Lent 3 – 24 March 2019
Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?
not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
Coffee and Death
When our children were not yet teenagers they wanted to drink coffee. I told them with humour: If you drink coffee you will die. That was true, but not the whole truth.
The fatality rate for humans is 100%. The only question is when and how each of us will die.
Our children were precocious and figured it out. The second time I told them they’d die if they drank coffee, they responded: Yes, but if we do not drink coffee we will die, too.
Coffee has little if anything to do with it. Everyone is a sinner, all of us deserve to die, all of us will die.
Because God …, Therefore we can ….
This is the background to each of the texts, which if forgotten, leaves us reading as if God’s reality for us were something different than because God claims us, therefore we can live and respond.
Isaiah writes: listen that you may live.
This is not listen or else you will die. You will die anyway. Rather Isaiah calls to us: listen while you still can to God’s Word that proclaims that God makes it possible for us to live abundantly and boldly:
Because God is gracious, even if and when we fail miserably,
Therefore we can live boldly and abundantly.
Paul writes that we should learn from the examples of those who died in the wilderness during the exodus: We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and they were destroyed by the serpent.
This is not Paul telling us that if we put Christ to the test, then we will die. It is Paul having told us first that we are saved by grace, no matter what we cannot earn it. And as God’s children we can learn to not put Christ to the test. Because putting Christ to the test takes the life right out of us. We will die, whether we put Christ to the test or not, but if we avoid putting Christ to the test, we will live more as Christ calls us to live.
And what is the context of Paul’s admonishments? We will all be tested. Paul’s readers in Corinth were being tested, so much so that they felt overwhelmed. Paul reminds them that because God has claimed them God also gives them the ability to endure any testing that comes their way; therefore they do not need to live in fear, or be overwhelmed. They can endure. They can live like children of God.
In the Gospel from Luke, Jesus answers the question brought to him about those who suffer Pilate’s cruelty: they are not worse sinners than any others. Do not repent and you will perish as they did. Repent, and you will perish in some other way. It’s like coffee. Except that by repenting we can live more boldly and more abundantly. We can be the people that Christ calls us to be, so that others will see God’s grace for them in our sacrifices to bring justice, freedom, food and homes to those without.
The story of the fig tree that does not produce fruit is not a threat that we will be cut down. Someday, no matter what, we will be removed from the garden. We are here in God’s garden to produce fruit. Yet, whether we produce fruit or not, only by grace do we continue to live, ‘one more year’; and we live only ‘one more year’ at a time, or more accurately, only one day at a time, minute by minute.
Life on our own
This is the reality of life lived on our own. We broken humans on our own make life cruel, short and brutish for ourselves and others. Our faith is tested, our endurance tested, our will to be gracious is tested; often we are tested beyond our own limits. Evil is suffered by everyone. And everyone perpetrates evil, for themselves and for others.
One only need listen to the news to hear the same old stories told over and over again, different times, places and characters, but the same scripts: worshippers are gunned down in Christchurch. Flood waters and mudslides cover villages people and all. Tsunamis set off by earthquakes wipe shorelines clear of all life and buildings for miles inland. Millions face death by starvation even though there is enough food for everyone. People continue to die from diseases that are curable. Intentional international chaos of many kinds causes thousands and millions passed, current and future deaths; the chaos is created to cover the decimation of the earth leaving it barely inhabitable for future generations. All this is done to secure profits and power for a few trillionaires, a few multinational corporations, and a few unknown power brokers and wielders.
Left to our own devices the only good news for us humans is that everyone will die eventually; for this evil cannot be endured for ever.
God does not leave us on our own
Today’s readings, though, remind us again in so many ways that God does not leave us to our own devices, not at all. God’s thoughts and ways are so high above our thoughts and ways. While we charge and convict one another of great evils, God abundantly pardons. God calls us as we thirst and hunger, to come, to drink and eat our fill of good food, delightful food, to buy wine and milk without money or price.
Paul assures us there is no test beyond our endurance. The Holy Spirit equips us to meet every challenge, so that we may respond with grace. Jesus talks about the manure thrown on us through or lives. Is that not a nice translation. We know the more accurate, evocative translation. Jesus reminds us that the manure of life is nourishment for our souls.
God asks of us
What does God ask of us in return for life, life with God at our side?God asks that we honour the goodness of Creator and Creation.
God asks that we seek the Lord while he may be found, while he is close while we still have ‘one more year’.
God asks that inclining our ears to God, we turn from wickedness and unrighteous thoughts, that we trust God’s faithfulness.
God asks that we understand the manure of life as nourishment for our souls. Having had plenty of manure dumped on us and dug in around us, having been soaked in the drowning waters of baptism, and after days and months of being drenched in the bright light of Christ God asks that we produce fruit that reflects God’s ways of astounding faithfulness, sacrifice, mercy, love and free renewal for everyone regardless of supposed merit.
God asks that we learn from examples of our fore-bearers.
God asks that we give witness of God’s Grace to nations we do not know.
This is our Lenten fast of sacrifice, that we fast and sacrifice in order that injustice will be stopped, that the yoke of oppression be broken, that our bread will give life to those that are hungry, and our homes become the home for those who are homeless, that our country become the country for those who have no safe country.
It may not seem that we accomplish much. Sometimes that is truer than we can tolerate.
For example after Christchurch New Zealand passed a law making illegal many of the rapid fire, multi shot guns. Farmers and others turned in their weapons. One farmer said it well: it was a convenience, but that convenience was not worth allowing mass shootings to be so easily arranged.
As faithful people, as Children of God, most often our efforts net only small starts at rectifying injustices. We breathe, we take steps, we struggle forward. It’s never really enough, but we keep working one small step forward at a time.
Because God is faithful, Therefore we remain faithful.
Breathe Gracefully, while We can
We all breathe air, take up space, in order to produce fruit for God, to do God’s will, to be Christ’s presence of humble compassion and care, Christ’s hands of poignant purpose and clear justice, and Christ’s voice of brilliant light and hope.
We, each and every one of us, mature because of the manure of life. There is plenty manure for each and every one of us. There is more injustice than is comprehensible, so much cruelty that is beyond imagination, and a plethora of ignorance and apathy that is unfathomably astounding. We all live through the tests of life and grow strong, or we die trying.
If you think you have no testing, no manure as nourishment for your soul, then you are asleep at the wheel; you are wasting air.
It is through the tests of life that we come to know God’s power to overcome evil with goodness, vengeance with forgiveness, hate with love, and chaos with grace leading to hope.
If we drink coffee … well we know how that goes. The question is: how do we choose to live while we still have breath?
God offers us grace, so that we may gracefully offer life abundant to everyone.