Today’s readings start with the infamous burning bush and end with a fig tree that may or may not have ever produced any fruit. There’s nothing like plants to bring us out of winter and into spring! Our own “burning bush” is starting to bud just outside the main doors here at the church. Both literally and figuratively that is.
Just as God called out to Moses from the burning bush, “Moses, Moses!” do we not also hear God’s Holy Spirit calling out to us, “St. Luke’s, St. Luke’s!” “Sara, Sara!”
“I have observed the misery of my people; I have heard their cry on the account of homelessness, violence, addiction and systematic racism. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Starbucks, the Boeings, the Amazonians, the Microsofts, the Costcos, and the Nordstroms. The cry of the Seattlites has now come to me. So come, I will send YOU to bring my people, out of despair.”
Do we not hear that call every day here at St. Luke’s?
I know I do. But how do we respond? Do we say “Here I am?” Do we cover our faces out of fear? Do we question God “Who am I that I should” be sent, or even “who are you” God? But God responds to each the same way, “I am who I am. The God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent you.”
When God says “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” what we should hear is “I am the God, who hears the cry of his people and does not just sit and observe, but over and over again is the one who takes action, who intervenes.” God intervenes through the faithful.
And most importantly, God said, “I will be with you.”
I say most importantly, because I won’t speak for you, but I find it extremely overwhelming to think of participating in the call of God alone.
I too see God’s people crying out. I don’t have to look any further than inside of this room, or outside my doorstep to see people who could use a little milk and honey. But the temptation to stay in the comfort of my life, the tending of a flock as Moses did, would be too hard to resist if it wasn’t for the promise that God will be with me.
God will be with you! God will be with me.
I have to repent though. I have to stop and take notice of the burning bush, stop and turn my focus from myself and realign it to God, to the path to which I am being called.
I can’t move forward into God’s call if I am still focused on myself.
Which is where today’s Gospel comes in.
It might be hard to see the connection between the first part of today’s gospel and the parable at the end. But they both have to do with the need to repent.
At the start, Jesus is being told by his disciples that a group of Galileans has been killed in the temple while offering sacrifices, by order of Pilate. They seem to be asking the age-old question, the question of why do horrible, tragic things happen to God’s faithful, if God intervenes? Is it a punishment sent from God for our sins? Jesus tells us, “No!”
God does not punish us for our sins like that.
God does not send tyrants to kill those who have sinned. God does not throw down towers on those who have sinned. God does not send an armed man into a school to kill children because they have sinned. God does not send hurricanes or earthquakes to wipe out thousands of sinners. Jesus tells us, “No!” These tragedies are not God’s punishment. They are just part of life in this world. We all face tragedy in our lives. It is not punishment for our sins, yet tragedy can be the result of sin, our own sins or those of others.
Thus, Jesus warns them and us that we too are at risk of perishing. Our piety and righteousness will not protect us. Our only salvation is repentance. By repenting and turning from sin we can help prevent tragedy. Repent from these earthly ways to God’s ways.
Turning away from sin.
Turning away from the sins that ARE at fault for the tragedies of this life.
Turning away from the destruction of God’s creation.
Turning away from the oppression of God’s people.
Turning away from being blind to others’ suffering.
Turning back to God.
Repentance is the first step to answering God’s call.
Repentance is digging around and aerating the soil of the barren fig tree.
Repentance is the laying of manure at the roots of the barren fig tree.
Too often, people hear the parable of the barren fig tree and think that God is the landowner wanting to cut it/us down, with Jesus the Gardener negotiating for another year. But I think the landowner could be society, ready to tear down anything that isn’t productive. The gardener is ourselves, and the fig tree our actions. We are the ones who have to determine if our actions will be productive. We are the ones who have to decide if we are going to continue on our same paths and let our actions remain barren, or if they can be fed by God’s grace and mercy through repentance to produce fruit.
We need to turn toward God in order to produce fruit. We need to turn toward God in order that others can produce fruit.
Help aerate the dark earth around the fig tree, allow light to shine on injustice, oppression, violence and sinfulness so that the world will be more fruitful with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
And less likely to be cut down by violence, racism, natural disasters, oppression and injustice.
Let us hear God’s voice calling out to us, just as Moses did. Repent and go out with the assurance that God is with us.
Sara Bates, Ministry Intern