Sermon Archives

Sunday, February 28, 2016
The 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
The Logic of Grace

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In the conversation that we hear today between Jesus and the crowd, the crowd seeks to understand who God is by trying to wrap their minds around a tragedy. The crowd tells Jesus about an act of political violence committed by Pilate. Apparently, Pilate sent soldiers into the sacred precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem and killed Jewish men from Galilee, who were possibly on pilgrimage, while they were offering sacrifices. Their blood mingled with the blood of the animal sacrifices they had presented, desecrating the temple with this horrific act of intimidation.

Interestingly, Luke gives us Jesus’ response to the crowd’s retelling of this event, but doesn’t tell us the wording of the crowd’s question or statement that prompted Jesus’ response. Luke leaves us to imagine what kind of interpretation of this event the people presented to Jesus for his thoughts.

What would make Jesus respond the way he did? 

To take it one step further, if this conversation were taking place now, I wonder what the crowd would offer Jesus from our world.

Perhaps they might ask him: “Why did God allow the water crisis in Flint to happen?”

Or maybe they might make a statement like this: “Jesus, look at the mess in Flint. If the water that came out of my tap was stinky and sulfury, I would never have given my child that water to drink or bathe in. If I were living in Flint and I learned about the water contamination, I would never have stood for it.”

These are two different responses to suffering that we observe in our world.

In the first instance, when we ask why God allowed a tragedy to happen, we implicitly voice a belief that God is immediately responsible for everything that takes place in the world, leaving little room for human freedom or freedom in the created order. 

In the second instance, when we distance ourselves by locating those who are suffering at the centre of the responsibility for their pain, we preserve our sense of order in the world. We preserve our sense that the world is a fair place and that the law of cause and effect are very much intact. A sense that we live in a world where actions have predictable consequences and people have control over what happens to them.

If we insert God into this picture, then this reasoning suggests that God gives to each in proportion to what they deserve. 

In response to this kind of thinking, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry states: “Frankly, if God was in the business of meting out judgment and curses in relation to our sins, there probably would not be anyone left on the planet.”[1]

Jesus replies to the crowd with a prophetic and urgent call to repentance, rooted in the belief that we are fundamentally of equal worth. That we all matter equally to God.

No, the Galileans did not suffer because God was punishing them. Yes, the Galileans that were killed were fundamentally as broken and imperfect as you are. No, you can’t control what will happen to you. But yes, you can choose how to live the life that you are given.

Jesus does not reveal to us why some suffer terrible tragedy and others don’t. He doesn’t resolve the ambiguity that life confronts us with. But he urges us to let go of the illusions that we create to help us feel more secure. He urges us to acknowledge the radical truth that despite what the world tells us about what we are worth, God sees us with different eyes. God doesn’t rely on status, wealth or class or race, but sees through those externals to what is in our hearts.

Jesus’ call to repentance is an invitation to pay attention to the condition of our hearts. His tone is urgent, because he reminds us that our time here is short. He urges us to refocus – to refocus our energy on living more humbly and truthfully, albeit more vulnerably. And even though the first part of this passage seems dire, he offers us the promise of grace in the parable of the barren fig tree.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, authored a book called “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion”. This book describes his experience running ‘Homeboy Industries,’ one the largest gang intervention programs in the country, offering job training, tattoo removal and employment to members of enemy gangs. In this book he explores the complex reality of urban violence – he describes the heartbreak of watching “the kids [he] loves cooperate in their own demise” and challenges readers to “stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” Homeboy Industries provides an alternative way of dealing with gang violence and asks the city of L.A. “what if we were to invest in gang members, rather than just seek to incarcerate our way out of this problem?”[2]

One of the vignettes Father Boyle describes involves a young man in his twenties named Luis. He was among the biggest, savviest drug dealers in their community in L.A. When Luis’ daughter Tiffany was born, he decided to turn his life around and work at the bakery Father Boyle had started as a business and employment opportunity for ex-gang members, after years of cajoling and invitations. Luis was really smart and was quickly promoted to foreman of Homeboy Bakery. This meant that he not only worked with former rivals, but also supervised them, which was a great deal more challenging.

One day he was loading the trunk of his car, in the projects, preparing for a camping trip with friends. Two gang members, with their faces covered, entered ‘enemy territory’, saw Luis, walked up to him and executed him.

After Luis died, many of his friends asked Fr Boyle: “what’s the point of doing good – if this can happen to you?” At the funeral Fr Boyle told those gathered that: “Luis was a human being who came to know the truth about himself and liked what he found there. Julian of Norwich, a 14th century female English mystic, saw the life struggle as coming to discover that we are “clothed in God’s goodness.” This became Luis’ life’s work. He embraced this goodness – his greatness – and nothing was the same again. And really, what is death compared to knowing that? No bullet can pierce it.”

The new life that Luis found, once he left the gang and drug dealing, went beyond the way in which he was earning a living. He discovered his potential, his ability to care and provide for his baby daughter and was given a second chance at life. He experienced redemption and profound grace, as he began to believe in his fundamental worth in God’s eyes. 

In the parable of the barren fig tree, Jesus offers us grace, a logic that contradicts the logic of the world. In the world of efficiency and productivity, the productive are rewarded and those considered unproductive are discarded. But in this parable, the gardener displays hope and compassion as he commits to nurturing the fig tree. The gardener gives the fig tree another opportunity at bearing life.

And so it is with God; God offers to tend to each and every one of us, with the patient and faithful care of a gardener, nurturing us with love and the promise of grace. That doesn’t mean that we are spared from suffering, or that we are given to understand why some are victims of tragedy, but we are offered the knowledge that God loves us all equally, regardless of who we are or what we think we deserve.

Jesus calls us to see the unique and fundamental worth of every person: our neighbour, our enemy, the orphan, the widow and the stranger. Pema Chodron, an ordained Buddhist nun, suggests that the truest measure of compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.[3]

May we embrace the reality of God’s love for each and every one of us, and in doing so grow into the fullness that God desires for each of us gently transforming the world around us, bearing the fruit and life that are signs of God’s kingdom. Amen.

[1] Feasting on the Word, Homilectical perspective, Michael Curry.

[2] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127010471

[3] Gregory J. Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion