As I shared last week, we have a re-occuring sacred history as we understand it:
God makes a covenant, a promise, an agreement with God’s people.
We, the people, break the covenant.
God gets angry and punishes the people.
We, the people, repent and return to God.
God welcomes us home and creates another covenant with us.
God, through the incarnation, slipped into our human skin and broke this pattern (as we know it).
Our Gospel text this morning, it begins with Jesus addressing a question that has plagued all of our human history; it is the question about the cause and purpose of suffering.
Jesus seems to address two tragic, recent events that resulted in the loss of human life. He poses the question to the people, ‘do you believe that they were worse sinners than you’? Or, perhaps ‘do you think this was (divine) punishment for their sins’? Jesus is questioning the common perception of His day, which is a perception that continues into our time and in our place; it is the assumption that those who have experienced tragedy and those who have or are suffering in mind, body, or spirit is somehow more deserving of it than the rest. Jesus, however, seems to challenge this assumption and teaches about repentance and second chances through the parable for a fruitless fig tree.
Now, let us briefly switch gears to our 1 Corinthians text which I will connect with the Gospel. It reminds me of a sign that bears a well-known, truth filled quote, it reads: “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it”. The image of this sign is seared into my memory, for it hung above the seat of a dead religious leader named Jim Jones, at the time of the mass suicide and murder of their religious organization “The People’s Temple”.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the people in Corinth warning them to know their history in order that they would not be condemned to the same fate. But, instead that they may bring into reality the kingdom of God through God’s will.
Returning to the Gospel, Jesus is calling people to repentance, to second chances to bear fruit in our lives. For one reason, the history of Jim Jones and the Peoples’ Temple should not be repeated. But, it is not only religious history such as our sacred story, Jim Jones, or groups like the KKK that use religion as a false justification for evil; but also our secular and civil histories.
For example, I have a LOVE – HATE relationship with the 1950s.
On the one hand, the nostalgia of the 1950s is alluring.
My kitchen and dining room are themed as a 1950s Coca-Cola diner. The music is fun. Some of the fashion was simply adorable. AND do not get me started on those amazing muscle cars.
BUT the 1950s were not perfect. The 1950s were tainted with oppression, racism, and sexism. I believe, we can agree that that should NOT be repeated.
So, in light of Jesus’ question, His teaching of the fig tree, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and our Lenten journey of reflecting, reconnecting, and being transformed… I encourage all of us to reflect upon our histories and ponder a few challenging questions:
(1) What history do we need to oppose to avoiding being condemned to repeating it?
(2) What history do we need to nourish, in order that it can be repeated and bear life-giving fruit or bring forth God’s Kingdom?
(3) and how are you going to be active in that?
I hope you are hearing that we, through our human agency, have the ability to nourish either hate, sexism, and racism…or love and service to flourish in the future. And that every second is another second chance to bear life-giving fruit for the world. Amen.
1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
Luke 13: 1-9
A version of this sermon was preached at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (Kelso) on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016.