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Monday, February 22, 2016

Lent 3C February 28, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"The word translated as 'repent' is, at its root, about thinking and perception. It refers to a wholesale change in how a person understands something. It implies an utter reconfiguration of your perspective on reality and meaning, including (in the New Testament) a reorientation of yourself toward God."

"How to Survive the Sequester, Syria, and Other Threatening Headlines,"Matthew L. Skinner, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2013.

"Faith understood as an ongoing relation on engagement in God and with God in the world can never sit back in distraction or religious self-preoccupation or self indulgence, because the God we know in Jesus keeps opening our eyes to both joy and pain, to wonder and to need, and inviting us to see them and not withdraw from them, which is the wont of religion."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Lent 3, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, you revealed your name to Moses in the burning bush and your mercy to every generation in the teaching of Jesus. Tend us patiently as the tree you have planted, and do not let us perish. Cultivate us with compassion, and nurture us with forbearance, until, by your grace, we bear at last the abundant fruit of conversion. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 13:1-9
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel
Rubble near the pool of Saloam

When last we dealt with this passage it came to us after a series of natural disasters and in the midst of war.  Today, we can look around us and see that much is unchanged. People remain concerned about the economy, jobs, natural disasters, and intentional gun violence.  Death is a perennial companion with life but in recent months we have discovered the pain of death that seems to victimize us.  Whether it is the Sandy Hook shooting, the monsoon floods in Malawi, or the meteor strike we are left wondering as did the ancients do these deaths mean anything about the faithfulness of those who lost their lives. Trying to figure out the meaning of these things often comes after considering the feeling of being blessed by being granted life in the midst of such tragedy. Chris Haslam, a Canadian priest and blogger, reminds us in his commentary for this reading that both Jews and the Hellenists of Jesus time believed that pain and premature death were signs of God’s “adverse judgment.” We see this not only in Luke’s Gospel but Jesus addresses this idea in John’s Gospel 9:2-3.

It is important, essential, to point out that Jesus rejects the idea that a man was born blind because of his or his parents’ sinful ways. 

This then is the context in which we pick up our first verse of today’s passage where a few who had gathered around  Jesus talk about how Pilate mingled the blood of Galileans with the blood of the sacrifices they were making in the Temple. While we do not have a historical account of such events, the story does match in theme and tone other accounts of Pilate’s cruelty to the Jews. It is an awful and tragic notion.

Jesus responds by asking, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? This response is what I like to think of as a Jesus twist. Here we have a group who thinks that there is a hierarchy of sin and punishment dealt out accordingly, Jesus points out to them that they think this in all likelihood because they are safe and therefore more holy. 

He seems to recognize that they are arguing that the violence of one’s death relates to the darkness of one’s sins – an idea that is misused and popular throughout the Christendom of the middle ages and continues even today in some circles of believers. Jesus goes right to the point and is unwilling for his listeners to believe they are greater than or that they sin less or that their sins are lesser so he says: “Everyone must repent. Everyone is called to repent, repent early, repent often, repent now, and repent.” He tells them they are going to die too and suddenly and unprepared.

Jesus tells us of the story of the tower in Siloam, a city tower connected with the wall. Perhaps Jesus is speaking about one of the towers near the pool mentioned in John 9:7. Josephus mentions such a wall near the pool (LTJ, Luke, 211). And, Jesus drives his point home asking, were these people more in debt to God than others?

Next, Jesus moves into teaching mode and offers a parable about the fig tree planted in a vineyard. Notice that while Mark in 11:12ff and Matthew in 21:18ff both offer a story about Jesus and a fig tree, here we are told about how Jesus uses the fig tree image as part of a parable for the explanation of his words regarding the Galileans and those washing in the pool of Siloam. (LTJ, Luke, 211)

Jesus is drawing on very powerful images from Micah 4:4 and Joel 2:22 where it is used as a sign of God’s blessing.

So we have a man who is coming regularly to his fig tree. He was a blessed man, but he comes out one day to find that there was no fruit on it. So, he says “cut it down now.” The vine dresser, the garden helper, says “please don’t. Let’s see if it will bear next year. It needs for the soil to be aerated and it needs fertilizer. Then we can see, then we can cut it down.”

So, we see hear that Jesus is teaching those who will listen that they must repent. They must repent because they do not know what may happen and death may come at any moment. They must all repent. No one has more or less sin than someone else. Repentance is the daily work of the follower of Jesus. It is important and key as a daily exercise not because it prepares you for death but because it aerates the soil and provides fertilizer like the fig tree. A daily diet of repentance provides room in one’s life for the following of Jesus and eventually bears fruit in the work with Jesus bringing forth the reign of God.

How is repentance something that bears fruit? Repentance is the act of bring the ego into alignment with the soul and the Holy Spirit of God. Repentance is the taking of a fearless inventory that helps one to understand what the individual’s role is in brokenness and dysfunction. Repentance helps us understand the individual acts we take or do not take that have affects on the wider community. How do my habits of consumption affect others? How do my wants and desires get bruised when I don’t get my way? How do I lash out and blame others when I am at fault? How do I seek to have others give me esteem so I feel good about myself instead of understanding that God esteems me and loves me?

When we as Christians seek to get things in a healthy frame of living we discover that we are bringing in the reign of God. When we change our habits we change the world in which we live.

Luke Timothy Johnson’s words resonate with me as I read and ponder the meaning of this passage. He writes in his commentary on this passage, “…Jesus respond[s] to these reports of death in the city in classic prophetic style: they are turned to warning examples for his listeners. The people who died were not more deserving of death than others. One cannot argue from sudden and violent death to the enormity of sin. Indeed, Jesus himself will suffer a death that appears to be as much a punishment for sin. But the prophet’s point is that death itself, with the judgment of God, are always so close. It can happen when engaged in ritual. It can happen standing under a wall. And when it happens so suddenly, there is no time to repent…The repentance called for by the prophet Jesus, of course, is not simply a turning from sin but an acceptance of the visitation of God in the proclamation of God’s kingdom.”

Luke Timothy Johnson continues regarding the fig tree parable: “…it is a parable that clearly has the function of interpreting this section of his narrative. The fig tree is not summarily cut down. It is allowed to have time; indeed, it has already had time to bear fruit. The comfort to Jesus’ listeners is that the Prophet is still on his way to the city; there is still time to respond.”

This is an important week to be preaching. This is an opportunity to tell about Jesus’ teaching on tragedy and death brought on by disaster. It is an opportunity to speak about the importance and ritual of repentance which is an ancient and essential practice of Christianity. And, it is also an opportunity to speak about how repentance bears fruit.

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 10:1-17

So this week I have been trying to comprehend the intentions of Paul in this part of his first letter to the Corinthians.  Let us simply begin by saying that Paul is using the well known Exodus story as a instructive tale. He is saying that some of these people were idolaters and some were immoral. 

Paul is inviting the readers to compare themselves with these people, who were their ancestors. 

You cannot read this passage without the whole intention of the Corinthian problem in front of you.  One of the biggest issues is can you eat meat that was given as a sacrifice to idols.  Paul says it in a much more stark manner and warns that transgressions against God will end up with an avenging angel taking you to task.

The New Testament scholar J. Paul Sampley (Emeritus Professor at Boston University) writes:

"The gist of the account is clear: God's people - being chosen by God, being baptized, eating special food and drink - are accountable for their behavior.  Neither baptism nor special edibles and potables ensure against God's judgment if the chosen ones stray or fall.  And, there can be no mistake about it: God cannot be blamed for any falling because God never tests believers by one what they can bear; God always graciously provides a way out, an exodus."

Paul writes: "judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."  We are all the same. We are all in need of saving.  We are all in need of reflection and repentance.  We can chose to live life as one of the faithful Exodus ancestor.  We can live differently and can be different.  This is God's expectation and it is our gift.

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