The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s154g10 Lent 2 28/2/2010
'If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' Luke 13.9
We are to bear fruit, but fruit is only good to be eaten. There is nothing permanent personally here. Apples, oranges, peaches, nectarines are all lovely to eat, but none of them are known by an individual name. In the great circle of life, from which not one of us can escape, we came from dust and to dust we will return.
Yet in the midst of this seeming transience and futility, life abounds. Lives, rich and glorious, are led. The wonders of nature, the richness of human relationships, the tenderness of individuals, all make this life worthwhile. It is easy to point to the disasters that happen, to humanity's inhumanity to the other, so often in the name of some god or other, yet I could not design a better universe, nor would I even try.
We are called to be a part of this life; this is what repentance means.
The Buddhist alerts us to the fact that our continuing existence depends on the life and death of others. We do well to acknowledge our dependence. Indeed we are beginning to realise that our very existence as humanity is not assured as we begin to ponder about food and water-security.
I was reading this morning the passage from Jeremiah chapter 24 where the Lord showed the prophet the two baskets of figs, one good, the other bad, figs. The good figs are those who have been sent into exile into Babylon, where the Lord would bless them. But the bad figs were those who remained in Jerusalem, or who fled back to Egypt, those who clung to the past and even wanted to return to slavery. It is good to remember that the Lord originally blessed Egypt through the Israelites, and blessed the Israelites as well, so that later the Egyptians became afraid and subjected them to harsh slavery. So the Israelites were to be a blessing to the Babylonians, and would be blessed them selves in doing so.
The Lord's words are uncompromising: 'I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth ‹ a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.' (verses 8 10)
And these words should cause us to ponder at a church that seeks to not move one inch and to remain, 'as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.' Others will consider such a church 'a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth ‹ a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them'.
We in the church are want to think that those outside the church are sceptical, unbelieving, even antagonistic, but these words from God bid us to consider that in fact their taunts are from God, if we haven't moved. For if God only blesses immobility, what has God got to do with lives that are on the move, with society that has changed enormously?
The exile to Babylon tells us that God goes with us into exile, when we move away from what we might think is the place of God's presence. In that well-known parable of the Good Samaritan, God goes with the Jew on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. God sends the priest and Levite, both of whom pass by the injured person. But God sends the Samaritan, and the welfare of the Jew was dependent on him accepting the help of the heretic. So too our welfare depends on our leaving that place we think is the tabernacle of God be that tabernacle scripture, tradition, liturgy or whatever, and accepting the help of the other.
Our God is a God of movement and growth. God cannot be contained in words, in tradition, liturgy, or tomb. No one has such an intimate possession of God that they need not other people.
The word of the Lord through Jeremiah tells us that the world rightly considers a church that clings to the past or separates itself off from the rest of society as EVIL.
And we see that this is entirely consistent with the ministry of Jesus, who confronted the orthodox with his association with others. In this association with others Jesus confronted those who condemned others as unworthy.
It is interesting that Luke does not relate Jesus cursing the fig tree at the end of his ministry, (Mat 21.18-19, Mk 11.12-14) but this parable perhaps points to the fact of the cursing, though shying away from the seeming harshness.
And again, this is not a personal message; that as individuals we need to bear fruit. It is something about our corporate faith; that we as a community of people need to be accepting of others, inclusive of others.
In fact, of course, it is not about what we do for the Lord at all. It is equally about how much we let the Lord do for us through the ministry of others who are different.
So often I have heard of individuals and congregations wondering why on earth other people don't just come to church and enjoy all the ministries that exist there. We 'bust our guts' to be open and welcoming, but the last thing anyone else can do is make their own individual contribution, for it might eclipse our own. But who is interested in such a static church? And why on earth should anyone else be interested?
Jesus' words imply that God's patience is not unlimited. Our religion will fade into non-existence while we are critical of society and separate ourselves off from others. We know this only too well, but still how many of our congregations continue 'as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end..' The Anglican Church will fade into obscurity as we concern ourselves with our identity, with our distinctiveness from others, rather than concerning ourselves with associating with others, all others. And it will be the Lord's doing that we fade into obscurity, for it is then we go into our own exile from where we think God resides into the world where we will actually find God.
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