Sunday, March 24, 2019

Lent 3-C, 2019: Choose to repent and live

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

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

We were created to be in perfect communion with God and with all God created, living in a harmony that resonates throughout eternity, a harmony Jesus called us to when he named as the greatest and root of all commandments, that we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves with all our hearts, minds, and strength.

In our relationship with God there is mutual vulnerability. Love is like that. Once you love, you suffer when the ones you love suffer. Once you love, you risk losing that love to death, and a piece of yourself with it when you do. God shares the same risk we do in this relationship of communion.

But the risk is totally worth it, as God demonstrated in the Incarnation of Jesus, the Christ, and in the story from Exodus today where God demonstrates that we do not suffer alone. God assures Moses that God notices our suffering, and promises redemption, relying on the fact of our relationship to motivate us to participate in making that happen.

The poetry of Psalm 63 beautifully depicts the human experience of this harmonious relationship: “you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you… or your loving-kindness is better than life itself… so I will bless you as long as I love… My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.

God is steadfastly faithful to this harmonious relationship with us. We, in our humanness, often fall short. We either underestimate the ineffable love of God for us, or we underestimate ourselves and what God’s love can do in and through us. This is sin.

In his book, The Shaking of the Foundations, theologian Paul Tillich describes sin as a three-fold separation: from God, from each other, and from ourselves. I would add to Tillich’s description: separation from Creation.

This separation distorts all of our relationships. It is only by God’s grace and our willingness to repent that our relationships are restored and we are returned to righteousness.

Sin is about our being, not our doing. The behaviors we see, what most people point to when they talk about sin, are but visible outcomes of this disruption, not the disruption itself. So when we are called to repent, as we are during the season of Lent, we are called to notice these visible outcomes because they point us to the locus of the disruption.

Once we notice it, we can choose to address it; inviting God to redeem it by redeeming us. That is repentance.

Jesus speaks plainly to us in the gospel of Luke on the issue of repentance: “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish” and he goes on to explain what he means in the parable of the fig tree, which was a popular near-Eastern story in those days. In this parable, the lord of the vineyard sees a fig tree that isn’t producing fruit, judges it as useless, and cuts it down.

In Jesus’ re-telling of this story, however, the owner of the garden shows mercy, giving the tree one more chance and all it needs to flourish. In order to live the tree and the tree’s community (the gardener) must change how they’re living together… which is the point in this parable: repent, change how you and your community are living together, or you will die… not because God will punish you, but because the way you are living is not life-giving… it leads to death.

Our world has become a place where harmonious relationship is in short supply. The way we are living together is killing us –literally. And when I say us, I mean the global human family.

We have a long and regret-filled list of people for whom we pray: the 50 innocent Muslim people most recently killed while praying in their mosque in Christchurch, NZ. The young girl who survived the Parkland school shooting massacre only to die by suicide last week.

According to the World Bank, there are 1.3 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, who live in extreme poverty, a majority of whom are under the age of 18. If current trends continue, they say, it is projected that by 2030, 9 out of 10 extreme poor will be in sub-Saharan Africa. (Source:

Fragile governments, racism, differences in beliefs and spiritual practices, inadequate access to healthcare, clean water, food, and education --these are the disruptions to harmonious relationship we face as a global community.

In addition, according to National Geographic: “It has become clear that humans have caused most of the past century's [global] warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as we power our modern lives. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, [melting glaciers], rising seas, and a range of other impacts. All of those changes are emerging as humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, changing the rhythms of climate that all living things have come to rely on.” (Source)

The way we’re living together currently is killing us and creation and we must repent. We must identify where the disruptions are in our relationships, then repent of them. That means making a fundamental change in the way we understand God, our neighbors, ourselves, and creation, inviting God to restore us to the harmonious relationship God intends.

One of the small steps we are currently making in this regard is the community dinner-discussion we are hosting this evening called, Abraham’s Table: a family reunion. Gathering together to share what we have in common, we intentionally invite God to restore in us a harmonious relationship with each other.

When we sin (and we will sin throughout our lives) we are to repent, to change our very being, not just what we’re doing, trusting that God loves us and desires to restore us to righteousness.

When we choose to repent, we may find ourselves “struck by grace,” as Tillich calls it, the way Saul – who became Paul - was struck on the road to Damascus, knowing deeply the truth that God loves us with an incomprehensible love, even though we may feel thoroughly unworthy of that love.

Repentance opens the way for all of our relationships to be changed, empowered by the grace of God’s acceptance. Trusting in the steadfast love of God who is always faithful and ready to redeem, we can choose to repent. We can choose to live. Amen.

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