The Third Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Matthew David Morris

March 20, 2022

Exodus 3:1-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8

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Jesus is hanging with his people, 

and a few of them bring up a horrific story; 

something we can assume is, for them, common knowledge.

If it was today, this is the kind of story that would have already shown up on all of your social feeds, and even if you don’t have social media, someone would have called to tell you about it.

Pontious Pilate, the man who will eventually order the execution of Jesus, authorized the murder of Galileans while they were worshipping.

The people ask Jesus about a mass killing that took place in the presence of the altar, where the blood of these slain Galileans, 

Jews who were subjugated to the will and the weaponry of Rome on a daily basis, mingled with the blood of the animal sarifices being offered to God.

You can think of Pilate, then, like a proto-white supremacist bursting into a synagogue on shabbat with perfectly legal assault rifles, except he’s the governor.

We don’t have the exact wording of what these people told Jesus. We don’t know if they emphasized Pilate’s brutality, or the logic behind his oppressive and violent ways of governing their people.

But we can assume from what Jesus emphasizes in his response 

that they were asking him to help them make meaning of their own suffering; specifically, who to identify who to blame.

Whose choices led to this kind of suffering?

What did they do to deserve what they got?

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, shows us an even more elaborate example of this theological reasoning.

Our ancestors, Paul says, made a bunch of awful choices, so God punished them for it.

23 thousand of them had sex with people they should’t have, or in ways they shouldn’t have, so God put them down, Paul says.

Those who tested God 

were destroyed by snakes 

and those who complained about it 

were destroyed by an avenging angel.

God has zero tolerance for snarky complainers, Paul says.

And Paul not making up these stories. 

He’s re-telling them.

Which means that his ancestors and contemporaries also told the stories of the followers of Moses whose mistakes serve examples of how not to live,

lest you be struck down by the creator of all things.

And here we are, retelling them again.

Some of us may also be wondering

who is to blame for the suffering taking place in the world today?

What did suffering people do

to deserve what they got?

Or to make it more personal,

what did I do to deserve this?

Jesus responds to this questions by saying,

You’re question is pointing you in the wrong direction.

So, repent. Turn around and trust God.

[I’d like you to take a moment, those worshipping behind a screen, and go into the chat and respond to the following question:

What makes is challenging to trust God?

Post a response in the comments, and I’ll read them outloud a little bit later.]

I was on Twitter a couple days ago, and I saw images of American Christians on the Ukrainian border urging Ukranian refugees to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

I don’t know if these prostletizers reasoned that the Ukrainians were being bombed because they hadn’t accepted Jesus, but I know that other Christians employ a simliar logic every time there is a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a mass shooting.

You did this to yourself, they’re saying, and if you’d only believe in Jesus the right way, the terrible things that happen would stop happening to you, or to us.

If you’d only stop being so sexually immoral, we could alll stop suffering.

You can thank interpreters of today’s Epistle for that theological reasoning.

And the irony here it that the characters in today’s Gospel who are enacting that logic, the same one that Paul is using, 

are refuted by Jesus.

He’s saying, no.

It’s not their fault that they suffered.

But unless you repent, he says,

you will all perish as they did.

And this is where it gets a little confusing.

So, Mother Matthew David, you might ask, are you saying that Jesus is telling them,

and by extension, us, 

that if they don’t repent they will be slaughterred at the alter?

If they don’t repent, a tower will fall on them?

Isn’t that still cause and effect?

Isn’t that saying that if we don’t live right, we’re going to die?

No. I don’t think that’s what it’s saying.

Because, we’re going to die, regardless.

And we’re going to suffer, regardless.

Neither of those things are optional.

They are going to happen, 

not because of who we do or don’t have sex with, or because of how much we do or don’t complain, or get snarky with God, or make moral or immoral choices.

They’re going to happen because people die.

Suffering is a part of the human condition.

There is no escaping it.

It’s an old move to name what other people’s 

bad choices are so that you can feel safe,

whether you’re reading scripture to refugees

or retelling the story of your spiritual ancestors thousands of years later.

It’s a desparate attempt to make meaning out the suffering that you don’t want to feel; the death that you don’t want to experience.

The question that Jesus may be asking is: 

How will you respond to the inevitability of suffering and death?

Will you seek out someone to blame?

Will it be you? Your spouse? Your government? God? 

Will it be the sexual deviants? The illegals? The [insert your racist placeholder here]?

Is suffering something you can walk toward with love and grace?

Or is it a dirty punishment that others get blamed for?

When Jesus says,

unless you repent you will suffer as they did,

perhaps he is saying that to live out your faith as an exercise of judgement is a kind of death.

The kind of death that desecrates holy places.

The kind of death that is both senseless and tragic.

[But it can feel easier to live that death than to repent and trust God.

And we have our reasons.

Maybe there are some shared in the chat.

{READ OUTLOUD THE REPSONSES}]

Jesus is calling us to repent from the death-dealing theology that makes human beings the judge and God the executioner. 

Jesus is inviting us to

turn around and trust God.

Trust that your choices are not more powerful than God’s love and mercy.

Trust that your neighbor’s choices, specifically who they have sex with, are not forces governing the wind, the waters, and the techtonic plates.

Trust that the victims of mass killings are not the victims of God’s judgement, but the victims of extreme human judgement,

the seed of which is planted every time we ascribe blame to someone else for our suffering.

God’s mercy is like the decision to give that fig tree one more year to see how it does.

And each time we retell that story, 

that parable about an angry man who’s impatient with a tree and stingy with his soil, and who wants that imperfect tree –– which has committed the moral of crime 

of not bearing good fruit, to be cut down –– 

each time we hear that parable, we also hear the gardener saying, give it one more year.

And next year, we will tell the story again, and we will hear the gardener say, 

give it one more year.

And THAT is the unending, perpetual generosity of a merciful God.

That is the God who Jesus points to.

— 

It’s the 3rd Sunday in Lent.

Three more Sundays, and it will be Holy Week.

There’s still time––

there is always still time––

for you to turn around

and trust God.

Amen.

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