It is so good to be a pastor that is surrounded by awesome people—and what makes them really awesome is their willingness to name the truth of me, especially those that become close friends. They’re always trying to get me, rather than perishing, to choose life.
Now it is not always easy having such friends; they’ll hold you accountable, call you on your bullcrap, push you to be authentic, and even love you most when you feel least like being loved.
That’s the pressure I’m under today—to get this post done by my play-date deadline. I was boldly and honestly told by my best friend—the Rev. Pr. Drysdale–chief cook and bottle washer of Holy Communion, Dallas, NC that I will take today off. He further told me that I am to put down my phone and rest. And he gave me a deadline for extraction for my parsonage—8:30AM today.
My dear friend knows me too well—knows that rather than choose life, I’ll choose to perish under obsessive work; that I’ll clean the kitchen, do laundry, mop floors, cook a meal or two, while home—-call it good, and declare to the whole world that I have taken a day off. But really it was no day off after all, just a day of differing work in a differing venue.
When I am left at home alone, “Work happens!” It could be a bumpersticker just like, “Sh!t happens!”Sometimes it is just no one’s fault that work happens and sometimes it is just no one’s fault when sh!t happens. But often I turn it all into cause and effect, and perish under the load of it all, rather than choosing life. Jesus has something to say on behaving such as this.
Consider this from Jesus and his band:
“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (NRSV)
I won’t mince words. There is ton of crap preaching with regard to this text. and that crap preaching comes from crap theology which makes bad things that happen 100% dependent on human behavior. And I would uncharitably love to list the denominations that I find 100% guilty of intentionally preaching such crap—-which by the way, is not the useful sort of crap, that when placed around unfruitful fig tress, offers fruitful life.
Here’s a newsflash: God is not a reward/curse system.
God is not the all-divine bless-o-matic, neither is God the all-terrific curse-o-matic. But to hear some preach and teach from this pericope, one is left to conclude that both of those “o-matics” are the reality of God. And they are not the assertions of this text. To preach in any other way on the matter is crap preaching—just don’t go there.
A week back Zion Lutheran was touched by a series of deaths—they numbed us, stunned us, and scared us. This week we have been touched through news media by the deaths of those who were in the path of the tornadic weather—some of us were moved, maybe even frightened into prayer. Some of us, maybe motivated by compassion and fear, prayed that the dread weather might not come our way. After all, we didn’t do anything to deserve such calamity. We are innocent after all!
During the storm one person on the TV news remarked about two innocent people who died as result of a tornado in Convent, Louisiana. She called them innocent people; but would it have been any better or worse had these Louisianans been guilty people?
The answer is, “Heaven and Hell, NO! Absolutely not!”
Yet I think we act as though the answer is, “Yes.” I think we see this odd way of thinking all the time, perhaps especially in the face of deep, darkest tragedy.
- When hurricanes hit Florida, people say it’s the weather. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans some said, “it was God’s punishment for the wickedness perceived to happen there.”
- When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan it was said, “those people are being punished for not being Christians.”
- Some have said that AIDS is “the gay disease,” sent by God to punish homosexuals.
- Some are quick to say of others’ tragedies that, “they had it coming to them.” After all, although it is totally evil and unkind, isn’t it sometimes said of a rape victim that, “she had it coming to her” for:
- dressing like that
- hanging out with those people
- drinking at that party
- being a flirt, etc.
We love to have unkind yet creative reasons to slap on situations and people so that we can feel as though, through our comportment and control, that we are safe, secure, sound, and all the while, all oh-so-very self-righteously smug. And we thank God that we aren’t like “those people,” and are even more grateful that we are not “those people.” We are certain we are not as sinful as the other sinful Galileans. Let’s just go ahead and join the ranks of those who run up to Jesus and say,
“Jesus, Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”
Why not let’s go all the way and say,
- “Jesus, Do you think that because these Louisianans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Louisianans?”
- “Jesus, Do you think that because these women suffered [rape] they were worse sinners than all other women?”
Notice that Jesus answers such crazy-ass, crap theology in this way, “No, I tell you.” After answering in this way Jesus also adds, “but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
It is so easy to take this out of context. Jesus does not endorse or project on to Israel’s God the black and white cause and effect pattern of Imperial Rome. The murder of the Galileans was an act of an agent of Imperial Rome—not an act of punishment by God.
Note that the whole topic came up because of the Roman leader Pilate who’d murdered Galileans for what he’d considered a capital offense. God did not execute either the order or commit the act.
The people cannot control Pilate no more than they can control the falling tower. Death, in both instances, is beyond the control of people. It is outside of them and, it is random, and unpredictable. And it is not dependent on their behavior—death happens.
Whether we are guilty or innocent makes no difference—death happens. The sinless, guiltless, life of Jesus did not keep death at bay. Good Friday reminds us of this year after year, and so does the Passion reading done on Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday.
In saying,”but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did,” Jesus sternly warns the disciples, and us, too, not to live the pattern of Imperial Rome, the black and white cause and effect pattern of Imperial Rome. That pattern is what we need to repent of and from, because it creates division and forms unholy pecking orders and judgmental unions. It is the pattern of Imperial Rome. And it leads to death.
And Jesus knows this—-and Jesus offers us a different way of being and seeing through showing us how Israel’s God operates. Jesus shows this in the story of a fig tree that is condemned to die. But before the death sentence, brought on presumably by unfruitfulness, an advocate comes and pleads for a stay of execution. And the stay is granted. The tree does not get what one might have presumed it ought to have deserved. It is doing nothing productive. But the advocate doesn’t operate out of the black and white cause and effect pattern of Imperial Rome; the advocate offers to nourish and care for the fig tree. No axe is at the root. Nourishing crap is at the root. No oppressive fast approaching deadline is there to overwhelm the fig tree, rather it receives more time. This is how Israel’s God operates.
This is the Gospel of the Lord. It is life-bearing not death-bringing. Jesus is flat out asking the disciples and us to cease the black and white cause and effect pattern of Imperial Rome and to choose life—-life for others, life for self, the life offered by Jesus. The life we find through living into the pattern of Israel’s God presented in the text by Jesus.
Perhaps our litany of repentance for living into/out of the black and white cause and effect pattern might go like this:
We choose to live by coming to terms with our fear, rather than to perish by giving in to anxiety and despair.
We choose to live by confronting the prejudices at work within us, rather than to perish by risking a diminished life built upon the validation of those just like us.
We choose to live by repenting of the judgments we’ve made, rather than to perish by line drawing, separating, and culling those created in God’s image.
We choose to live by repenting of our condemnation of others, rather than to perish by setting ourselves up as the worthy, the knowing, the righteous, the wheat and never the weed.
We choose to live by repenting of and releasing the need for control, rather than to perish by seeking how we think things must be done, and done that way to keep us feeling comfortable and smug.
We choose to live by repenting of our role in the victimization of others, rather than to perish by unhealthily seeking what makes us feel whole, and that at the expense of others.
We choose to live by repenting of our intentional resistance to change and growth, rather than to perish by it-cannot-be-done, or we’ve-never done-that-before thinking.
And we choose to live by owning and repenting from our total lack of imagination which has given us an impoverished view of God, rather than to perish by never dreaming of the creative and imaginative ways our generous lavish God seeks to be known through us to others.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, and slap crap at the base of the fig tree that is us, and nourish us into slapping that nourishing crap at the base of the other fig trees, too.
Lord, we’re done with perishing, so “easter” us, Gracious God, and help us to choose life?