Sunday, March 24, 2019

People are talking

People are talking…People are gossiping…people are worrying about the wrong things.

People have heard rumors of a brutal execution of some Galileans who were worshiping. Then their blood had been somehow allowed to be mixed or accidentally mixed with the blood of sacrifices. Now this sounds like it was a political act for a killing to be allowed to happen at a place of worship and then to allow the blood to be mixed with the sacrifice is high sacrilege.  People want to know what these people could have done to be allowed to die in such a fashion what was their sin?

Last week Jesus has just finished telling the crowds and the Pharisees that he is going to keep on preaching his message, that today and tomorrow and the next day he will continue to heal, to bless, and to walk with the marginalized. But today we go back to the first of this chapter. We go back to the crowd which today is more concerned with a political act and claiming outrage and wondering what could these gallileans have done to deserve such a death and how can this sacrilege of the sacred offering happen.

Now that I hear myself saying this, I wonder what was the crowd’s true intention or where was their anger directed?  Remember many expect the savior to gather people, to rise up against imperial power in a violent and revolutionary way.  It sounds as if the true question may be did you hear about this and what are we going to do about this Jesus?

The crowd wants an angry Jesus. A Jesus who is going to take up arms against the powers that be but instead Jesus answers the question on the surface and deflects the veiled call to arms.
Jesus brings up another top news story, another current event of the day–the 18 people in Jerusalem who are killed when a tower fell on and crushed them.   There is no difference between the two events, Jesus states. It’s not a matter of degrees of rightness or wrongness, sin or sainthood.

Jesus also notes a sense of superiority in the question…some are better because we have sinned little or not at all or not in the fashion that these others did.

“He seems to recognize that they are arguing that the violence of one’s death relates to the darkness of one’s sins – an idea that is misused and popular throughout the Christendom of the middle ages and continues even today in some circles of believers. Jesus goes right to the point and is unwilling for his listeners to believe they are greater than or that they sin less or that their sins are lesser so he says: “Everyone must repent. Everyone is called to repent, repent early, repent often, repent now, and repent.” He tells them they are going to die too and suddenly and unprepared.”[1]

Ouch, so harsh! I had a professor at Claremont that would gently remind his class that death is not a matter of if but when. For us older students it was a bit comical yet for some of the younger ones it appeared to be a divine revelation.

 To me it sounds as if Jesus is reminding everyone these are sad and tragic events and they happen. It is not an account of sin.

Jesus addresses their concept of sin and judgement and turns it on its ear.

It isn’t about who sinned more. It isn’t about who deserved to die. It isn’t about how they died.  It isn’t even about the mingling of blood.  This isn’t about saint peter at the gate with an abacus tallying up your sins and the rate of which they have been forgiven to see if one can get in.  Oh, by the way there are no electronics in heaven that’s why Peter uses and abacus.

What this whole dialogue comes down to is this…In the end its about how they lived.

Jesus first makes the comment That unless you repent you will die as they did…

"The word translated as 'repent' is, at its root, about thinking and perception. It refers to a wholesale change in how a person understands something. It implies an utter reconfiguration of your perspective on reality and meaning, including (in the New Testament) a reorientation of yourself toward God."[2]

A reorientation toward God.  Remember last week I said my concept of original sin is hiding ourselves from God. Others would say turning away from God. If God is omnipresent, all around us how can we hide?  But if we look at this way, we are all invited to the table with God but if we sit with our back turned…

So, repentance is more than about being sorry for what we have done it is about reorienting our self towards God.  Changing our behavior so that it is more representative of our call as children of God.

“So, we see hear that Jesus is teaching those who will listen that they must repent. They must repent because they do not know what may happen and death may come at any moment. They must all repent. No one has more or less sin than someone else. Repentance is the daily work of the follower of Jesus. It is important and key as a daily exercise not because it prepares you for death but because it aerates the soil and provides fertilizer like the fig tree. A daily diet of repentance provides room in one’s life for the following of Jesus and eventually bears fruit in the work with Jesus bringing forth the reign of God.

How is repentance something that bears fruit? Repentance is the act of bring the ego into alignment with the soul and the Holy Spirit of God. Repentance is the taking of a fearless inventory that helps one to understand what the individual’s role is in brokenness and dysfunction. Repentance helps us understand the individual acts we take or do not take that have effects on the wider community. How do my habits of consumption affect others? How do my wants and desires get bruised when I don’t get my way? How do I lash out and blame others when I am at fault? How do I seek to have others give me esteem so I feel good about myself instead of understanding that God esteems me and loves me?”[3] and I would add for just who I am.

But then Jesus offers the parable about the fig tree.  In the parable he puts forth the concept that being sorry is not enough, but you must bear fruit.  There has to be something productive from one’s existence.  You must be contributing to the kindom of God here on earth.  If you are not then God will just Chop, you down.

At Least, that is the thinking of those around Christ, but Jesus puts forth this new loving concept.  That perhaps the one not bearing fruit just hasn’t been nurtured or cared for properly…hasn’t been exposed to the Loving gardener that is Christ…Give me some time to nurture the tree then if it still doesn’t bear fruit one can chop it down.

One commentator states;

“That’s right. You heard the man. Bear fruit or die. Might that be heard as a stewardship imperative? If we as individual disciples have been given life, then aren’t we responsible for making the most of it? Or, as the poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Likewise, as the Body of Christ, what are we doing to bear fruit, to bloom where we’ve been planted?”[4]

I find some merit in the question asked but I am not sure this is what I hear in the parable Christ puts forth.  I live in the confidence of the Gardner.  I am being tended too and loved by Christ and as long as I live in Christs care I will bear fruit.  It is almost as if we can’t help it.

Richard Rohr puts out these daily reflections and one of them this week had a quote from Meister Eckhart

“God’s seed is in us. If it were tended by a good, wise and industrious laborer, it would then flourish all the better, and would grow up to God, whose seed it is, and its fruits would be like God’s own nature. The seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree, the seed of a nut tree grows to be a nut tree, the seed of God grows to be God. —Meister Eckhart (1260–1328)[5]

As the body of Christ, we struggle with and strive to live better.  We struggle with and seek to care for the community around us.  We are called to seek out the margins and see where we can do better. How we can serve our community better.

 You see If a congregation is merely existing, longing for an era past, too worn down to invest the energy, creativity, and passion in sharing the Good News of Jesus with a broken and hurting world, then what’s to make it any different from a social club? If a congregation stands on holier than thou ground pronouncing, we are better than… it is nothing more than a noisy gong.

It is when our congregations provide a place to equip disciples and build one another up, it is when we live in the love of Christ that we cannot help but be excited to get out into the world and help to make it a better place.

Have you ever had a plant in a window?  What happens to it?  It grows outward from the plant into the light. In Just the same way healthy church grows outward while still maintaining its deep-rooted connection to Christ.

Reverend Sharron Reissinger reminds us;

“We are called to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us–our time, our talent, and our resources. God expects us to be fruitful to the best of our abilities. We are not supposed to be “wasting the soil” forever. Sure, we will have times and seasons when we are less than fruitful in our ministry, mission, worship, and generosity. Even plants and trees have fallow seasons or “manure years” during which they rest and replenish. …

One wonders why the church can’t take a lesson from this story and from the principles of the good steward of land and orchard. Why do we resist change, languish in a fog of scarcity, and pine for the good old days? What keeps us from investing fully in flourishing and taking risks by pruning away the useless and that which chokes and binds us? We do these things to our own peril, and in the process deny our neighbors the opportunity to see Jesus.”[6]

This is the trial many Congregations are facing.  Now we here have remained relevant to the community around us and yet the challenge of the 21st century lie before us. What will church look like in 20 years, 10 years or even five?  What are we going to have to do?  Do we need to change some behaviors?  Old habits? Do we need to seek new ways to be present and relevant? We do need to be prepared for new life–even if that life looks a whole lot different from the way things have always been?

“It bears repeating that Jesus does not explain the causes of violence that nature and human beings regularly inflict upon unsuspecting people. He does not blame victims. He does not attempt to defend creation or the Creator when "why?" questions seem warranted. At least in this scene, he offers no theological speculation and inflicts no emotional abuse. He asks, with an urgency fueled by raw memories of blood and rubble on the ground: What about you? How will you live the life you get to live?”[7]

“Do we build our lives upon those rationalizations that allow us to get through the day feeling blessed, safe, and able to presume upon a better fortune… (or)do we build our lives on the knowledge that God's judgment is certain? Do we build them on the efforts that God, like the parable's gardener, undertakes to prepare us for that judgment? God transforms us through grace, a grace that calls us to be generous toward those still trapped under the weight of poverty, want, and devastation of all kinds.”[8]

There’s a big world out there that needs God’s love. Go and Bloom in the image of Christ.

[2] "How to Survive the Sequester, Syria, and Other Threatening Headlines, “Matthew L. Skinner, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 201

[5] Meister Eckhart, “Of the Nobleman,” Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, trans. Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn (Paulist Press: 1981), 241.
[8] Ditto

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