Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 3.1-13; Luke 13.31-35

cross_punch_flower_283079_tnMy sympathies have always been with Moses in this encounter with the burning bush. God identifies God’s self as the God of Moses’ Father. It is not clear to me that Moses ever knew his father so I wonder how compelling this first identification is.

God says that not only have the prayerful cries from the oppressed Israelites awakened his reaction but God has also seen their oppression.

God tells Moses that he is to be God’s agent in going to Pharaoh and bringing God’s people from Egypt. Moses recognizing that he is about to be placed in a situation with mortal consequences wants to know how he is going to do this. He could conceivably be tried for killing the Egyptian overseer if he is recognized.

God’s answer is supposed to be comforting: I will be with you and you will have a sign—when the people are worshiping on this mountain it will be evident that I sent you. Moses is not comforted.

Again Moses asks, ‘How can I convince the Israelites that I’m legitimate; what if they ask your name?’ God answers, ‘Just say I AM has sent me to you.’ Again not very reassuring for we do not know if the enslaved Israelites are even practicing the worship of ‘I AM.’

I think we share many common traits with Moses. Like Moses we often want as much reassuring as we think we need. And we want results right now.

Deluged by details, we have trouble sifting the important from the unimportant. Harried by the pace of life, we want instant returns on what we invest and instant results for our efforts.

Like Moses, we want to make deals with God and like Moses we don’t always understand God’s answers. Like Moses, sometimes what we think God wants of us is very frightening. Yet God is with us. God not only hears our prayers but observes our situation. When we pray, it helps us clarify our concerns and demonstrates our personal investment in the situation.

And like Moses, we usually want to know why and, as Jesus tells the crowd in today’s gospel, our explanations are not always on the mark.

When disaster strikes, we like to know why. What did people do to cause the situation? Newspaper articles and the talking heads on the TV and radio always speculate as to why what happened occurred.

But Jesus says that the most important question is has your heart been changed. For when Jesus calls upon them to repent, he is demanding metanoia—the inner change which turns us out of ourselves toward God.

Metanoia turns our very being toward God and outwardly toward others. Many evangelical preachers preach about getting right with God or being right with God. It is God who makes us right with God.

Elsewhere Jesus warns against not what can be done to our bodies but the danger of an attack on the soul. And this interplay with his followers is in the same vein.

Let us turn to the parable of the fig tree. Trees have been much on my mind as of late because of last weekend’s storm and the damage which I am sure you noted on your way here for church. Here again we have imagery from Jesus that connected immediately with his audience but less so with us.

The fig tree was a frequent image in Jewish culture. A fig tree with ripe figs was a sign of prosperity—the Jewish equivalent of a chicken in every pot or two Cadillac Escalades in every driveway.

The vineyard is the classic symbol for Israel—God has set it and planted it for God’s people whom God has brought out of captivity in Egypt into a land of promise. Since vineyards were walled, they represented a safe place to plant one’s fig tree.

But this fig tree has not produced and the owner wants it removed. The gardener says –let me make an extra effort and give it a chance. I think that the three year timeframe is significant for God is the owner; the gardener our Lord who is always trying to help us be the productive ones we are meant to be.

Was this a way of saying that the people still weren’t getting the message even after three years of earthly ministry filled with teachings, healings and miraculous episodes? The parable hints of a new thing: the sacrifice of Jesus to fertilize the faith of the world with an eternity of life with God as the harvest.

But the time is short and Jesus has already given his life for us. It is our time to produce and we do. How much we do can stem from how deeply we have experienced metanoia and what is the ongoing result.

Like the fig tree given a second chance, may we bear fruits which please God the owner.