Sermon, February 28, 2016

St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 63.1-8; 1 Corinthians 10.1-13; Luke 13.1-9

I suspect that many of you heard about the little Episcopal Church that unknowing hired a shifty painter. He set about his work, but thinned the paint considerably. Fortunately the Vestry had no approved full payment before the first big rain storm. As the rain and the wind did it’s work, most of the paint ended up on the ground. The painter received a rather terse note – “Repaint, and thin no more!” In essence, that is today’s message, but I will develop it a bit more fully. By the way, I want to assure you the painter was not from the 3-K Company owned and operated by our Junior Warden, Lee Kratochvil – 3 K stands for Kratochvil, Kratochvil, and Klein. Thanks for you good work in Thorburn Hall!
Now, let’s look at the way repentance is woven through our lectionary readings. The reading from Exodus sets forth a theophany – God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush. As you may recall, after killing an Egyptian who was mistreating the Hebrews, Moses fled to the wilderness and was working as a shepherd for Jethro, his father-in-law. He was in the vicinity of Mt. Horeb (which many believe to be the same as Mt. Sinai) when he saw a burning bush and turned aside to look upon it as it was not consumed. The voice of God spoke to Moses telling him to remove his sandals for he was on holy ground. God further told Moses that he had witnessed the affliction of the Hebrews, and then said, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” And Moses replied, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3.9-11; NRSV). Moses was not a quick sell; the prospect of returning to Egypt to potentially face capital punishment was not too high on his list of priorities. If you follow the conversation closely, you see that Moses objected four times that he was not the right man for the job: “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4.10; NRSV). “O my Lord, please send someone else” (Exodus 4.13; NRSV). God finally allowed Aaron to accompany and speak for him.
In what way is this a story of repentance? To repent means “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life; to feel regret or contrition; to change one’s mind” ( Moses had sinned, had fled to the wilderness, but god appeared and called Moses to repentance and a new life – a life which required a change of one’s mind. Repentance has a double aspect – it is a turning away from as well as a turning toward. God called Moses to turn away from his life as a shepherd and turn toward the life of a prophet, liberator, and national leader.
Psalm 63 provides a wonderful glimpse into the life of one who has turned from sin toward God. Listen to these words of praise and admiration: “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory” (Vs. 1-2; NRSV). During the night watches, when he turns to meditation, the Psalmist says his lips and mouth shall be filled with praise; as God is his helper, he shall rejoice under the shadow of God’s wings.
In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul reminds the Church of Corinth that although their ancestors shared the Exodus and wanderings in the wilderness, God was not pleased with most of them for they chose to complain, to engage in sexual immorality, and to put Christ to the test. Over 23,000 were struck down in a single day. Paul warns the Church of Corinth that these things serve as an example and were recorded for their (and our) instruction. We are to be on watch that we do not fall and are assured that we will not be tested beyond our strength, for God always provides a way out of such testing.
The Gospel reading from Luke 13.1-9 is a continuation of the preceding chapter.    Jesus is addressing a crowd of thousands which had been gathering. He warns that nothing is “covered up” which “will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known” (Luke 12.; NRSV). Jesus tells the multitude that those who acknowledge him before others will be acknowledged, whereas those who deny him will be denied before the angels of heaven. Jesus cautions about greed which will cause a man to tear down his barns such that he may build bigger barns with no thought for the true condition of his soul. Jesus tells of the lazy servant who failed to be ready for the return of his master; we are to be dressed for action with our lamps lit – to be prepared for what is to come! Jesus also tells the multitude that though they can read the signs which indicate the coming of rain, they fail to read the signs of the present time. Time after time, Jesus is saying, “Be prepared!”
Today’s Gospel reading begins with some in the crowd telling Jesus of some Galileans Pilate had killed during their worship such that their blood had become mingled with the blood of the sacrifices. Jesus asks them if they believe these Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than other Galileans. Let it be noted that this was the commonly held view – disaster was visited only on those who are deserving. It is surprising how many still hold this view. Jesus then asks if the eighteen who perished when the tower of Siloam fell were greater sinners than the others. Jesus teaches that the Galileans were killed by Pilate’s forces; the eighteen were killed due to faulty construction. None of them perished because they were more sinful than others – they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The message should be clear – no one knows when they may perish unexpectedly – be prepared.
Then Jesus tells the story of the fig tree planted in the vineyard. Why is a fig tree planted in a vineyard? Israel was often compared to a fig tree. Is this a symbolic representation of Israel in God’s greater vineyard? We do not know. But the owner of the vineyard directs the gardener to cut the fig tree down, for it has not borne fruit in any of the preceding three years. Might these three years refer to the time of Jesus’ ministry? The gardener entreats the owner of the vineyard to give him one more year. During that time, the gardener will dig around the tree and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine; if not, go ahead and cut it down.
Some powerful lessons emerge from these readings.
First, God repeatedly calls us to repentance, and warns us to be prepared. God calls us to turn away from our old life, the life of this world, and to turn toward new life, life in the Kingdom of God.
Second, like Moses, we are prone to act in what we see as our own interest. We love to argue with God about what is the best course for our life! “I am not elegant of speech.” “Who am I to approach Pharoah?” “I don’t know how to do that?” “But I have never taught church school.” “I am sure someone else is better qualified than I am.” Remember the old saying – “God does not always call the prepared, but he always prepares the called.” If we always say “no” are we refusing the incremental steps of preparation that God desires of us?
Third, like the Psalmist, as we move deeper into our life in Christ, as we journey further into a life of repentance, we find that praise becomes second nature. We identify with the psalmist’s utterance: “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.” There was a time in my own life when I would not have identified with these words; I did not eagerly seek God, or thirst for God. Now these words speak to my deepest self – my true self. They express a longing which comes from having experienced God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s support. These are things we come to experience only through repentance.
In today’s Eucharist, may we experience repentance as a renewal of mind; may we catch a clearer vision of God’s grace, love, and support.

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