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Some of today's headlines read:
Islamist militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar 'killed in Mali'
NATO apologizes after two Afghan boys killed
Who’s sin is the greater?
Syria conflict: Assad accuses UK of bullying
Zimbabwe's Mugabe holds lavish 89th birthday party
Who’s sin is the greater?
Gonzales man booked in meth lab case
Keiosha Felix is still missing, and the current focus is on the firing of the lead investigator. Meanwhile, everyone remembers Mickey – as well they should, and no one is willing to talk about the possibilities and atrocities of human trafficking.
Who’s sin is the greater?
That’s what Jesus asks the crowd who cannot seem to interpret the headlines any better than the weather. A bold voice from the crowd asks about the injustice of Pilot, who mingled the blood of some Galileans – people from Jesus’ neck of the woods – with their sacrifices. The actual event is a little unclear, and there is little indication that Pilot was in the regular practice of religious oppression unless it was politically motivated.
It was not uncommon, however, for Rome to enforce or expect such penalties. It was commonplace for the emperor to claim divinity. If you were caught sacrificing to another God there was really only one option, and that is to become a sacrifice on the altar of power.
But Jesus did not take the bait. He was well versed in the scriptures. Perhaps he even quoted Ecclesiastes, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise, or wealth to the brilliant, or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”
It’s not that he had no compassion. He simply knew what time it was, and where he was going. And so he makes the connection to Jerusalem with another local headline about an accident that took the lives of eighteen others in a location that just happens to be associated with the origins of the city and with healing for spiritual blindness – the tower at the gate of the pool of Siloam.
Jesus presses the point to say that grace is bigger than taking care of our own. Jesus presses the point to say that justice is bigger than getting back at the ones who cause pain and suffering. Jesus presses the point to say that each of us are complicit in the sin of the world because all of us are more likely to listen to the same radio station than than to the will of God. I know they didn’t have radios back then, but if they did they would have been tuned to WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.
And while Jesus was interpreting the time to demonstrate the urgency of God’s appeal for us to open our eyes to something greater than our own concerns – for unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did – he tells a story to remind us that God is patiently waiting.
A man plants a fig tree that produces no figs and tells the gardener to cut it down. The gardener asks if he can fertilize it and see what it yields, and after a year – if it bears no fruit – then cut it down. So there is a reprieve – a second chance – but there is still an expectation that the tree must produce. And we are left with a sense of expectation and promise, but also with some fear and dread.
And so it is with all of us. The thing is, while so much of the Bible may be used to highlight and justify our fear of the unknown, the Bible is also a very human expression of natural consequences and of the God that helps us to get through them. And so the fruit being demanded of us is also the fruit being given to us through the composting of our common unity as forgiven sinners.
Who’s sin is greater – mine, yours, the meth dealer, or the despotic ruler? Certainly there are some who have more opportunity to inflict or to prevent suffering. Certainly we must prevent suffering wherever and whenever we can. Certainly we will all turn away from opportunities to prevent suffering and help others when those opportunities create limitations that we do not feel that we can bear.
That is why every day is a new season for the harvest of good fruit. That is why the story of the return of the exiled Jews is also our story. That is why we come to this table looking to eat what is good, and delight ourselves in rich food! For everything else is just “laboring for that which does not satisfy.”
And here – in this place – we receive what money cannot buy. We receive a sign and a seal of God’s grace, and mercy, and forgiveness upon our hearts. Here – in this place – we recognize that we are all on a spiritual journey toward our true home, our true selves, and an ever deepening connection with the one who created us, sustains us, and redeems us.
But here’s the thing – it isn’t enough to rest on the actions of God. Instead we must become wrapped up in them. For the thoughts of God are too big for us to comprehend, but the mystery of God has been revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A friend recently reminded me that any sense of atonement that stops with the sacrifice of God is incomplete – for atonement is not just about paying a bill to a bloodthirsty creditor. Atonement is about moving from separation to reconciliation.
That is the offer being given to each of us through this table today. The offer is to enter – whether for the first time or the thousandth time – into a life pleasing to God, into a life that bears good fruit, and into a life where we are as complicit in the sins of the headlines as we are in the redemption of creation that is breaking forth all around us – even here, even now.
A few weeks ago I was having coffee with a clergy friend and I noticed a live feed on the TV of a standoff with a shooter in Las Vegas. The sound was off on the TV, and I told my colleague that for some reason I was imagining the song, “What a Wonderful World,” playing in the background. She suggested that I might need therapy, and I said, “Maybe, but not for this!”
You see my thought was not to be cynical. My thought was that somewhere else a baby was taking its first breath. Somewhere else a soldier (on either side of whatever conflict) is having a dark night of the soul. Somewhere else a hand is being held. Somewhere else a tear is being wiped away. Somewhere else a child is learning. What a wonderful, terrible world we live in. What a brilliant God we serve, that we might see tragedy and triumph as equal offerings of grace and mercy. What an amazing God that always allows us another season to be encouraged, to bring what we have to the table, and to receive such grace and mercy that we cannot help but share it.
In a few minutes we will share in the common cup and loaf that confirm the unmerited favor of God. Before we do, I want you to take a moment to think about how much fruit you have produced in the previous year. Think about how much fruit we have produced as a congregation. Think about the places in your life and in our fellowship that need nourishment, bring all of that with you to the table and font of grace and mercy, and taste and see that the Lord is good! Taste and see that God is not finished with us yet. Taste and see that there is still much fruit to bear in the Kingdom of God that is both present and yet to come. Amen.