March 20, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Isaiah 55:1-9

1Ho, 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.
2Why 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.
3Incline 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.
4See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
  a leader and commander for the peoples.
5See, 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.

6Seek the Lord while he may be found,
  call upon him while he is near;
7let 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.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
  nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9For 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

1O God, you are my God; eager- | ly 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.
2Therefore I have gazed upon you in your | holy place,
  that I might behold your power | and your glory.
3For your steadfast love is better than | life itself;
  my lips shall | give you praise.
4So will I bless you as long | as I live
  and lift up my hands | in your name. 
5My spirit is content, as with the rich- | est of foods,
  and my mouth praises you with | joyful lips,
6when I remember you up- | on my bed,
  and meditate on you in | the night watches.
7For you have | been my helper,
  and under the shadow of your wings I | will rejoice.
8My whole being | clings to you;
  your right hand | holds me fast. 

Luke 13:1-9

1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or 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? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6Then 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. 7So 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?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The classic NBC drama Law and Order recently made a comeback. I was there for it, primarily because Hugh Dancy, one of my favorite actors, is in the cast. I loved this show in my late teens and would watch reruns for hours while home on college breaks. I was not alone. 

Much has been written and discussed about the show’s appeal. I am confident that one factor is the dependable formula–solving the crime, making the case, and the District Attorney, representing the people, us, always wins. At the close of every episode someone is blamed and held accountable. Humans are prone to place blame. We want to place blame when a tragedy is cause by other humans, when it’s a natural disaster, and when it is some combination. I actually don’t fault my teenage self for wanting to escape into the world of Law and Order, so long as I remembered that it is not reality.

Jesus brings an alternative perspective, outlook, and way of living. Instead of focusing on other people’s misbehaving, make sure you are producing good fruit. Instead of assigning causality to others misfortune, ensure that you are not ignoring your own missing fruit. There is more. Jesus’ words suggest that tending to one’s own life and changing one’s own mind is the best strategy to prevent or even persevere through unexpected calamity. The call to repent, to change our perspective and actions, turns out to be life-giving.

The event that sparks Jesus’ response is Governor Pilate’s execution of Galileans during some ritual practice. Such an event could have personally affected Jesus on multiple levels. He was a Galilean, which means that this violence impacted people from his neighborhood, people whom he could have known and grown up with. Pilate was a direct appointee of the Roman empire, and he had a track record for being a blood-thirsty, violent ruler. Pilate epitomizes the fear-inducing brutality that Roman provincial subjects, like Jesus, daily experienced. His presence in this passage and his eventual role in Jesus’ execution capture Pilate as Rome’s representative in Judea. 

Jesus does not even discuss Pilate in his response; he instead talks about his fellow Galileans. He asks if those who were slaughtered were worse sinners than other Galileans because of how they suffered. Popular understandings of divine retribution presumed that punishments, especially catastrophes, were proportionate to the crime or sin. To that logic Jesus emphatically says, “No!”

Behind the report about Pilate and the Galileans, Jesus reads an attempt at self-justification rooted in the common notion that disaster befalls those who deserve it. We might imagine Jesus’ conversation partners saying, “you are right to warn about judgment Jesus, but judgment is reserved for those whose sin sets them apart from ‘us.’” 

It is true that Deuteronomy chapters 28-30 in the Hebrew scripture insists that judgment will overtake those whose lives are characterized by disobedience. However, and this is an important however, this is not the same thing as arguing that disasters come only to hose who are disobedient. In fact, Jesus does not deny sin its consequences. He does not deny that sin leads to judgment. Instead, Jesus rejects the theory that those who encounter calamity have necessarily been marked by God as more deserving of judgment than those who do not. Upon Jesus’ execution under Pilate, no doubt it will be tempting to dismiss Jesus as one deserving of God’s judgment. But remember, disaster and God’s judgment are not synonymous. 

Jesus seems to honor his audience’s fear and the vulnerability that their fright has opened up in them. It is not a bad thing for them to feel the full fragility of their lives. It is not a bad thing for them to count their breaths in their fear–not if it makes them repent.

Don’t worry about Pilate and all the other things that can come crashing down on your heads. Jesus seems to tell his listeners that terrible things happen and you are not always to blame. But don’t let that stop you from doing what you are doing. That torn place your fear has opened up inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you are there. Pay attention to what you feel. It may hurt you to stay there and it may hurt you to see, but it is not the kind of hurt that leads to death. It is the kind that leads to life. To drive the point home, he tells a parable.

The parable of the fig tree has often been read allegorically, assuming that the landowner is God, and the gardener is Jesus. But nowhere else in this gospel do we find a picture of an angry, vindictive God that needs to be placated by a friendly Jesus. Maybe instead the landowner is a bit representative of our own sense of how the world should work. We want things to be fair and we define fair as receiving rewards for doing good and punishment for doing evil. Maybe the gardener is God, the one who consistently raises a contrary voice to suggest that the ultimate answer is not punishment but instead mercy, reconciliation, and new life. 

Where does the call to repentance fit into all this, the call for a change of heart, a new perspective? God is patient, which gives Jesus’ hearers time for repentance, but there is a limit. Divine patience is simply another expression of God’s love and grace. What does it look like to repent? To feel our fragility, our dependance on God?

The season of Lent is the season of digging down around the roots and fertilizing.  During these forty days of Lent, we nourish our own roots. We adopt the disciplines of Lent, all for the sake of our relationship with God and our neighbors. We remember that in the waters of Baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of abundant life. We are made members of the body of Christ. We live with Christ and with his people. We grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God. In Baptism we renounce the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Part of repentance is remembering whose we are. 

When we repent, when we gain the renewed perspective of our relationship with God, we cannot help but bear fruit.  I suspect, though I could be wrong, that many if not most sermons on this text today, will ask us to think about how we are bearing fruit individually. That is, no doubt, a faithful reading and interpretation of the text. I am equally interested in how communities bear fruit. 

This may be because of all the reading I have been doing the past year on how poorly some Christians do at fruit-bearing. My interpretation is surely clouded by friends and colleagues emotionally harmed by lack of fruit-bearing. What does it mean for a family unit to bear fruit? Or a group of friends, a congregation, a Christian nonprofit or university? What are our branches? Our fruit? Put another way, what does faith active in love look like? Specifically, what does faith active in love look like in Canyon County in 2022? We will keep asking and answering that question together, knowing that God is faithful and patient and desires for all creation abundant life, life epitomized in fruit bearing.

The prophet Isaiah gives a second beautiful invitation for abundant life this morning. “Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, Come, buy wine and milk with 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?”  Examine your lives, the prophet implies. Clean out what does not give God true satisfaction. I know another way the prophet says.  “Listen carefully to me…Incline your ear…Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.”  Love and abundant fruitful life are promised. “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.” God is waiting. Amen.  

The Vine Dresser and the Fig Tree  —  James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY

Prayers of Intercession (From Sundays and Seasons)

Drawn close to the heart of God, we offer these prayers for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

We pray for the church around the world in all its forms: for pastors, deacons, bishops, chaplains, and mission developers; for church councils, committee chairs, and all lay ministry leaders; for congregations that contemplate difficult decisions about the future of their ministry. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For the health of this planet and the well-being of its creatures: for lands impacted by droughts and at risk of wildfires; for fig trees and vineyards that produce fruit for our nourishment and delight; for animal habitats threatened by climate change. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For those called into positions of civic responsibility: for judges, attorneys, and court administrators tasked with uncovering truth and delivering justice; for activists and community leaders who cast a vision of a more compassionate and equitable society. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For those who call upon you for mercy: for all who live in poverty and experience hunger; for any who feel tested beyond their strength; for those who are hospitalized or near death, and for all in need of healing (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For the advocacy efforts of this congregation: for those whose faith leads them to speak difficult truths and engage in difficult conversations with policymakers; for those who promote mercy over vengeance or retaliation. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

The prophet Isaiah foretold that one day we would beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Grant an end to hostilities in Ukraine, that your people might know peace. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

For those whose earthly journeys have ended, we give thanks. With (names and) all the saints, we praise you for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Accept the prayers we bring, O God, on behalf of a world in need, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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