The Third Sunday in Lent: March 24, 2019
Preacher: The Rev. Richard P. Limato, Deacon of St. Michael’s Church
Have you ever found yourself wondering what God desires?
Desmond Tutu shares this letter he’s written on God’s behalf.
Dear Child of God,
“I have a dream. Please help me to realize it. It is a dream of a world where ugliness and squalor and poverty, its wars and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing.
I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that MY children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family.
In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian, all belong.”
(God Has A Dream: A Vision of Hope, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams)
How far are we from achieving what God wants?
Lent is a time to think deeply about what God wants, a time to discern individually and corporately, what it means to live in right relationship with God, with God’s People, and to actively build a world reflecting what God desires.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a group of grieving people. Offering their experiences of human tragedy, they question the origins of suffering and brokenness in life.
Pilate has callously sacrificed the life of Galileans, a decision born out of hatred and fear.
And, tragically 18 have died in an unfathomable accident.
The Galileans are stunned, bereft and want answers.
Sadly, it’s all too easy to relate to their story.
These experiences sorely echo the unexplainable suffering we experience in our own lives.
Stories like these fill our news.
The tragic loss of life in an Ethiopian plane crash, a result of corporate greed, the unexplainable hate that killed Muslims as they prayed in their New Zealand Mosques, damaging Typhoons on the African Coast, with political despots depriving people of food and care are a few recent experiences that sadden our hearts.
It’s understandable to find ourselves joining the crowd,
“Where does this suffering come from?”
“Why did these people have to die?”
Challenging the conventional wisdom of His time, Jesus boldly offers an explanation.
Suffering and evil will always be a part of life.
When human beings suffer or die, God has not arbitrarily chosen to punish or willed it to happen.
Suffering and brokenness come from the fragility of life, from choices that we make, from evil that persists in the world throughout time.
Accepting these realities draws us to realize our own dependence on God, our need to accept responsibility, and to respond to the world’s suffering, brokenness and evil.
Jesus reveals the way, His way of love, by sharing the parable of the withered fig tree.
The gardener in this parable sees beyond what the landowner is capable of seeing.
He sees possibility, the potential for change, growth and new life.
He understands that with time, care and attention, that we, like the fig tree, have the potential to experience transformation and to yield fruit.
The gardener doesn’t give up on us when we fail to bloom; fail to believe in our own potential and the potential of others.
When our own ability to offer consolation falters, when we fail to recognize our ability to restore life, when we fail to see beyond circumstances and people we deem as “wasting the soil.”
He doesn’t quit when we fall far short of our own capacity to love like Christ.
The gardener, our loving God, reminds us that transformation is always possible.
This is the spiritual transformation that scholars call “Metanoia.”
The individual and collective transformation when a spiritual journey leads to repentance and conversion.
Repentance, turning away from anything that separates us from God, and conversion, turning towards a deeper relationship with God as we live in community, these are the spiritual gifts of true transformation, “Metanoia.”
This is the transformation made possible when we intentionally set aside behaviors, attitudes, actions and beliefs that keep us from entering into a full relationship with God and God’s people.
It is the transformation possible when we accept responsibility for our own actions and work to challenge the actions of others.
The transformation that enables us to blossom, to flourish and to do the work needed to build the world that God desires.
At a pivotal moment, when He is reckoning with his own suffering yet to come, Jesus asks us to accept the painful reality of suffering.
He points us towards His own ministry.
He invites us to accept the inevitability of suffering, and to do the spiritual work necessary to participate in the building of God’s reign.
Sadly, there are many obstacles that may cause us to trip and fall along the way.
It is so easy to fall into self-righteous anger and wallow in our indignation, too fatigued to act.
It is way too easy to feel morally superior, to plant our flag in the moral high ground, as we are left to sort the fake news from the truth each and every day.
It’s convenient to place blame elsewhere. Christians blame Muslims, Muslims blame Christians, Fundamentalists blame Hollywood, Liberals blame Conservatives and Conservatives blame Liberals, on and on.
It’s understandable that we hardly know where to begin.
So, we harden our stance, we become more and more apathetic, we feel less and less up to the task.
Yet today’s Gospel offers us solace and direction as Jesus tells the beautiful parable of the fig tree and the loving gardener.
The gardener, our patient God, believes in the power of transformation.
Building God’s reign takes patience, and nurturing over time.
He reminds us that despite the world’s suffering, God is ever present with us.
God is not the cause of the world’s suffering; God grieves along side us when suffering happens.
He sees the beauty and the potential that exists amidst the suffering and the loss.
He sees beyond the wasting soil.
He asks us to do the same.
In the telling of this parable, Jesus confronts the spiritual grid – lock that results from complacency, status quo and disbelief in our own and others’ potential.
He invites us to walk the “Way of Love,” to intentionally commit to spiritual practices that lead to personal transformation, a commitment to follow and imitate Jesus.
Today’s forum gives us an opportunity to commit to the Way of Love practice – LEARN, to use scripture like today’s to draw closer to Christ and His ministry.
The gardener, our loving God knows that figs have potential, He knows that figs blossom inwardly.
When you break a fig in half, you discover a core of tiny blossoms waiting to flourish.
(Love the Fig by Ben Crair, The New Yorker, August 10, 2016)
Tiny blossoms that become spiritual nourishment and the building blocks that move us closer to achieving the dream, realizing the world that God desires.
Are we individually and collectively up to the task or Are we at ease with just taking up soil?
Like the gardener are we able to see potential, a world where we are all worthy, capable of sprouting fruit-filled tiny blossoms that enable all of God’s Children to flourish?
“Beloved Child of God, I have a dream. Please help me to realize it.”