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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 3, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 28, 2016

Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9

‘Tree Hugger’

The call to change our thinking with regard to tragedies and blessings is at heart a call to eschew simplistic (“prosperity doctrine”) world-views that serve primarily to bolster a sense of control over others, a sense of order. Repentance, though, is better expressed in positive terms as the desire to think and act in a godly way. We are encouraged, then, to focus on mercy or compassion, on a godly concern to see others nurtured and fed rather than cut down, and on the richly complex wonders of the world – the mysterious ways of a God whose thoughts are beyond our own. We are led, then, from narrow places to a wide-open space wherein grace reorders reality and faith finds a lasting home. We call this space the kindom of God (Pamela has learned/shared the Aramaic term, malkuta, meaning power with, mutual love – a kin-dom). And, most deeply, what happens in this space is called salvation – we participate, body and soul, with Christ, in God’s love for the world. God be with you …

As he journeys towards Jerusalem, Jesus is told of two dramatic situations where people have died. There has been the slaughter of some pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem from Galilee, and the accidental death of others upon whom a tower has fallen.

Jesus takes the opportunity of the reported deaths to refute a commonly held opinion. It was believed that tragedies of this nature came upon people because they were sinners. Jesus points out that the issue is not whether or not the people who lost their lives were sinners. His listeners are to look to their own need for repentance.

We all share the same sinfulness – the Greek word connotes the tendency to get it wrong, to miss the target, to miss the point, to go astray.

The parable of the vinedresser caring for the fig tree adds an important feature to Jesus’ dealing with sinners. While it may seem an acceptable practice for the owner of a vineyard to cut down an unproductive tree, as is often the case in Luke’s Gospel which reports so much of the loving care of our God, the fig tree is allowed time to produce its best fruit.

My preliminary research into agricultural practice inquires as to the sexual maturity of a typical three-year-old fig tree. It seems the vinedresser may know more than the owner when it comes to a fig tree’s time of fruit bearing. Is it not usually the case that those engaged more intimately in acts of caring – tilling, planting, protecting, feeding, tending – tend to deal more wisely, with a more discerning eye for all that makes for life, growth, fruitfulness?   

The philosopher will be taken with this sacramental notion of time. Time as a gift. It’s a radical notion. Often we regard time as theft, time as taking away life. What if we were to regard time, this time now, today, tomorrow, and all time, as a measure of mercy? As opportunity for growth, for wisdom, that the best fruit might be produced?

A short-term, short-sighted logic leads to the destruction of the (apparently) unproductive tree (conversation/relationship/project/institution/person). Jesus, the Child of a loving God, does not follow such principles. Like a good vinedresser, he deals wisely – in time and patience, with a discerning eye for all that makes for life, growth, fruitfulness.   

Our Gospel is about repentance and conversion – and what we might call a tabloid-journalistic fascination with falls from grace (sin as a spectator sport) – but repentance and conversion are by no means merely psychological or social concerns.

Our Gospel is about wisdom; it’s about trees, too. Are we not called to consider our own need for repentance – changing our thinking with regard to tragedies and blessings? And are we not called as beings attuned to being-in-relationship, to generations, to biodiversity, to creation as an intricate web of life? To the goodness (holiness) of earth, water, birds, animals, trees?

Our February issue of the SSH features an article entitled, “Fight to save green canopy” (by Irene Doutney), the sentiment of which echoes throughout the community (yesterday’s art class was no exception): “There is currently an onslaught against trees,” Cr Doutney writes, “as huge infrastructure projects like the South East Light Rail and WestConnex begin preparation for large-scale construction. In the east, along Anzac Parade, hundreds of trees are being removed to make way for the light rail which has changed its placement to meet the demands of Randwick Racecourse. A decision has been made to sacrifice a boulevard of hundred-year-old figs to allow the expansion of bars, restaurants and gambling.”

There’s more on the vital place of trees – trees as the city’s lungs – including a prophetic word on the threat posed to trees by the planned redevelopment of Waterloo. Cr Doutney concludes: “We have seen the scorched earth policy FACS has used at the Glebe Affordable Housing Estate, where everything was bulldozed and left to stand desolate for years, and must fight to ensure that the green canopy is protected and that repeats of the Glebe and Anzac Parade experiences are prevented in Waterloo.”

Like the people of Galilee and Jerusalem, the people of Waterloo and Redfern are aware of the need to repent of selfishness, to turn away from false gods. We are also aware that we are supported in our efforts by a loving Mother-Father who gives wisdom, life and time. To live with awareness of sin and with compassion for others, for all, to live wisely in the world and in the Spirit, is already to have overcome fear of rejection and isolation.

Henri Nouwen prays: “Come, Lord. Break through my compulsions, anxieties, fears, and guilt feelings, and let me see my sin and your mercy ... (A Cry for Mercy, 1981).

With the prophet Isaiah, we might pray: Return us to your Gospel, O God, as beings attuned to being-in-relationship – return us to your Gospel as though for the first time.

The call to change our thinking with regard to tragedies and blessings is at heart a call to eschew simplistic (“prosperity doctrine”) world-views that serve primarily to bolster a sense of control over others, a sense of order. Repentance, though, is better expressed in positive terms as the desire to think and act in a godly way. We are encouraged, then, to focus on mercy or compassion, on a godly concern to see others nurtured and fed rather than cut down, and on the richly complex wonders of the world – the mysterious ways of a God whose thoughts are beyond our own. We are led, then, from narrow places to a wide-open space wherein grace reorders reality and faith finds a lasting home. We call this space the kindom of God. And, most deeply, what happens in this space is called salvation – we participate, body and soul, with Christ, in God’s love for the world. 

Let’s complete the homily together. How might you value time this week as time for compassion and wisdom? … Amen.

Homily