The Good News!

Welcome! I am the Rev. Ken Saunders the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, MD (since May 2011). These sermons here were delivered in the context of worship.

[NOTE: Sermons (or Homilies) are commentaries that follow the scripture lessons, and are specifically designed to be heard. They are "written for the ear" and may contain sentence fragments and be difficult to read. They are NOT intended to be academic papers.]

Sunday, March 7, 2010

RCL Year C (Lent 3) - March 7, 2010

The Rev’d Kenneth H. Saunders III
Christ Church
Cleveland, NC

RCL Year C (Lent 3) – March 7, 2010
Also written for the Opponents of Christ Series

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Why must we have a reasons for everything that happens???

In August of 2005 a category 4 hurricane, Katrina, hit the gulf coast of the united states and the New Orleans, LA levy system broke. The city flooded and Approximately 1800 people lost their lives and thousands lost everything else.

On January 12, 2010 at 4:53 p.m. an earthquake – 7.0 on the Richter scale – occurred in Haiti. An estimated 230,000 were killed, but the total is still unsure as they continue to dig through the rubble. The major quake caused 33 aftershocks that ranged from 4.2 to 5.9... and 3 million of Haiti’s 9 million people were in immediate need of aid. A major portion of the buildings collapsed and left millions homeless.

In our need to put a reason on these horrible natural disasters, the first thing that we so often do is ball up our fist and scream at the sky… Blaming God for causing this to happen… or yelling at God for not preventing this tragedy.

Some have even gone so far as to issue half baked, non-theological reasons why God would have done such things, stating that all that “evil living” must have caused this to happen.

I think that the worst thing I have ever heard anyone say when something bad happens… is that “It must be God’s will.” It just makes me cringe to think that people believe God is causing bad things to happen…

Putting God in a position of some sort of divine puppet master, pulling our strings... making us dance or that we are in some giant ant farm for God’s amusement and that God has some sort of giant magnifying glass, displaying a cruelty toward us… God’s living creatures.

No, I don’t believe that it is God’s will to hurt us, or cause us harm… but in our lack of answers it’s the only “answer” we sometimes have. Our need to have an answer gets the best of us, and we blame God and turn from God instead of letting God lead us through it… Instead of letting God help us deal with the tragedy, allowing our faith guide us and God to heal us.

By blaming God, we let God take on an image of divine smite and cruelty, instead of the loving, sustaining, healing, redeeming, and restoring creator that we know God to be.

This kind of divine blame isn’t a new thing… humans have been blaming God since the beginning of time. The old testament is full of it... Every time that something bad happens in the old testament, God is accused of some cruel, harsh, vengeful reaction toward humanity – and it was often seen as a result of some sin. Sin – or atrocity that they had committed

Sin… sin is people doing wrong… not God doing wrong… people doing wrong to other people.. people doing wrong to each other, to themselves, to the earth and to God. And this sin… this wrong doing causes cruelty and evil to breed and exist in this world. We have all experienced or been witness to the horrible cruelty that people can do…

And today, we hear the story of Jesus learning about a group of Galileans that where killed at the temple while they were making their sacrifices. A horrible atrocity committed against the Galileans by Pontus Pilate.

Pontus Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, known for his cruel acts up to and including crucifixion. Pilate used his position of power to take advantage of others and inflict violence and cruelty as a means of governance…

The noted Jewish historian Josephus, wrote about an account that mentions Pontus Pilate: I’d like to read you from Josephus’ writing… “On another occasion [Pilate] caused a riot by spending the sacred treasure from the temple, without permission, on the construction of an aqueduct which brought water into the city from a distance of seventy kilometers away. Mad with rage at this proceeding, the crowd formed a ring around the tribunal of Pilate, who was visiting Jerusalem at the time, and attacked him with a violent outburst. Pilate, foreseeing a revolt beforehand, had dispatched among the crowd a troop of his soldiers, disguised as civilians but armed, with orders not to use their swords but to beat any rioter who got out of hand. At the proper time he motioned to his men. The Jews perished in large numbers, some from the blows which they had received, while others were trampled to death by the crowds who were trying to flee from the beatings. Frightened by the sight of the victims, the multitude grew silent.”

It is argued that this could be the account that Jesus is being told about in this section of Luke… and we know that the first thing the people did was blame God… after all… it occurred at the temple, where they were gathered, making sacrifice… The scripture doesn’t say, but we can be assured that they thought God was somehow the cause of the Galileans death, because they must have committed some horrible sin…

then Jesus’ answer is clear and concise… Jesus says, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will perish as they did.”

Pilate was the cruel catalyst of the Galileans death… and we know that Jesus would also suffer and die at the hand of Pilate… but it’s not God that causes these horrible things to happen… it was the cruelty of humanity…

And like so many other times, Jesus uses this horrible situation to teach us. To teach us about repentance… (the Greek word used here is metanoia…) a change of heart and mind… a rebirth… a new direction…

That all must repent and turn to God, or we will fall into the horrible violent demise such as the one dished out by Pilate. Not that God is going to cause the death, but that WE are going to cause it if we keep sinning against each other and living in these cruel a sinful ways. We will become victims of our own circumstance.

And Jesus goes on to use another example of a tower falling on 18 people… and again Jesus says no, calling the people to repentance. Repentance, and conversion… a true change of life and turning to God so that they are living for God, and are fully dependant on God to guide them, and to strengthen them, instead of blaming God for everything bad that happens, they are called to look at themselves in the mirror and see themselves for who they truly are (images of their creator) and repent.

Then, in order to explain how this works, he tells the parable of the fig tree… about the owner who comes looking for the fruit and not finding any… and about the gardener who begs the owner not to give up on the tree, explaining that it is capable of bearing fruit, to be patient while he tends it, and nourishes it…

The owner, God, looking for the good in this world in Gods followers who are bearing the good fruit... The Gardner, Jesus, who intercedes for us, and nourishes us, and tends to us… and us, the fig tree, responsible for using the nourishment that Jesus gives us to bear good fruit…

In Lent, we are called to repentance as we seek to be reconciled to God, but remember that God's reconciling work in us doesn't happen in an instant. Reconciliation is often a long, sometimes painful, process as we learn and grow and turn as we look within and strive to do the things that God wants us to do. And along the way, on this journey, we count on Jesus to nourish us and unite us together in a bond of love as we live and worship together… And Jesus feeds us with the sacrament of his body and blood that sustains us on this journey…

I don’t know why hurricanes or earthquakes happen, or why those or other natural disasters kill or hurt people… but, I am surely not going to blame God for those tragedies. I am going to depend on God to guide us to do the right things that we need to do to help those affected see the grace of God in us.

There are horrible evils in this world that are spread about by people… People who hurt other people with violent and non violent acts of cruelty… ugliness, prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance… but it’s not God causing these things to happen… It is God there who has given this cruel world a second chance… a chance to change… a chance to turn to God… A chance to repent of our sins and start living for God instead of blaming God…

And God even goes a step further and helps us along the way, by giving us the spiritual nourishment that we need to stay focused and strong and continue the journey… God’s way is not a way of sin and death, it’s not of violence and cruelty, and it’s not of hate and disaster… But God way is a way of forgiveness and resurrection, of new life and equality, and of love, re-creation, and redemption...

As we continue our journey through this Holy Season of Lent, we will continue to examine those place in our lives that need repentance… that need metanoia… and as we find them, we get a chance to confess them, we repent of them, and can turn to God

And then in turn, God forgives us and restores us to that right relationship and nourishes us so that we can bear good fruit.

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