A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent: Exodus 3:1-15, , Psalm 63:1-8. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
A score and more years ago, I was on some trip or another southbound on some highway. It was one of those trips where you don’t pay much attention to anything except the driving. Suddenly the sign said I was northbound; it also said I was heading to the right location. This is where we are today, last week our reading began with Luke chapter 13 verse 31, today our reading begins with Luke chapter 13 verse 1, [pause] same highway, different direction. On my trip, all those years ago I did get to where I was going as expected. We will arrive where we are going, we will get to Good Friday no matter what we expect.
The story of Pilate slaughtering worshipers in Galilee is not so different than a gunman slaughtering faithful Muslims at worship, in two Mosques in Christchurch New Zeeland; nor is the recent murders in Blytheville. The people dying when the tower at Siloam fell is not so different than more than 300 people dying in two Boeing 737 max 8 plane crashes. Or responses are not so different than those around Jesus. We ask questions:
- Why is there so much suffering in the world?
- Is suffering inextricably linked to behavior?
- Why do bad things happen to good people?
- Why did this tragedy happen to these people?
- God does cause us to suffer because of our sin (Jolly)?
- to explain,
- to make sense of it,
- to minimize our pain,
- to reveal the hidden divine logic,
- to avoid allowing our hearts to break with tears (Barreto)
- to decide who is good and who is bad (Hoezee).
- to make excuses
- to ignore the inconvenient truths
- to cling to our convenient explanations and enabling
- to refuse to connect the dots
- to refuse to confess our complicity and complacency (Lewis),
- to refuse to be a blessing the world we are called to be (Thompson).
More than ever, enable by unlimited access to social media we rush to make our judgment public, to the whole world.
In his column, The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture David Brooks writes about Emily who called out her best friend over an (unproven) accusation. He ended up being forced out of his band and the music he loved. He lost his apartment and job, and unwillingly moved. Later she is called out over a decade old posting of an emoji on someone else’s inappropriate photo. She became the object of nationwide group hate and she had to leave her band, her music, her friends. The guy who called out Emily … said in an interview
that calling her out gave him a rush of pleasure, like an orgasm. … asked if he cared about the pain Emily endured. “No, I don’t care,” … “I don’t care because it’s obviously something you deserve, and it’s something that’s been coming. … I literally do not care about what happens to you after the situation. I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever.”
Brooks observes that once you adopt a binary tribal mentality us vs them thinking, everything is immediately depersonalized. Complex human beings are reduced to simple good versus evil, eliminating any sense of proportion. He and I are old enough to remember that this is not new; we remember how students denounced and effectively murdered their elders for incorrect thought during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and in Stalin’s Russia. We remember the McCarthy, anti-communist hunt hearings in the US. We know the sad history within the Christian church, of Protestant vs Catholic wars, military, civil, and familial. We remember the Rwandan genocide. As it was in Jesus’ day today’s call-out culture, amplified by social media, is naïve, immature. With the adoption of binary thinking when people are categorized as good or evil when random people have the power to destroy lives without any process due or otherwise, you have stepped today’s gospel (Brooks).
Here is the emerging challenge: “How do we respond to the Call Out Culture, without calling them out?” One step we all know and most of us hide from, ~ acknowledging that death is coming for all of us (Barreto). But that is not all there is, ~ death is not all-powerful; there is repentance, which is not some trade we make with God, it is the leap of the faith that God will redeem us, that God will set things right, that God will bring shalom (Barreto).
What makes this hard is that we never know when we will step in front of a bus, or when those implications will turn up again. This week a niece of a friend registered her two-year-old son for pre-school. It was joyful because at birth they were told he would not live to his 1st birthday; it was very hard because she had to register him as special needs child, just one more reminder of the randomness of life. It is hard to do what we know we should do; hard to live as we know we should live; hard to be who we know we are. The good news is we are not on our own.
The Spirit, the gardener, is nurturing us all the time. The Spirit will nudge us to be less concerned with the failures of others, and more concerned with who we are called to be. In Genesis 12 God promises Abraham
I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great. (Genesis 12:2)
At least that is what Abraham remembers. But there is more, God continues
so that you will be a blessing … so that you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3).
We are the heirs of this blessing, of this responsibility, of this calling. We are the conduit of God’s blessing to others, ~ all others ~ in all of God’s world (Thompson).
Brooks warns that our unfettered, unconstrained, quest for justice can turn into barbarism. Our repentance is the conduit of the divine blessing, the mercy by which justice continues to flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream, (Amos 5:24). The reports to Jesus focus on leading causes of death, barbarism, unconstrained power, and the vagaries, the chances of life. The parable of fig tree focusses on the leading causes of life, following the highway of life, not worrying about the direction, you travel, trusting God/Jesus/Spirit leads you to live each day as a gift, a blessing shared with any and all who choose to see.
Allen, Ronald J. “Commentary on Luke 13:1-9.” 24 3 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.
Barreto, Eric D. “Living by The Word.” 24 3 2019. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org/article/living-word/march-24-lent-3c-luke-131-9>.
Brooks, David. The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture. 14 1 2019. <newyorktimess.com>.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The Third Sunday in Lent. 12 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 13:1-9. 24 3 2019.
Jolly, Marshall A. “Suffering and Punishment, Lent 3 (C) -.” 24 3 2018. Sermons that Work.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lewis, Karoline. Fig Trees and Repentance. 19 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/>.