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Mercy alongside Enduring trials - Lent 3c

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A catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake, occurred at 4:53pm local time on January 12th. With an epicenter approximately 25 km west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital and biggest city.  By January 24th, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. As of Feb. 12, an estimated three million people were affected by the quake; the Haitian Government reports that between 217,000 and 230,000 people had been identified as dead, an estimated 300,000 injured, and an estimated 1,000,000 homeless.

On February 27th, 3:34am local time, an earthquake rating a magnitude of 8.8 and lasting about three minutes struck Chile. The earthquake was felt in the capital Santiago. Tsunami warnings were issued in 53 countries, and a tsunami wave was recorded, with of up to 8 ½ ft in height, in some points. President Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe". She also confirmed the deaths of at least 723 people.

Turn on the television news or pick up a newspaper in any given week and you will find a report on some catastrophic tragedy somewhere.

They aren’t all as tragic and devastating as we have seen in the last two months, but tragedy is always present in our world

And somehow, the less visible and less dramatic tragedies, like the 26,000 children who died this past Wednesday of hunger,

Roughly the same number who died on Tuesday and Thursday somewhere on Planet Earth, and every other day, too, every day of the year.

I am certain, as certain as I am that the sun rose this morning and as certain that it will rise again tomorrow – that in nearly all of these situations someone is asking “why…?”

            Calling out to God that they know - or the God that they are yet to meet -…“why…?”

"Why?" - It just doesn't seem fair.

What had any of those people done to deserve such tragic deaths?

            Or such devastation to their homes and cities

                        Why does suffering have to happen?

What did they ever do to deserve their tragedy?


It is an age-old question – and it is the question that Jesus was asked in our reading today

Why did some Galileans need to be killed by Pilate and have their blood mingled with the sacrifices?

And why did those eighteen need to die when the tower of Siloam fell on them?

The assumption – then, as it is now - was that disease, suffering, and death bore a direct correlation with human sinfulness: the greater the sin, the more likely the misfortune.

We scrutinize our behavior, our relationships, our diets, our beliefs.

We hunt for some cause to explain the effect

                        We want to know…why

We ask the question to God, …mostly … and we crave an understanding

            But what is it that we really want?

                        "What we crave, above all, is control over the chaos of our lives."[1]

We want to understand so that we can take charge of the situation

            We want to believe that we can control the outcome of events

Thinking hopefully of  our fellow human beings - Maybe it is so that we can do something – anything – so that others may never have to endure the same suffering

Maybe it is because we have a need to blame something or someone for catastrophic tragedies

And …So the crowds asked Jesus about the Galileans slain by Pilate, and they wondered about those who were killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed.

            And so we ask why did the earthquakes need to strike Haiti or Chile…?

                        Or why did cancer need to steal the life away of someone we love before their time

What had those people done to deserve their fate?

Jesus take this question head on – but answers it in a way that I am sure was unexpected

Jesus asked them “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”(Luke 13:2-5)


The people were looking for some spiritual causality and Jesus points them to a more important direction

He seems to want to emphasize is that death is always close and not necessary controllable or explicable.

…Death happens, He says. …

While Jesus does not honor their illusion that they can protect themselves in this way,

He does seem to honor the vulnerability that their fright has opened up in them.

… It is not a bad thing for them to feel the full fragility of their lives.

It is not a bad thing for them to count their breaths in the dark….

Not if it makes them turn toward the light. [1]

            It is not a bad thing to understand how vulnerable life is

                        How, for each and every one of us, life is fleeting

How life is truly precious – and ultimately not within our control

            It is not a bad thing...


It may hurt you to stay there… and it may hurt you to see,

but it is not the kind of hurt that leads to death.

 It is the kind that leads to life.[2]

The question - does not concern how bad things can happen to good people like us, or the good folks beset by tragedies around our world. 

The Lenten question--the cruciform question--is "How do we stand before God?"[3]  

Many folks have come to believe that any difficulty, any struggle, is wrong and unjust.

Our difficulty is that we don't want God… we want answers, and many of us will go wherever we can find easy ones.

The notion that only good things happen to good people was put to rest 2000 years ago when Jesus was put upon the cross.

            Good people do die before their time and tragedy does happen – then as now

The more crucial question is, how and with whom are you going to live in the midst of crisis

If one is wise – when you get to the bottom of your valley – you look around and see who is there…

If one is wise, you look around and appreciate your total lack of control – and you call out to the one that is in control

Jesus, when faced with their questions of why tragedies had to happen

            Didn’t answer them with …why – but with …how

                        How one should live their lives

                                    How in the face of earthly struggles and trials – one needs to only turn to God

                                                To repent – meaning turn from something and towards a different way

Jesus call them into action – call them into the light of God

            Less they perish if they don’t

And then to bring some understanding of what Jesus was telling them, He told them a parable

It is the parable of the unfruitful fig tree

As with any parable there are always layers of understanding

But, might I suggest that one layer is that the fig tree is faced with a certain end, an end that was out of control of tree, of course

The owner of garden, plants trees for a purpose and the fig tree’s purpose is to yield figs and it is not doing so, so cut it down

As John the Baptist said the axe is laying at the root of the tree – poised to strike

Here is a parable of God's justice in conversation with God's mercy…

            Despite the fig tree not fulfilling its purpose, the gardener acts in service of tree and saves it

Giving it another chance, with love and care (fertilizer and careful attention)

The tree will not perish if it yields fruit

            Just as Jesus is calling us not to focus on unexpected death that one can not control

                        But on how we live the life that we can

                                    We are called repent, to turn toward God, and by doing so, we will yield fruit

                                                We are called to focus not on death – but on righteous life


The parable of the fig tree invites us to consider the gift of another year of life as an act of God's mercy.

The year that Jesus proclaimed, moreover, is the year of the Lord's favor

We can’t lose sight of the lesser yet still significant point – that time is not limitless

            Just in case your intention is to eventually get round to turning to God

                        Jesus’ parable of the gardener’s grace added only one extra year

                                    It is a call to action, immediately

Could this be the year for such turning?

That's the question we should be asking about ourselves, I suspect.

Is this the year or the day for us to bear fruit? Is this the time?

But understand, whether your valley is NOW, or you are looking back for answers when you WERE, or to the future when you might BE in the valley

            When the trials of life – the temptations of this world press in upon you

God has promised to be there with you – God has promised that He will watch over you and not allow you to be tested beyond your ability

God has promised to provide a way out of the valley, alongside you the whole way

                                                As our passage from 1st Corinthians declared today

13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor 10:13)

We know in Christ we get a God, whose love in our lives challenges and enables us to live without all the answers,

A God who is willing to dig around our hearts, to lovingly give us extra attention and care when we are in the greatest need,

Patiently encouraging us toward repentance and faithfulness and fruitfulness.

We know that we have a God that came as one of us, yet sinless, died to save each and every one of us

                                    Then defeating death – gave us a share in that victory

And calls us to turn and follow – while God remains right there with us

                                                            As Jesus promised at the Ascension:

“Even to the end of the age”


… It is not a bad thing for us to feel the full fragility of our lives.

– if that valley draws you to the one that truly loves you

To me that is Beyond what's fair…. God’s mercy alongside our enduring trials…

O God, our source and our ultimate destination, give us such confidence in your grace that we may live fully, unafraid, turning toward you day by day by day...until we bear your fruit. Amen.



[2] ibid


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