Sunday, March 24, 2019

Bear Fruit

         Consider the folk shot in Christchurch, New Zealand, were their sufferings and their deaths the result of their sins?
         Or those in Nebraska, who have, due to the horrific flooding, lost their livestock and their crops, and their homes and some even their lives. Were they worse sinners than all the rest of us?
         By no means…
         Jesus decouples sin from suffering—in fact, that’s one of the reasons for Jesus’ healing ministry, he heals people who have been put out from polite company on account of their ailments, because polite company believed their ailments were a sign of sin.
         And this view of a causal-relationship between sin and suffering makes some sense, doesn’t it? Actions shouldhave consequences.  It makes for a well-ordered universe.
If a bad thing happened to me, I know I’m at fault… such a scheme is easy,
but as we all know from our actual experiences in life, it is never that simple.
Yes, actions have consequences, but the connections between them are rarely crystal clear. 
         And that ambiguity can get us alltwisted up.
It can cause us to pay much closer attention to the facts of our life and the ramifications of our choices.
When we come near to suffering it can stir up a lot of unspoken things in us.
It can make us take our own lives more seriously…
“What if it had been me instead?”
“Wow, he lost everything, what’s really important in my life?”
“Shoot, he’s dead and I never got to say goodbye, who else do I have unfinished business with?” 

         (To be clear, our primary concern when faced with someone who is suffering, ought to be care for the suffering person, not turning inward and making their suffering about us)

         Yet, those questions linger in the air, they are moments filled with potential, moments of opportunity and peril,
forks in the road…
They can lead down a path where our discomfort with death and suffering can lead us into the arms of idols
—after all idolatry is putting our “fear, love, & trust” in anything other than God… where does our loyalty, love, and awe get tested more often than in the face of suffering? 
         We can go down that idol road, or we can go down another path, the one Jesus points us to… 
in the face of these questions,
to the lonely searching of our soul,
we can cling to the answer Jesus gives, “Repent, bear fruit.”
         You’ve come face to face with those places in your life that are not fruitful, you recognize in a stark way those things that pull you away from the center of life, you are aware of where you’ve fallen short and where you’ve made a wrong turn… 
         Repent—turn around,
fall in line behind our Lord and follow him!
Get back on the path of being a disciple; change your ways!

         And do you know why repentance is possible? Why change can happen?
Because you can repent from a place of stability and self-worth!
Because you can change knowing God will catch you when you fall!

Look! In the heat of the day, God’s wings, a cool shroud shelters you.
Look! Out in the wilderness, far from civilization a cool spring and wilderness meal!
Look! Food and drink aplenty, no strings attached, no debt incurred.
Look! You are a blooming garden, ripe with potential and awash with opportunity!

You are beloved of God, baptized and fed, gathered together in God’s arms!
Gathered together to go out. To be salt and light to the world, a world deeply loved by God! A world that needs to know it’s worth!

Even those far off, those who have shaken off the dust of the faith and intend never to go back—the gift is still there. No one can take God’s promise from you! No idol can stop your ears from hearing God’s call!

Praise be to God whose ways are mysterious and great!
Praise be to God who brings heaven to earth!
Praise be to God who calls forth fruitfulness from us!

         Yes, we can bear fruit, because we are grounded in God’s good soil!
         We can face those big questions stirred up in us in the sight of suffering, avoiding the temptation of idols, because we know God holds us and is with us and will never abandon us.
         Never abandon us, even if it means coming in flesh, suffering with us, dying with us… even then, God will never abandon us!
         We can ask those big questions and find faithful, fruitful, answers, because God loves us!
         Following after Jesus, being like him, becoming little Christ’s!
         Living a generous life in such a way that everyone has enough! Are we not entertaining angels unaware?
         An openness to those on the outside, because we know God is found on the margins, even outside the gates of Jerusalem on a cross! 
         Fruitfulnessalso taking relationships seriously. On Wednesdays we’ve been talking about the concrete steps that it takes to forgive someone.
-telling your story,
-naming the hurt,
-forgiving the offender
and only then deciding whether to restore the relationship, or release it.
         Trusting that you are not alone in all of this, that there is a Gardner who will dig around your roots and tend us all with good soil
—the Gardner who makes us to bear fruit and at the resurrection calls us by name.