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Sermon and Reflections For The Third Sunday in Lent - Year C
Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
"With Eyes Wide Open"
Barry Robinson

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 fernstone@fernstone.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)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2004
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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