The Lessons for Sunday:
Breaking Open the Word:
Moses is ready. At least God knows he is ready to accept a call to become the one who proclaims deliverance to Israel from slavery in Egypt, and to become the leader of the people who will from Exodus through Wilderness to Promised Land be reformed into God's people. How to begin?
Moses receives something few of us really, at heart's core can say we honestly desire: a direct encounter with God. That comes in the form of a bush that is burning and yet is not consumed. Moses is drawn to this spectacle, and then his personal encounter with God begins. He is told to remove his shoes. He is told that the voice he hears is that of the God of his ancestors. He is to be the vessel of God's deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery to freedom. He is to be the extension of God's will, God's presence and God's action in the world.
Moses responds well: "Who am I?" He knows fear and trepidation. He doesn't speak well in public. This is his first real encounter with the holy...how can he find the confidence and faith to speak with authority? Moreover, once assurances have been made..."Who sends me? Who are YOU!?!"
If we are to accept that God knows and calls each of us into a primary relationship with the holy, after all we are the Body of Christ, then we also have to be willing to engage the holy and ask by what name these things will be accomplished. We forget that God calls us as servant-leaders. We serve God as we answer the call to lead.
Yes, we are called and beloved of God....but that doesn't just let us off the hook. We have a vital part to play in the work and will of God for the salvation of the world. We are examples and are called to establish and live up to a standard that casts off evil and embraces reconciliation and justice in the Kingdom. We are not entitled. We are not above the law of the land, or the will of God. We are a part of the warp and weft of life in Christ, and are to live in a dynamic relationship with each other and with God in Christ that overcomes the powers and principalities of THIS world...and the muck that we struggle with as our appetites and urges forge temptation in us.
All this lead to the Gospel story...the parable of the barren fig tree. People are contending with the question of who is in, and who is out; who is blessed and who is cured; who is to be included and who is to be excluded. When Jesus received a report of righteous people being killed, horribly, in a religious purge he confronts the crowd with a challenge: Do you think this was their fault? Do you think that God's plan is to cause this kind of suffering? Do you think that people are "in" or "out" because of this wild, arbitrary and human-fashioned awfulness?
It's not about us.
He tells the parable of the fig tree to remind folks that the kingdom is coming, is indeed HERE. This is THE time to perform as the steward does, digging up around the barren things in our lives while cultivating with good compost so that we can bear good fruit for the Lord. Good fruit is the goal, and the process is to nurture good growth.
Much of our relationship with God is bound up in longing. God longs for us, and our souls long for the love of God. The Psalmist sings God's praise by telling us of the pure joy and fullness that comes when we recognize God's hand in the world about us, and in how those hands continue to form us to God's purpose.
How It All Links Up:
A good coach knows her team. She knows how the skills and personalities of individual players come together to make the team function well together as a unit. She understands that in every circumstance she is called upon to put that knowledge to the test, and to use that knowledge to keep an eye on how changing circumstances always require a resetting of the systems. To assume that one configuration, one formula, one strategy is the ONLY way to lead a team is error. To throw things together and hope for the best is not wise.
And so, the biggest element needed for a team to function well is to be able to forge, sustain and expect trust. The players trust the coach to lead. The coach trusts the players to do their level best. When one or the other fails to rise to the challenges noted above, then it is time to reset. It's time to go back and work through what it means to be in relationship NOW, after the crash and to commit to rebuilding what is lost when we stumble, fall and inevitably fail. It's not about winning....it's about playing well and at the highest level possible. It is knowing that the whole cannot excel until the members are healed and strong. It is knowing that we cannot be alone, without guidance or support.
We are in a relationship with God that requires much of us. Good.
There have been times in my life and ministry when I have been the fig tree, barren. There are times when I have been the steward, striving to encourage new growth. A few times, I have been faced with taking the role of the farmer who has to judge whether to continue with an unfruitful tree or move on. In each moment, I have tried to remain mindful that the core of the teaching in this parable is that God is ultimately at the center of the narrative. Our learning? There is only so much time, and what matters is that there is good growth leading to a fruitful harvest. To get there requires a commitment to grow, a resolve to encourage good growth and a willingness to engage in the clear discernment of what is working and what is not. Third Lent is that moment when, by God's grace, we can with clear eyes and hearts look deeply into how well the fig tree grows in our lives.