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Dena Williams Isaiah 55:1-9 God calls to the people, proclaims the promise that all people will receive God’s abundant mercy, without cost. Psalm 63:1-8 A hymn of praise to God--in the shadow of God’s wings we sing for joy. I Corinthians 10:1-13 By way of example, St. Paul describes how God displeasure with the children of Israel when they acted in evil ways. God is with us in times of temptation. The Holy Gospel according to the community of St. Luke in the 13th Chapter Glory to you, O Lord At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them— do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?
2 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." Then Jesus told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So 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?' The gardener replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" The Gospel of the Lord Praise to you, O Christ Suffering Luke’s Gospel calls us this Lent to imitate Christ. The first Sunday of Lent we heard the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He fasts for 40 days and the devil offers him bread Jesus resists with the Word: “One shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God.” We talked about how we are called to imitate Christ by resisting the temptation to evil, even in small ways, in our everyday lives-behind the wheel of our car, at church, at home. Rarely do any of us find ourselves tempted to great evil. A starving man taking a piece of offered bread doesn’t seem like much evil either. Christ resists, and we are called to do the same.
3 Last Sunday, Lent 2, we talked about courage, about how we are called to imitate Jesus as he journeys toward Jerusalem, When we are afraid we often blame or criticize or complain. When we find ourselves irritated with others, it is time to stop, recognize our fear, and claim the courage of Christ, to imitate Jesus who loved and prayed for the city that kills prophets. Today’s story: Pilate, a henchman of Rome, maliciously murders Jewish Galileans as they worship in the temple. Their blood mingles with the blood of the sacrifices they are making to God. Jesus asks his followers if they think the people who were murdered were greater sinners than other folks. Jesus answers his own question. The answer is, “No.” Eighteen people die when the tower at Siloam falls on them. Again, Jesus asks his followers: “Were these eighteen people greater sinners than other people? Is this why they were crushed and suffered and died?” Again, he answers his own question: The answer is, “No.” Jesus says, If human beings die by the sword, by accident, or by natural disaster, it is not because the people were greater sinners than anyone else. When people die in earthquakes or floods, it is not because the people were greater sinners than any of us.
4 We cling to this idea though, that suffering has something to do with punishment. We pretend that we think otherwise, but whenever we hear of disaster in someone else’s life, we immediately look for an answer to the question “Why?” We do that to protect ourselves. We think that if we can only come up with a reason, a rationale, we can protect ourselves and those we love from a similar fate. An earthquake rocks the San Francisco Bay area, killing hundreds of people, and we think to ourselves: “Well, it is their own fault. Who would be foolish enough to live along the San Andreas fault? Their foolishness has killed them.” “I am not so foolish. I am still alive.” A man is shot at a bus stop downtown and we think to ourselves: “What was he doing at a bus stop in the city after dark? His carelessness has killed him.” “I am not so careless. I am still alive.” This sort of reasoning works pretty well, most of the time. We can almost always find something wrong with the victim, we can find something to criticize, we find some shortcoming in others that leads to their demise. We are sure that such needless suffering will not come to us because we are smarter, we are more cautious, we make better plans, we are careful. This sort of thinking works pretty well much of the time. Then comes suffering that makes absolutely no sense to us.
5 A widespread earthquake devastates an entire nation— Haiti and then Chile. A loved one who lives a healthy life style dies an early death of cancer. Children in a suburban neighborhood are gunned down at school. We cannot think our way out of these events. Suddenly suffering makes no sense. Jesus asks us if we think any of these people died because they were greater sinners than the rest of us, because they were not as smart, as cautious, as careful as we are. With Jesus we must answer, “No.” We do not know why there is suffering— in Haiti or Aurora or Newtown or Russia or in each of our lives, from time to time. We do not know why suffering is part of the human condition, but we know that our God of love does not will the suffering of God’s children. God accompanies us in our suffering. God knows our pain. God weeps with us. Even and especially when we suffer, God does not leave us or forsake. There is another story in today’s Gospel, a related story. It is the story of the poor fig tree that was not bearing fruit. We do not know why it was not producing figs, only that it was not. Perhaps the gardener was ignoring it. Maybe it was skipped when the fertilizer was distributed last year. The soil around it may have been too packed down to allow water to get to its roots. We do not really know. The owner of the orchard tells the gardener to cut it down.
6 The gardener intercedes on the tree’s behalf. Let me loosen the soil around it and give it some extra fertilizer. Then in a year if it has not produced fruit we will cut it down. We do not hear the rest of the story, but I believe in “happily ever afters.” I believe that this fig tree responds to some special care, recovers, and produces tons of figs the next year. There is a parable here for our congregation. as we struggle to know God’s will for us. With courage, we ask the questions— Is it time to cut down the tree? Or will some changes in care and nurture, a new plan for fertilizer and cultivation bring us to bear fruit for another year? Just as we cannot know why suffering exists in our world, so we cannot know God’s future. We do know that God knows of our struggles, wants what is best for us and for our community. We know God calls us to bear fruit. In God’s time, we will know how best to answer God’s call. So today we are called to imitate Christ. We remember that when we suffer, when others suffer, no matter the circumstances, God knows and cares. We remember that like the fig tree God calls us to bear fruit, no matter what comes, God calls us to care for and love one another and all people. Amen