Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday 24 March 2019 - Lent 3

Possible Theme                  Are we bearing fruit?    

Sentence             We have rebelled against the Lord our God who still shows mercy and forgiveness. (Daniel 9:9) [NZPB, 576]

Collect                  Merciful God,
                                Grant to your faithful people pardon and peace;
                                That we may serve you with a quiet mind;
                                Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen. [NZPB, p. 577]         
Isaiah 55:1-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts
Psalm 63:1-8 Your steadfast love is better than life
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Watch out that you do not fall
                         Luke 13:1-9 Unless you repent

Our gospel reading, Luke 13:1-9, is a tough one (just like last week!) at least in the sense that two or more different messages present themselves (vv. 1-5, Jesus responds to the suffering of the innocent; vv. 6-9, the importance of being fruitful disciples). 

A possible single message through the reading concerns repentance: the prospect of death and God's judgement on us (perhaps understood as one event) urges us to repent, lest we be found wanting by God. To this message the story of the fig tree offers a small variation: there may be a little delay which gives us opportunity to get our lives in order and begin to bear fruit. If Lent as a season means anything at all, it is a season of getting our lives in order with the purpose not just of generally being a "better" person, but of being a person through whom God is able to work fruitfully.

From another perspective, these nine verses are about Israel (symbolised by the fig tree), the people to whom Jesus has come as God's "gardener". Israel is guilty of sin, everyone, not just people who have recently and tragically died. God wants to deal with them immediately but in his mercy he allows his Son, the gardener, to work over Israel a little, giving her one more opportunity to bear the fruit of repentance (see 3:8). Tragically, for Israel, it will prove to be true that despite the work of the "gardener", she will be destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, never again to be reconstituted as a nation until the 20th century.

From this sobering perspective we read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 and hear Paul's careful warning to watch out that we do not fall to the wiles of the devil, as, indeed, past generations of God's people have done.

But why bother with God, the cynic might say. It is all very well repenting of sin, but doesn't that lead to a joyless, fun-sapped life? Reading Isaiah 55 and Psalm 63 together, the counterpoint is made. Life with God is a rich feast. God offers much. But will we invest in God, will we 'come, buy, eat' from God (Isaiah 55: 1) or will we 'spend our money on that which is not bread' (55:2)?

The prospects are enticing, but they are obtained by seeking the Lord while he may be found (55:6), that is, seeking one who is utterly different to us, whose ways are not our ways and thoughts are not our thoughts (55:8-9). Will we seek this God who is no idol made in our image and after our likeness? The psalmist of Psalm 63, clearly, has done this seeking and found the secret to life with God. His poetic verses spell out his yearning for the deeper life with God, for a richer experience of the divine presence, a yearning which is fulfilled:

'Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you ... My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast ... (vv. 3, 5).

Surely such fulfilment is worth repenting for and watching lest we do not receive it!

NB: The above was written in 2016 and that year, as with most other years, the world had its share of tragedies and misfortunes. What we believe God's Word means should not change from year to year. Nevertheless I acknowledge that in republishing this set of comments, in 2019, I do so three days after an appalling, heartbreaking tragedy here in Christchurch, the city which I love and in which I and my wife have our home. 50 people were shot dead by a gunman intent on murdering people while attending prayers in their mosque. More than 40 others have been wounded and injured. There can be no more peaceful activity than praying and those who were praying on Friday afternoon were as innocent as any other citizens of Christchurch that afternoon who did not share their tragic end.

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