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Lent 3C    March 24, 2019

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

In our first reading today, we are looking on as Moses goes about his daily work as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. Moses is already a walking miracle. When the Pharaoh decided to kill all the Hebrew boy babies, his mother and sister made a little boat out of rushes and pitch and put it out into the bulrushes along the banks of the Nile; the Pharaoh’s daughter came walking along, heard the baby crying, took him to the royal palace, hired his mother as nurse, adopted him and raised him as a prince.

One day, Moses went out into the world to see how his people, the Hebrews, were doing. Though he appreciated the compassion, courage, and generosity of the Pharaoh’s daughter, he knew who his people were. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, and he killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh put out the word to have him killed, he fled. He settled down in the land of Midian under the protection of the priest, married the priest’s daughter, Zipporah, and now has a family.

He is going about his daily work, taking care of the flock. And he sees something—a desert shrub that is on fire but is not consumed by the flames. And Moses turns aside. And that is a big part of this story. How many of us will turn aside? How many of us will delay the next meeting or phone call or letter or load of laundry and just take a minute to turn aside?

Moses quickly discovers that he is standing on holy ground and he is in the presence of God. And God turns out to be much more observant and much more compassionate than Moses had realized. Moses hides his face because he knows God is mighty and powerful, but Moses hadn’t quite realized how much God cared.

When God tells Moses that God has seen the suffering of God’s people and God is going to free the people from oppression, Moses is quite impressed. He had noticed that oppression before he left Egypt.

But now God is asking him, Moses, a guy who killed an Egyptian and had to run for his life, a guy who is number one on Pharaoh’s list of the Ten Most Wanted, to go back to Egypt and lead the people to freedom. Like all the prophets before and after him and most of the people ever called to serve God, Moses feels inadequate. There is good reason for this. We  humans are inadequate. But God gives the answer God always gives to us when we realize that we can’t do something alone: God says, “I will be with you.”

And then Moses wants to know how he is supposed to tell the Israelites that God has sent him, little ordinary Moses, to lead them out of Egypt, God says, “I am who I am,” “I was who I was,” “I will be who I will be.” God is powerful and dynamic. But God also tells Moses that God is the God of their ancestors, the Holy One who has brought them to this point and will lead them into the future.

As we all know, Moses says Yes, but this wonderful passage from Exodus is a reminder that we are on a journey from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ, and God is with us every step of the way.

Our epistle for today reminds us that our freedom in Christ is not a license to do anything we want to. There is a huge difference between freedom and license. Some of the Corinthians are saying that now that they are baptized and receiving the sacraments, they can do whatever they please. They can commit immorality, they can go to pagan festivals and eat meat sacrificed to idols and still be faithful followers of Jesus. Paul does a recap of the Exodus journey to make it clear that we have to put God first. If we are worshiping idols, we are not following Jesus. Paul also reminds us that Our Lord gives us the grace to stay on the path and follow him.

In today’s gospel, the people have questions about two events. In the first, some people from Galilee came to the temple in Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices. Pilate had them killed and mixed their blood with the blood of the animals they had sacrificed. Although this is something that Pilate might well have done, scholars tell us that there is no mention of it in any other historical document. The people seem to be thinking that, because this awful thing happened to these people, they must have been sinners.

In another event, the tower of Siloam fell and eighteen people were killed. Siloam was a reservoir. Once again, scholars tell us that this event is not mentioned in any other documents. Jesus’ response remains constant: just because this disaster happened to these people does not mean that they were worse than other people.

In Jesus’ time and now, there are still folks who believe that if something terrible happens to someone or a group, they must be bad people. That is why Rabbi Kushner wrote his excellent book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Because even now, in the twenty-first century, this belief persists. In our quest to try to find explanations for things, we revert to that ancient belief that bad things happen only to bad people.

The thing is that none of us is perfect. We are all frail and fallible humans, and, if God operated on the basis of demanding total perfection at all times, we would all be in deep trouble. God calls us to be compassionate toward one another.

This may be why Jesus tells the parable of this poor fig tree. In those days, you gave a fig tree three years to grow to maturity. During that time you did not pick any of its fruit. In the fourth year you could pick the fruit but you had to offer it to God. This tree is three years old. The owner wants to cut it down.

But the gardener says, “Just give it one more year. I’ll dig round it and put on some manure, and then, if it still bears no fruit, you can cut it down.” Our collect points out that we “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Thanks be to our loving God, who is always there to help us bear good fruit.  “Inch by inch, row by row, gotta make this garden grow.” Amen.

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