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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
The Third Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
"...Had We Loved In Time"
"...but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” In her stunning book, The Shadow Man, Mary Oliver, the novelist, sets out to retrieve her father from the mausoleum of mourning. He had died when she was seven and for a long time she thought he was the most important thing in her life. Thirty years later she began to ask who her father really was and discovered - in libraries, archives and her own memory - a man she never knew, a man who hid his past even from the people he loved most. It is the kind of story, the kind of experience that should give all parents and children pause. Do we really know the people we say we love? Do we take time to know them? Do we allow ourselves to be known for who we really are - before time runs out? Using what I take to be a dream image that bespeaks the heart of their relationship, her father visits Mary at night and knocks wildly at the door. For a long time, she does not answer. When she does she finds herself looking into her father's blank eyes. I saw what a child must love I saw what love might have done had we loved in time. - The Visitor For when the biological fact of our relationships with one another is not fulfilled in spiritual communion, the result is always sadness. We only have so much time and we don't always get second chances. + Jesus was a man in a rush. His comings and goings up and down Palestine seemed almost compulsive. It was though he wanted to preach in both Galilee and Jerusalem at the same time. The Holy City had the effect on him that a burning candle has on a moth. He knew the journey to the centre of Israel's religious and political life would be dangerous; but he could not stay away. He had to preach his message to the nation's leaders. He had to risk being heard while there was still time. This is the key that unlocks this sometimes- bewildering passage from Luke, which contains no less than three distinct stories, one of them another of Jesus' enigmatic parables. What is the passage about? In addition to Jesus' urgent disposition, Luke gives us clues. Not only is Jesus on his way to a final confrontation with his opponents, the previous chapter includes a whole section on the need for vigilance on the part of his followers (12.35-49) and astuteness in recognizing the signs of the times (12.54-56). Immediately preceding this week's passage is a saying on the necessity of reconciliation with an opponent. In other words, themes of impending crisis, preparedness and setting things right while you still have time lead right into today's gospel. "Are you ready?" Luke is saying to us. "Are you prepared for what I am about to say next?" And then, suddenly, there is striking news about a construction accident and a massacre of political rebels. They ... told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus himself recalls ... those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them . . . They are the kind of stories, the kind of tragedies that make people think about things like "the injustice of things", about why bad things happen to good people; and that is precisely what we might be tempted to "make do" with such a text. But Luke will not let Jesus go there. He simply avoids any discussion about that perennial human concern: is there some connection between suffering and sin? Maybe, yes. Maybe, no, the Bible seems to say, depending on whether you are listening to Deuteronomy (28.15) or Jesus (John 9.3). Jesus does not give an answer to why people suffer. He does clearly dissociate untimely death from both sin and guilt. ... - do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you... This is not a passage about the so-called moral dilemma of tragic events. It is a passage about seizing life's opportunities. ... but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did Jesus says. Just like those people who perished found out, the time for seizing those opportunities is shorter than you expect. Then Jesus tells a parable, Luke says, to underline his point. A fig tree that has not borne fruit is given some more time to produce. Not much time, but some. The fig tree's "time of grace" is like one of those windows of opportunity. The rocket is sitting on the launch pad, waiting for just the right moment to be sent on its mission into outer space. Everything must be functioning and in order at just the right moment or the opportunity for the launch will be lost - maybe for many months - and everything dismantled. "If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down." The crucial point Luke is making is that fruitfulness must be evident at the time of reckoning. We know that the immense power and generosity of God's love preoccupied Jesus during his teaching life. We will hear this theme presented powerfully over the next few weeks. That does not mean, however, that we can underestimate Jesus' parables of urgency: that the time for us to respond to that love, that window of opportunity in our life, is rather short and maybe shorter than we expect. The difficult, bitter, but unquestioned truth these parables tell us is that life does not last forever, that for many of us more than half of our life is gone and we have only a small amount of it left to respond enthusiastically to the news that Jesus has preached. What if all those people who were killed on September 11th had known that they had only a few days left to live? How quickly would they have raced to set their lives in order, to make peace with God, to prepare to die? Few of us have such warnings. Few of us are not surprised by death. Few of us really believe that time is flowing through the hourglass and that we have, at best and at most, relatively little time left to make a difference before we die, to begin to live for others the way God loves us. It is later than you think, says Jesus. Hurry up! + As parents, we have children with us for only a few short years. When they are finally gone, off to school or work or beginning families of their own, do we not look back at that brief span of child raising and lament our lost opportunities? We didn't enjoy them as much as we might have. We didn't give them as much time as we might have. We didn't love them as much as we might have. We didn't get to know them and to let them know us as much as we might have. And, as children ourselves, do we not often feel the same for our parents. When they had relatively few years left, do we not often regret not having strengthened those relationships, straightening out the kinks, healing the hurtful memories, both offering and receiving gestures of reconciliation and gratitude to one another while we had the chance? I saw what a child must love I saw what love might have done had we loved in time. - The Visitor Jesus is not threatening us in this morning's gospel. He is pleading with us - the way God does in every moment. He is simply and realistically telling us that the course of our lives is shorter than we think and that we would be foolish not to seize the opportunities to enjoy one another, to love one another, to do what we can to make sure there is a little less suffering in the world by the way we live of our lives - while we have the time. So, don't waste your time on good intentions. Don't postpone what you need to do to live more kindly, more humbly, more justly today. Don't even wait for this service to end, for God's sake, if you need to leave right now and do what you need to do while there is still time. It is slipping away. Don't waste any more of it! + Isaiah 55.1-9 - A most attractive and surprising invitation opens the passage: "Come and buy without money and without price!" Is this a twist on a street vendor's usual message or the voice of Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 9.5)? The one who speaks is giving free of charge what everyone who hungers and thirsts so desperately needs. "Seek the Lord while he may be found" probably meant the injunction to offer sacrifices in the temple for prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. and perhaps later; but for the prophet of exile it meant a more inward turning to God, a gift of the heart, of the self. God, who is all-merciful looks for this kind of seeking, this kind of hunger. 1. What is the prophet trying to do with the opening "invitation"? (verse 1) Why? 2. Why the curious word "ho", the hebrew word hoy, meaning "woe"? 3. What was the purpose of David's reign according to the prophet? (verses 3-5) 4. Why is this a particularly important message to those who find themselves in exile? 1 Corinthians 10.1-13 - Paul is using Israel's lack of restraint in the wilderness as an example of what some in the Corinthian church had come to epitomize: indulgence, self-will, overconfidence. Although both Israel and the Corinthians had been saved, their overconfidence and lack of restraint made them vulnerable. Paul is calling his readers to reflect soberly on their baptism and their participation in the Lord's Supper and not to develop a false sense of security. 1. What does Paul mean by self-restraint? (1 Cor. 9.25) 2. What was at the root of the problem at Corinth? (verses 7-12) 3. What does it mean to say that God tests us? And not beyond our ability to bear it? Luke 13.1-9 - The entire passage, rather than a discourse on injustice, is an urgent call to repentance, a turning from sin and a reformation of action and attitude. It is a theme that appears in Luke more than any other gospel. Also typical of Luke is the staying hand of grace. It is easy to get sidetracked by theoretical reflections on why bad things happen to good people. It is more important, Luke says, indeed it is critical to realize that the time for doing what one needs to do is shorter than we think. 1. Why do we like to speculate about human tragedy? 2. What is vital that we learn from it? 3. What do you need to do before it is too late? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become." - Charles du Bos A PRAYER FOR THE SAINTS - Impatient Lover, You who hunger for justice, truth, life, teach us once and for all that there is no time left for excuses, for blaming, for grudges, for grieving, until pressed for the only time that is left we open up to ourselves, one another and this wondrous mystery in which you have planted us. Amen HYMN “Praise, my Soul, the God of Heaven” (Voices United 240)
copyright - Barry Robinson 2004 page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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