What stories in the news have played to your ear this week?
What tragedies have you heard about?
Not the political ones, but the tragic loss of life stories?
Have you heard about the six people gunned down in Kalamazoo by an Uber driver?
Have you heard more about Cyclone Winston in Fiji?
How many more Syrian refugees have you heard stories of this week?
Or bombs in cities around the world?
What about the helicopter crash in Hawaii, or the traffic crash in Green Bay where the couple was killed leaving two children surviving?
What about a couple of weeks ago when another couple was at a Bible Study when their home burned down and they lost three children?
Do these stories make you wonder about there being a God?
Do you ask yourself, or others, whether seriously or cynically, where was the compassionate all loving God in all of that?
I have . . . I asked that question:
– In 1968 when my dad was suddenly killed in an auto accident.
– In 1990 when my brother-in-law, business partner, step father, sister and nephew all died in separate incidents – while I was going through a divorce and procuring custody of my three daughters.
– And in 1996 when my second wife died I asked as well …
Where is God in all of this?
In this passage in Luke it sounds as if there have been a couple of pretty horrific news broadcasts in the area. The people around Jesus knew him to be a great teacher, a Rabbi who was as well the local philosopher and they wanted to know, as people often do when there is a tragedy, where is this “God of yours” and why would he let that happen?
The New Revised Standard Version sanitizes the story a little when it says that the blood of the Galileans was “mingled” with the blood of the sacrifices. That might make for easier Sunday morning reading in church and it might even clean it up enough to be read at the dinner table as my family used to do. But if you hear it correctly and understand what they are really saying, like Eugene Peterson expresses it in The Message, you’ll hear the story a little differently.
Their blood was not just “mingled” like in a little jar or something, Pilate, the roman leader put in charge, was a ruthless murderer who’d had these people slaughtered as they were worshipping in the temple. The worshipper’s blood was on the altar along with their sacrifices.
And then there are the workers that Jesus brings into the conversation. The eighteen in Jerusalem who were crushed to death when a tower they were building fell on them. Jesus says to those questioning him, “Do you suppose that these eighteen and the ones slaughtered in the temple, were worse people than everyone else?”
“Not at all,” Jesus says. “Not at all. Look, you still have the chance to turn your lives around.”
And he goes into telling them another parable.
A man has a fig tree planted in the garden and he is paying a gardener to tend it, it could be a cherry tree in an orchard, or an apple tree; either way it was likely meant to be an income producer, and it wasn’t producing. Three years coming back he checks on the orchard trees and nothing, no fruit.
“Chop it down! It’s wasting good soil.”
That sounds like a lot of more ruthless business people. Not producing, out with you! But the gardener, the landscaper, the one who is getting his hands dirty fertilizing and caring for the tree, he says, “Give it another chance.”
The gardener in this story represents the people who work together appreciating the sanctity of all life. The gardener IS the sanctity of life, is what we call God, the spirit of Christ, the Buddha Spirit, the sacredness and respect for life that says, “one more time.” The gardener is acting ‘as the community,’ which is the sacred presence for us all, and the community of the sacred is saying, “We’ll care for this one and see that it does better.”
I was sitting in my office the other day with a colleague in ministry talking a little bit about how it is that we happened to be in this particular vocation. What called us into ministry – let’s face it there is nothing particularly glamorous about it; the pay while adequate is not fantastic, in many churches there is often weird interpersonal dynamics going on to contend with, there are financial concerns that we have very little influence over.
I told this colleague about the year 1990 in my life and how that turned me in a new direction. Sure I had thought about entering the ministry from time to time ever since I was in the sixth grade probably but after 1990; that year cemented it in my mind. That was the year I realized what it meant, fully and really, to have the community of the sacred gathering around, supporting, guiding, and nurturing. I was about dead with grief and not producing much fruit when the gardener, the community of faith, gathered around me and saw to it that I Was cared for and I knew then the real meaning of being part of a sacred community.
It is the sacredness of all life, gathered in communities of faith, like this one, here and around the world, which brings love and compassion to others in times of need. It is to honor and praise the sacredness of all life, which we represent and bring to others.
It is how we respond to the tragedies of life and to one another, whether it is in a meeting or in response to Cyclone Winston, which reflects the sacred to and for others. It is the good we bring, the help we offer, the peace we build, the care and compassion we heap on one another which will eventually determine whether another tree in this orchard bears fruit.
Where is God in the cyclone or in the refugee crisis or in the tragic death of parents or children? God, or the sacredness of life, is in the way you respond.
God is in the Maettas and the Nancys and the Kathys and the Jasons.
God is in the Steves and the Jocks and the Bobs and the Hollys and Marys and Susans, and Anns and Georges.
God is in the Willards and the Tamis and Marks and in every other person here and in all, who, in one way or another, feel connected to this community of faith, here or through friendships or electronic connections.
God is in the gathered community of this congregation and the gatherings of people of faith in communities across this country and around the world. Whether Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Taoist. God is.
God is wherever nurturing and compassion offer another chance to another tree.
Here’s the catch . . . that is a tremendous blessing . . . but it is also a tremdous responsibility, it means we have a task.
God is in you.
In your love.
In your tenderness.
In your willingness to share with others to help each tree bear fruit.