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Isaiah 55:1-9;Psalm 63:1-8;1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 24, 2019 –Third Sunday in Lent
We dwell on theodicy this morning. Not “The Odyssey”, but “theo-dicy.” “the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil,“ or the “defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil”.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? Why doesn’t God show us a rational way to earn God’s favor, so we can do it and be saved, and know…by what happens and doesn’t happen in the world around us…that we are saved…forever?
Isaiah gives us a clue. Come and eat and drink! Buy without money! Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?
If you think that people today do not spend money for what doesn’t satisfy, you need only look at the explosion of storage sheds around the valley. It seems like there are people everywhere who are not ready to part with their belongings, but they don’t hold them close either.
Some friends of mine at Huntley United Methodist Church came home one night from a basketball game. Someone had left a fan running in a bathroom and there was smoke coming out of the eaves.
They called the fire department, then ran in and grabbed all the photo albums and home videos and went back until the fire department got there.
“It’s amazing to see what you think is important,” Glenn told me. “The rest was just stuff.”
We worry about stuff. We long for stuff. We resent the stuff that other people have. And we are wasting every minute we have to spend on earth doing that.
The multitudes are cross examining Jesus this morning about whether a bunch of Galileans who had just been executed in a terrible way…an intentionally terrible way…were more sinful than others.
What had they done to deserve it? (And what do we need to do not to get it?) Show us the way, dear Lord, show us the way.
Jesus answers and cites another tragedy…a natural disaster of sorts …where a tower fell on many people and killed them. It’s like the cyclone that just swept across southern Africa…hundreds dead because of where they happened to be standing on the face of the earth at a moment in the history of earth.
Why do these things happen? How can I avoid them? Jesus gives us a way forward in his response: “Unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”
They died meaningless deaths. A tower fell on them. Gravity is the problem, but where would we be without it??
Some of their fellow Jews were swept up in the first example, as a group of Jews to be made an example of by the local prefect. He wanted to terrorize your neighbors by putting them to an awful death. He saw them as grist for his mill. That’s all.
It’s not what happens to you that determines whether you will lead a good life or not. It’s what you do about what happens to you.
Unless we change your hearts and lives, we will die just as they did. You don’t have to be great. You don’t have to be heroic. But you have to live out the gift of life God gave you…faithfully, truly, honestly …or it will be as if you never lived.
How do you sort it all out? I was run over by a pickup 45 years ago this Tuesday, and I was hit by a car a little over ten years ago. People tell me I am lucky when they hear about the pickup, and they tell me I am really lucky when they hear about the car.
I keep asking them, “How do you figure?...I have been run over by a pickup and hit by a car. I feel like the dog in the classified ad: "LOST: male dog, has one eye, mangled left ear, paralyzed hind leg, crooked tail. Answers to the name, 'Lucky'.”
But here I am, again this day, with the moon setting in a clear sky full of stars at the hour I arise, with sunshine on the valley, with a house full of people I love, and a job…a calling…that asks me to be good and do better with each new day.
So I am lucky. We are all lucky… because we live here…on planet earth. Somehow we all came into being…saw the light of day…and found our way to faith in a creating God, a redeeming Savior, and a Spirit that sustains us, teaches us, and calls us ever more deeply into the mystery that is life itself… toward a life that is everlasting.
This is the space that Christ calls us into this morning. We are here. What are we to do with the life we have been given?
We are called to bring grateful hearts and minds…open hearts and minds…to each new day…each new hour…each moment that moves us closer to the mystery of all things.
Isaiah cries out to us today that it is a state of mind we should be seeking and not a state of affairs. We can find satisfaction in our lives without the burden of great wealth.
“Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!” Isaiah calls to a nation that is just beginning to return to their homeland after generations of exile.
They do not return to power, but only to their homeland. They will be ruled over for thousands of years before the State of Israel will be created in 1948.
And the homeland has been changed while they have been away. The city walls have been breached and the great Temple of Solomon has been torn down.
But while they are without sovereign power to determine their own fate as a people, Isaiah proclaims that the power within them is as great as all the armies of Rome.
They can drink at the well and buy milk and bread without money. They have the grace of God in their history and in their hearts and they can feast on this, for the spirit rules over the body.
Jesus will call out in the Gospel of John on the last day of the feast of booths, the great day, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
John goes on: Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
That which is within us is more powerful than anything that may press against us, even a tower above the pool of Siloam.
It is our attitude about the things that happen to us, more than what happens, that gives us hope. What are you going to do about it? That is the question that we have to answer.
If Isaiah can breathe this hope into a people who have been deprived of their homeland for generations….if he can call with hope to people who are about to return to the place they have not seen since the days they ruled all who lived there…who are we to complain that the Tasty Freeze only has 50 flavors of milkshakes…or we can get 100 channels on our televisions and there is still nothing worth watching…or our storage shed is costing us money each month for things we do not use?
Are we called to consume until we are sated by the fruits of the horn of abundance that we enjoy in America? Or are we called to change hearts– ours and the hearts of those we meet – no matter what our circumstances?
The spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak. So why not lean into our strength and let our weakness fly away? Why not cling to the joy of living…the joy of being alive…and let the rest go?
The best thing, perhaps, that we can do for pain is to ignore it. The best thing we can do for joy is to embrace it. We have been blessed to be a blessing. So go be a blessing to all you meet.
But there is something that is restless in the human spirit. No matter how good we have it, if we go without a change for weeks and months, eventually we begin to see only what we don’t have…or what’s wrong with what we do have.
That’s the blessing of living in such a special place where people leave and come back each year. They are blessed by a change of scenery and a change of situation so they can see with fresh eyes each year what a great place this is.
Hearing their joy at being back, we have a chance to see our good luck afresh. It may not be what we want it to be at any given moment, but it is about as good as anyone can have it.
It’s like they are the gardener in our reading today, telling the owner – that’s us – to give the fig tree – that’s our life – to give it one more year.
Of course, this jumbles up the allegory in our reading today. The garden is the Promised Land, the fig tree is Israel – God’s chosen people – and the gardener is Jesus who comes not to save the plants that have successfully taken root and produce abundantly – but to loosen the soil around the roots of the hearts that are struggling.
So let us all give it one more year. Let us reach for the sun and the nutrient in the soil at the same time.
We are like the cactus in the desert. They can go for years without rain and their roots are in a ball waiting for the right moment.
When it rains, the roots shoot out in every direction from the stalk to take in the moisture and the nutrient while we have life and the earth is nurturing us.
People are like that. Churches are like that. Communities are like that. Life is like that.
And the Word we read and share each week is the rain. The great prophets of our day and yesteryear are our gardeners. Jesus is the head gardener and our Lord and Savior.
We have been given everything we need to live the life more abundant. We are called to share it and see how it might grow in other hearts. We are called to be a blessing, and in this calling we are blessed again.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen