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Lent 3C RCL March 3, 2013

 Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

In our first lesson, Moses is tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. In other words, he is going about his daily routine.  As we recall, Moses’ mother had hidden him in the rushes by the Nile in order to save his life, He had been brought up in the palace by the Pharaoh’s daughter. One day, after he had grown up, he had gone out of the palace to see his people. He had seen, the scripture reads, “their forced labor.” Worse yet, he saw an Egyptian beating “a Hebrew, one of his kinfolk,” and he killed the Egyptian.  Herod then wanted to kill Moses, so he escaped to the land of Midian, married a woman named Zipporah, settled down, had a family, and helped his father-in-law with the family business.

God has a ministry for Moses, and our reading today tells us about God’s call to Moses, their ensuing dialogue, and Moses’ acceptance of the call. As God called Moses those many years ago, God calls us today.

 In our epistle, Paul continues his letter to the congregation in Corinth. Some people in the community have gotten the idea that, since they are saved, they can do anything they please, and they are indulging in sinful behavior. Their actions concern Paul, but he is even more deeply concerned about the arrogance which leads them to think that freedom in Christ means a license to disregard the rights of others and engage in selfish and sinful behavior.

In our gospel, Jesus is with a group of people, including the disciples. Some people tell Jesus about a grisly thing that has happened. Apparently there were some Galileans, that is, people from Jesus’ home area, who had gone to the temple in Jerusalem to make sacrifices. Pilate’s troops had killed these people while they were worshipping and then had mixed their blood with the blood of the animals on the altar to show that Rome was in control. We know from historians of that time that Pilate did not hesitate to use violence against anyone he thought might cause trouble.

There was a belief in Jesus’ time that, if something bad happened to a person or a group of people, it was punishment for sins which they had committed. This is what Jesus is getting at when he asks, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Then Jesus answers his own question and says, Absolutely not. And he gives another example. Apparently a building had fallen down and killed eighteen people. Does this mean that the people were sinners? No. In the gospel of John, when Jesus and the disciples meet the man born blind, the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus says that no one sinned. This is an opportunity for him to do his healing work.

I have met thoughtful, intelligent people who have been going through horrible experiences, the death of a family member, or a terrible illness,  and they have wondered what they did wrong in order to have this happen to them. Some people even think that God is punishing them for some thing they have done, but, on careful examination, they have lived exemplary lives. This belief really hurts people.

Bishop Michael Curry, whom some of us met at our diocesan convention, says about this passage, “Frankly, if God was in the business of meting out punishment and curses in relation to our sins,  there probably would not be anyone on the planet.”

We humans like to try to explain things. We do not like to admit that there are some things that are beyond our limited understanding. We don’t like to admit that there are mysteries, things we do not understand.

Jesus emphatically says that the people who were on the receiving end of Pilate’s violence and the people who were killed when the tower collapsed were no worse sinners than anybody else. Then, immediately, he calls us to repent. The Greek word is metanoia. He calls us to change our thinking. He calls us to turn to God. He calls us to be open to his work of transformation.

 And he tells us a parable about a fig tree. The owner of the vineyard has gone to this fig tree for three years, and the tree has borne no fruit.  The owner wants to cut the tree down. But the gardener says, no, don’t do that. Let me dig around it and put manure on it and if it bears fruit next year, well and good. If not, you can cut it down. The point of this is that God is patient with us.

 There are so many things that are beyond our understanding, and there are so many tragic things happening in the world.  It is human to try to find answers. Jesus is calling us not to jump to that old, easy answer, someone has sinned.

He is calling us to look within, to ask God’s help in clearing out our sins, and, for those of us who tend to be hard on ourselves, he is reminding us that God is loving and God is patient.

He is calling us to take action. The gardener takes action to cause the tree to bear fruit.  We need to take action so that we will bear fruit. I think of the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And we are also called to reach out to others and help to build the shalom of God.

Bishop Curry writes, “ I once heard the late Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, president of Morehouse College, say that faith is taking your best step and leaving the rest to God. Bishop Curry continues, “…those who would follow in the footsteps of Jesus are charged with witnessing to the world in the name and spirit of Jesus. …The working out of God’s kingdom is not ours to figure out. Our task is to labor, without having all the answers, to acknowledge the deep mystery of it all.”

May we turn more and more toward God. May we take our best step and leave the rest to God.

Amen.

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