living as one created in the image of God, to the faithfulness of one seeking to follow Jesus.
It is not putting away this or that sin that saves us from a similar fate. It is following Jesus that makes of our life something more than a statistic. It is the difficult life of living out the Gospel that makes us more than complicit bystanders to acts of injustice. But how is this possible?
The prophet Isaiah says to the people in exile that if they listen to God, then God will make of them a witness like David.
A little background first. David is a complicated character. But in the popular imagination of Israel in exile, David is the example of the golden age of Israel. Like President Carter is for Democrats or President Reagan for Republicans, or like Lincoln is for people of both parties. David is the figure onto whom, and into whom, is invested all that is good and right and true about what it means to be an Israelite. Please realize that this projection is made regardless of the troubles and failures and humanity while in office. This is the David that Isaiah is speaking about.
If you listen to me,
says God, you will live.
Not only will you live,
I will make a covenant with you
and love you the way
you have seen in my love for David.
I will make you like him, a witness.
You will be the ones that all the others will run to,
because the Lord, the God,
the creator of heaven and earth,
will make you beautiful.
We, a people in exile, who so often feel lost, who see ourselves far from where we want to be, thought we ought to be, prayed to be, we will be made beautiful by God, will be a witness to the goodness of God, we will be proclaimers of the ways God feeds us. This is crazy talk. If it were up to us, this would make no sense whatsoever. But it is not. This is all in the context of the Word of God.
What does Isaiah say about the Word of God? It is good eats. It is rich food and unlike fancy restaurants, it is free, a gift, a priceless treasure given to us with no price tag. And the Word of God says that even the wicked will give up wickedness and the unrighteous will return. Why, because God forgives.
I do not mean some kind of accommodating forgiveness that says that whatever happened to us was okay. I do not mean some sort of diminishing forgiveness that says if we make ourselves small enough then whatever we have encountered won’t be so significant.
How is forgiveness possible? Because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways, as Isaiah says. These words are part of the funeral liturgy in the United Church of Christ. Forgiveness is like unto dying to the old patterns, the old hurts, the old injuries, and while they stay dead and buried, we rise to new life.
In our hurt, in our woundedness, in our participation in the broken world, we see a fig tree without any fruit on it and we rip it out and put something else in its place.
But the good gardener, sees something still there. Have you ever met a patch of concrete stronger than a blade of grass? Something is still percolating. Something is still fermenting. Something is still underground, seeking nutrients and water. Something is growing, where we cannot see it. God is still speaking, in a still small voice, amidst all the competing shouts of the world.
To dig or not; that is the question. Let’s tend it, let’s fertilize it, let’s give it nutrients and water and sunlight, and see if something new might yet surprise us.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Thanks be to God. Amen.