Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Third Sunday of Lent 2010


Isaiah 55:1-9
55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

55:4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

55:5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;

55:7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Psalm 63:1-8
63:1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

63:2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

63:4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

63:5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

63:6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

63:7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

63:8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
10:1 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,

10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food,

10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

10:5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

10:6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.

10:7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play."

10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

10:9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.

10:10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

10:11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

10:12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.

10:13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Luke 13:1-9
13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

13:2 He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

13:6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

13:7 So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?'

13:8 He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.

13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"


“How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?” --Sara Palin. I understand political discourse, and public discussions. But I have to admit, hearing a professed Christian dispose of hope and change with a back-handed swipe, has made me a bit uncomfortable.

Not that Sara Palin is a "professional" Christian, but she's made her religious beliefs an important part of her public persona; and every once in a while, I think people who profess Christianity in public shouldn't be allowed to just use it as a free pass for proving their worthiness. Every once in a while, I think they ought to be held to living up to it. So while you don't have to agree with President Obama's "audacity of hope" (a phrase he got for his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright), dismissing "hope" as futile and naive is...well, it's hardly Christian.

Which is not the same as saying Sara Palin is not a Christian, nor is it a judgment on her Christianity. But the hope of Christianity has always been important to Christians; hope is not a thing that should be blithely dismissed. Hope is what much of a Christian's profession of faith is about. And if your profession of faith is just something you say under certain circumstances, in certain contexts, to certain audiences for certain purposes, what kind of profession is that? What are you confessing, if you can't confess it fully? So this is not a judgment on Sara Palin; this is a judgment on all of us who confess to be Christians. How's that hopey-changey thing working out for us?

Without change, there is no hope. Without hope, there is no change.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
There is an absolutely mad hope there. That is an absolutely extravagant promise of change. And is it supposed to come in spite of us? Or because of us? Are we supposed to wait for this to happen, bye and bye, in God's own good time? Or are we supposed to be inspired by it, and live this vision right here, right now? The prophet says "listen carefully to me...listen, so that you may live....and eat what is good, and delight yourselves with rich food." Those are actions, verbs, activities. There's nothing there that says "Wait" or "Trust" or "Have Faith" and God will take care of the rest. Listen, the prophet says; listen; and be changed. Everything Isaiah says is in present tense.

Just as everything Jesus speaks of, in that parable and in the lesson of people killed by the tower, is in present tense.

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?'

He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.

If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
Sort of answers the question, doesn't it? If we don't bear fruit, why should we expect God to bear fruit for us? Or even expect God to plant new trees that bear fruit, and leave us alone to wait for the planting and the harvesting? Is this God's garden, or ours? If everything in the earth is God's, and all that fills it, aren't we stewards of God's earth, gardener's in God's orchards? If we don't have hope, what good is God's hope for us?

Our hope is not a foolish hope, a hope that God will do what we can't.

"Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
And part of our repentance is to turn away from despair; to stop seeing as we see, and start seeing as God sees. There is, as Rev. Wright said, an audacity to hope, and the audacity is right there: that we could see as God sees. And part of the way God sees, is in the small things. After all, what matter is it if one tree out of an orchard bears fruit? Cut it down, replace it, move on! See the big picture, don't get bogged down in the details! But, as Mother Teresa reminds us, God (or some say the Devil) is in the details:

"There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who will do the small things."--Mother Teresa
Hope and change are not a matter merely big things. That's where we all want the change to come, of course; in big things. Big things, which are not us. So that 'hopey-changey' thing is easily derided in a world that resists big movements, but still teaches us that the "great men" of history are the ones who shifted the course of the river of time, who grabbed the zeitgeist by the shirt collars and made him change directions, take another path, go another way. Those men (and it's always men, but women, given the chance, would probably do the same) do so at great cost; but the cost is almost always to others. The cost is high, usually in human lives; and the hope blooms, and the change occurs; and just as quickly the change is forgotten, and the hope fades, and it's back to: "What have you done for me lately?" Without hope, there is no change; without change, there is no hope. But where do hope and change come from? Historical events? Changes in the course of human history? Or is it in the small things? And why is it so hard for us to try to change the small things?

Because we are the small things. Because our lives are made up, of small things. Because the small things are what matter to us: the friends we make, the lovers we know, the family members carried off to, or just by, war; or disease; or poverty. We are made up of small things; our lives are built up grain by grain from tiny accumulations, that in the end mean more to us than the big events of the world. Even the big events of our lives: birth, death, weddings, even divorce, are small things to the world. But they are the things that make us, that give us identity, that give our lives meaning, or take it away.

The extravagant call of Isaiah is to small things, to personal things, to the most intimate things, the things we need for life, the things that bind us into community: bread and wine and milk. The things we share at meals, the things we take in together, around a common table, at a common meal. From these things we will live and know that we have a covenant with God. Did you think Paul made that eucharist a binding ritual by accident?

The call of Isaiah is not extravagant because it gives so much: what is wine and milk and bread, after all? It is extravagant because it offers so much hope, the audacious hope of real and fundamental change. It is as hopeful as the gardener, sure that just one more season, just one more try, will make the tree worthwhile, will bring change. But the change of Isaiah comes in response to the vision, in living in the world pronounced by the prophet, who says: Come now! Come and eat! Come and enjoy!

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are 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.
It is the optimism of the gardener in the parable; except we are the gardener, and the tree is our life. Without hope, why should we work it, why should we make the effort? Without change, what would our efforts matter? But even if our hope is in changing small things, it will be enough. Indeed, it will be everything.

Amen.


Picture from Vanderbilt University Special Collections.

2 Comments:

Blogger Cathy said...

Lovely sermon, Rmj - thank you - you have given me lots to think about. I will certainly come back later and read it again, too.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

in fact, is this a sermon?? ... Oh well, never mind, it certainly could be, and I didn't get to church this morning, so it has done the job nicely!!

2:40 PM  

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