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Sermon, March 20, 2022 – Lent III

Be Patient – God’s Still at Work

              At the heart of this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells a parable about a conversation between a landowner and his gardener and a certain fig tree that after three years in the orchard had not produced any figs.  The landowner expresses his displeasure with the situation and demands that the fig tree be cut down and turned into firewood.  The gardener makes a simple bargain with the landowner – give me a year to tend to the tree, and if it produces figs well and good, if not, the landowner gets some firewood.

              We live in a society driven by the need to see results. This may entail completing a difficult task or obtaining certain goals or objectives. In business, good results are indicated by steady and lasting profits — the bottom line. A farmer or gardener hopes for clear-cut results in the form of a fruitful harvest.

              The parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel involves a fig tree that does not produce the desired result of bearing figs. Even though the tree is barren, the gardener urges that it be tended for another year before it is cut down.

              We ourselves tend to delay the discipline necessary to become fruitful, to give God all of our lives. St. Augustine of Hippo was a world-class procrastinator, at least when it came to the spiritual life. He knew he should change his life, reject his immortal lifestyle, and embrace Christianity — but he kept putting it off. Through the prayers of his mother, St. Monica, Augustine finally did become a fervent Christian. But he would lament in his autobiography, the Confessions, that he had wasted much time: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!”

              Lent is a yearly reminder that repentance, turning to God, is the natural character of the Christian life. Conversion is not a one-time event: it is lifelong. Just as, when we rise each morning, it is a picture of rising from our old life through Baptism — so we model in Lent the process of our redemption through self-examination of our selfishness and sin, and renewal of our commitment to Christ.

              Left to ourselves, we, like the fig tree, would wither and die. Now, as our part of the world looks to the budding of new life in spring, we turn toward Christ our sun as the ultimate source of healing and forgiveness. We open ourselves to the peace that passes understanding in him — since we can never make sense of the tragedies of the world apart from his love.

              The reading from Exodus gives us the story of Moses and the burning bush.  Here, Moses has his first encounter with God – the first of many encounters that will shape and direct the rest of his life. 

              The bush flamed up — eye catching, mind puzzling, awesome. Why didn’t it burn? Like Moses, we’re drawn toward the mysterious. We’re captured by beauty, stilled by it — a blazing sunset, an artistic masterpiece, crashing waves on a rocky coast, the deep silence of a star-filled night. What is your “holy ground”? Where are you pulled into silence, called through your senses to hear God’s voice? God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Nothing should come between our human self and our “holy ground.” We may not have to take off our shoes. Maybe we just need to remove the self-imposed wrapping on our hearts to hear more clearly God’s call to us. So much of our connection with God is interior, but there is our exterior connection as well.  Here, we learn of God’s unpronounceable holy name – YHWH (best transliterated as Yahweh, or “I AM”).  I AM speaks to each of our hearts, calls us to come closer, to feel, to touch, to explore who I AM is. Take off your shoes, if you can, and stand on your own holy ground.

              The Good News as we near the mid-point of Lent is that God is still at work in us creating in us the image of himself.  Are we willing to accept the sometimes disruptive process that draws us from our tendency toward sin and accept the offer of new life in grace?  Like the fig tree, God continues to dig around us, and fertilize us, so that we might some day bear fruit.  God knows our potential better than we know ourselves.  To prove the point, the gardener knew something the landowner did not.  Fig trees do not produce fruit until they are four years old.  Amen.

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