Text: Exodus 3:1-8,13-15; Luke 13:1-9
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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, very challenging. 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?
We might think the blame game is some kind of ancient mindset, but let’s face it, we all get into it at one time or another. Look at the number of Accident Claim adverts on the telly – WhoCanISue.com? This money-grabbing rush to litigation and the use of the English libel laws as a tool of censorship (did you know people come to this country to sue authors for libel because you are so likely to win and win large amounts of money in the UK – so free speech and fair comment is stifled!), all of this serves to undermine mutual trust and even helping in the street for fear of being sued.
Christ, as I AM made flesh, can hardly believe people think this way. After all, didn’t God make it perfectly clear that the sun shines and the rain comes down on the good and the bad? The truth is that Our Lord shows us that “The sin is found in those who think the sin is found in those who have misfortune fall on them.”
So Our Saviour says to repent of this kind of thinking; he says to turn away from the blame game altogether, and show some mercy – the kind of mercy that God: “I AM,” likes to show for everyone, everywhere. See for yourself in the Book of Jonah.
To repent, as I reminded you only the other week, Metanoia means to turn around or turn back. The idea is that we are walking with God, walking with Christ, and then suddenly we find ourselves distracted by, say, the 3,000 Ads that bombard us each day. Or by some personal crisis. Or by the day-to-day routine of dropping kids off, picking them up, driving them somewhere else, and then picking them up again (or is that just my life?). We find ourselves walking in circles at best, rather than walking with or walking 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 Christ, the Great I AM in the flesh. If we don’t we will get crushed by the weight of our 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. Judgement is not something which is externally inflicted by God, but is something which we have brought upon ourselves.
Included in all that is the grace God shows for all people, at all times, everywhere – especially when they choose to repent. Again, just go back and read the Book of Jonah one more time (it’s not that long)!
Then comes the parable in today’s gospel reading – an enigmatic little agricultural metaphor 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 (it’s a word many of you will have heard from my mouth over time), and then imagine the gardener – or 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 sniggering among the poor, the tenant farmers and servants in the crowd who only dreamed of ever talking back at their superiors in such a fashion.
And what the story means 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 job.
And it is the gardener who introduces the notion of grace. “Sir, let it alone,” he says, in essence. “Don’t blame the tree, don’t order me to cut it down – give it another chance. Give it a moment of Amazing Grace. Give it a chance, and it will bear fruit in its own time.”
When we finish laughing, do we get that we are the landowner blaming the tree for its lack of fruitfulness? And that we are also the tree, standing in need of God’s Amazing Grace?
Every day when 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. And that IS the point of grace, and what is so amazing about it (to paraphrase Philip Yancey’s excellent book, which you should all read).
Another way to put this is that, through what we do or don’t do, we are all complicit in contributing to the misery of others and the devastation of the very planet God created and calls “good” – and if you remember in the first chapter of Genesis, He calls it not just “good,” but “very good.”
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 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 God 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 became flesh and dwells among us to this day!
You have been given the Amazing Gift of Grace this day. It is made real on this altar and is here for all of you to share. Come. Receive this grace. Receive Our Lord Jesus Christ, and you WILL bear fruit.
Respect is due to Fr. Kirk Alan Kubicek