- March 24, 2019
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 24 March 2019 (Lent 3 Year C)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 63.1-8; Luke 13.1-9
Title: I AM Has Sent Me To You
“Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you…This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations” (Exodus 3.14-15).
My friends, what is the fruit of new life that God is calling forth from you?
As we continue our journey together through this season of Lent, and toward the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, we are given these two readings today for our contemplation.
Now, at first glance, our Gospel reading seems quite harsh, and it ends with this disarming little parable.
Did you notice that there is no conclusion? We are told nothing at all about the end result. What happened to the little fig tree? Did it turn things around? Did the manure help? Pardon the pun, but did it make the cut?
No answer. All we get is the desire and the hope of the gardener. One more year. Just one more year. This is like the plaintive cry of every diehard sports fan. One more year! We’ll win it next year! All we need is one more chance!
But there is no conclusion to this parable, and I think we can perhaps understand why if we look again at our reading from Exodus.
God speaks to Moses out of a bush that is on fire but is not consumed. When Moses turns aside to get a closer look, the first thing the voice of God requires is that Moses removes the sandals from his feet.
“For the place on which you are standing [Moses] is holy ground.” By the way, have you noticed that all of the holy ones, all of those commonly called saints, in these stained glass windows are depicted with bare feet?
Not the present-day church figures, but all those from earlier times have removed their shoes and they stand with bare feet. Why is this? What message is intended by this artistic device?
As far as I can tell, this is common practice in all depictions of the saints in icons and windows. It teaches us that the holy one are always standing on holy ground.
In the Great Thanksgiving at the Lord’s Table, we declare that “it is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks” to our Creator.
So the holy people of God are always standing on holy ground because always and everywhere they are standing – with intention and awareness – in the presence of God.
And on the mountain of Horeb, our Creator spoke with Moses and revealed the name of God, the divine Name: “I AM WHO I AM.”
Or it might mean, “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” No one really knows what this name is or what it means or how to pronounce it. But clearly it has something to do with LIFE, with BEING itself. And THAT is important.
Do you also remember the sequence of letters that is revealed to Moses at the burning bush? Scholars refer to this as the Tetragrammaton, which is just a fancy way of saying “Four Letters”.
What is the name God reveals to Moses in this meeting on Horeb? It is a sequence of four letters: YHWH. Based on the Hebrew verb “to be”, this four letter sequence has been considered too sacred to be pronounced since ancient times.
In fact, the vowels have been lost over time, so all we have now are these four letters in an unpronounceable sequence that point us to the source and the origin of all life.
Do you know of something else made out of four letters in a sequence that points us to the origins of life?
It’s called DNA. All living things have DNA and RNA which contain information in a sequence of 4 letters.
There are 3.1 billion of these letters in the human genome, but it is only those four letters: GACT. (In RNA, it is GACU).
So here we have it: in the Bible, the Name of God, the identity of God, is revealed to Moses as an unpronounceable four letter sequence that points in a mysterious way to the origin of life.
And in science, the identity of every living thing has been revealed to humanity as unpronounceable sequences of four letters that somehow allow life to exist.
What do you think about this parallel? Just a simple coincidence? I think not.
On Thursday night, at Common Ground, we spoke about the process of evolutionary development which has created such an enormous diversity of living things on this planet.
It is amazing to consider that this evolutionary process is continuous, ongoing, never-ending. New species are being developed all of the time, and existing species are having their DNA modified and changed.
As we now understand, each year there are new bacteria that are resistant to anti-biotics. In our forests here in New England, the top wild predator is now an entirely new species called the Eastern Coyote with DNA from wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs – all mixed together within the last few hundred years.
The process of evolutionary development never ends, because this is what life does. It grows, it expands, it adapts, it modifies.
Now we might be able to understand this process at work among the animals and plants with whom we share this planet. But what about among us humans?
Is our DNA changing? Or should we be looking for a new species who will suddenly emerge and out-compete humans, and take our place as the dominant species on earth?
That does not seem very likely to happen! So perhaps our process of development now has changed. Perhaps it is no longer at work within the DNA of individual humans, but within the community of humans. Within human civilization.
THIS, I believe, is exactly what Jesus is teaching in our Gospel reading for today.
Look at it again. It has nothing at all to do with heaven or with life beyond the grave. It is strictly about life and death on planet earth – about who survives and who does not.
“Do you think those Galileans … were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did” (Luke 13.2-3).
Do you remember the Greek word for repentance? It is metanoia. This is a compound word. Meta means change, like in metamorphosis – a change of shape. Noia comes from the verb meaning to think.
At its core, metanoia – repentance – means to change one’s way of thinking. So when the Lord tells the crowds that, unless they change their way of thinking, they are all likely to die in the same manner as those Galilieans, what is he saying?
Remember the context! Jesus has set his face like flint to walk straight into Jerusalem. And he is accompanied by a group of Galileans, some of whom – like Peter – get angry very easily.
Is it hard to imagine that someone like Peter might harbor a secret desire to get revenge on Pilate for murdering his fellow Galileans and for desecrating their sacrifices to God?
What Pilate did was horrible, terrible – it was inexcusable. But if the other Galileans go to Jerusalem to get revenge on Pilate, do you know what is going to happen? They will all perish in the exact same way. Unless they change their way of thinking!
This default instinct in human beings to use violence, to pursue revenge, to fear and hate those outside of our tribe, to seek for power over others – unless this way of thinking is changed, the result will be more of the same.
Rome proved this to be true just a few decades later. After years of putting up with endless stream of revolts and rebellions, finally Rome completely obliterated Jerusalem. “Not one stone left upon another” (Luke 21.6).
My friends, if we are to avoid more unnecessary destruction like that, then all of us must change our way of thinking.
When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, it was revealed that the name of God, the very identity of God, is Life, is Being. “I AM WHO I AM.”
Who knows! Maybe we humans are NOT the final act in God’s ongoing work of developing ever more complex forms of life.
But it is clear that we are here for a reason. That we are called to serve as God’s caretakers, God’s stewards of this remarkable planet and of all the amazing array of life found on it.
Our job, our task, is never to make ourselves as safe and as comfortable as possible.
No. Instead it is to make sure that every tree in the garden bears fruit. To make sure that the soil that nourishes life is rich and healthy. To ensure that life continues to grow in ever greater complexity.
If we will listen, if we will pay attention, if we are willing to change our way of thinking, our Teacher Jesus will show us the way to live so that always and everywhere we know that we are standing on God’s holy ground where life is called to flourish!
So my friends, what is it? What is the fruit of new life that God is calling forth from you?