Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sermon: March 7 (3rd Sunday in Lent)

Loving Father, you comfort us in times of misfortune: Our brothers and sisters have suffered a great tragedy and they need your healing. Send your Holy Spirit to soothe the anger, fear, and sorrow of their broken hearts. In the darkness of this moment, shine the light of your radiant love. Be their companion in their grief. In their pain, make them strong in courage, dry their tears, mend their hearts, and gently call them to newness of life. We thank you for the assurance of your love, shown in your Son Jesus, who suffered for us, died, and rose again to prepare our place in your eternal home. Amen.

Sitting in the Checkout line, I see the headlines…

· Satan Captured
· Heaven Is a Neat Place

Of course, these are outrageous lines and also nonsense, only there to try make us buy their tabloid. But what about these titles?

· Hurricane Katrina God's punishment for sin in New Orleans
· Tsunami in SE Asia formed by sin and faithlessness (and)
· Haiti’s earthquake was divine retribution for a pact with the devil that was sworn long ago

People actually said these things and believe them too. They look to the bible and see divine punishment and make judgments upon today’s tragedies. We have even heard people say that 9/11 was a day God punished America. In their words are no comfort or caring but finger pointing and judgment. Certainly you can find such judgment in the Bible but there are other voices in Scripture that question the idea that sin brings calamity. One could look at the book of Job or read in Isaiah, the call to seek out & call upon God, to turn to the Lord…
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Thankfully, we are not God, we don’t know it all, for there is much we do not understand, but this we can be sure, it is Jesus who reminds us that God does not work that way. On Wednesday nights, we have joined our brothers and sisters from the Lutheran Church for our annual Lenten study. We have been looking for God in the rubble of Haiti. Asking the questions: did God cause it? Why didn’t God prevent it?

In Today’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted with such questions, some told Jesus about the Galileans who Pilate murdered…and of course there was the Tower of Siloam that fell on 18 people who were killed. Obviously they were sinners right, Jesus? Where is God in all of this? Jesus replies, were they bigger sinners than you? No. BUT, you will perish as they did if you do not repent.

I think the point Jesus makes is that our lives have uncertainty, and tragedy befalling a person or family or nation does not mean that God is angry with them, against them or caused it. The frailty of the flesh is that we are mortal and things do happen to us, but we also need to repent of our fear of death and live our lives with God’s gracious gifts. And to illustrate his point, Jesus tells us a parable about a barren fig tree.

The owner wants it cut down for wasting the soul because it has not produced anything for three years, but the gardener says to let it be, while the gardener tries again to help it produce fruit. As parable about the Kingdom of God, it Jesus who is reminding us that we are to produce such good fruit, fruit that comes out of repentance, that is born in a life lived fully. Jesus is the divine gardener who is looking to help our barren lives produce.

If we spend our times condemning others for their supposed sin, pointing out where God has acted against them, we will miss God really acting in the world through us & others. Miracles do happen, There is much to our mysterious God in the ways that God moves through our world in the Spirit. And in the midst of tragedy, whether caused by the Pilate’s of our world who murder others, or in natural acts when earth shakes and towers fall, we are called to live into our faith. In the midst of the tragedy of Haiti, the voice of the Episcopal Bishop, Duracin speaks clearly to that faith:
“As for resources, we have next to nothing. The wreckage is beyond imagination. However, this situation delivers us into faith. I look at this as a baptism. We who are still alive have had the blessing of survival, but in many ways we have died to the ways of the past. We have the opportunity to rise up and start anew. In this moment of grief and mourning, life must continue.”
But Bishop Jean Duracin also sees God’s hand in the tragedy, through the Spirit of God helping them live again…
“It is natural to question, but we hold on in faith to God – God who is always good, the God of infinite compassion. That we were struck by this tragedy does not mean God is not with us. He is here. We must always remember that God lives in this world. There is pain, but there is also joy. He gives us assurance not of the life that ends, but the life that is eternal. In the middle of all the deaths, there is a God of love and of life, and we must shout Alleluia with the living.”
This is our witness too, in the midst of our lives, there is a God of love and of life, and we must shout (or maybe in Lent whisper) Alleluia with the living. That is also evident in the lives of others in Haiti…

Romel Joseph was born to a poor Haitian family, he became so accomplished in the violin that he won a Fulbright scholarship to study at Julliard. He returned to Haiti in 1991 &opened the New Victorian School to teach music to the children of the poor. The New Victorian School was destroyed in the Haitian earthquake. No students were in the building at the time of the quake but Romel was trapped inside the rubble for 18 hours. Tragically, Romel's pregnant wife perished in the earthquake. Romel was flown to Miami where he was treated. Doctors don't know if he'll ever be able to play the violin again. Yet, even in the heartache and wrenching loss, Romel Joseph is determined to rebuild the New Victorian School. "As long as Haiti has children, you have a purpose being there. As long as there are kids there, they have to have a reasonable level of health and they have to have an education. I need more than an earthquake to make me stop my work in Haiti."
[As reported by the Miami Herald, CBS News and National Public Radio.]
That is fruit the Jesus is talking about in the faith of a Bishop, and in the determination of a teacher & musician. And the Gardener said, “Let it alone …If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down…” May we bear that good fruit that God expects from us in our lives today. Amen.

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