Luke 13:1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
This week the Spiritual is a song entitled Wade in the Water. Since we are worshipping away from each other in FM here is a link to that song on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vg_8L96E3eU
This is a time when “God’s a-gonna trouble the water.” We are forced to do things differently in church. The Corona Virus is making things very difficult on all of us. I know I joked about it last week, but this is a new week and new challenges. The way we do church from here on out will be up in the air, but maybe we can learn some new ways of being the church and in the process how to serve one another and spread the gospel of God’s love. So here we go!
Powery writes in his book “Were You There” about our spiritual “Wade in the Water”
“The image of water is prominent in many spirituals. Waters, like the Jordan River, had to be crossed to reach freedom. In the Middle Passage from Africa to the Western world, the enslaved were carried on ships on the oceans, the waters, to a destination not of their choosing. On the trip, some chose to jump in the waters and drown because death was better than life. Waters can be viewed as a death but also life. We see what water can do through a hurricane’s impact. We see what watery fluids can do in a mother’s womb as a baby is born. The waters of baptism are a dying and rising for the new believer.”
Lent is a time when we reflect on our lives and discern when we have strayed from the Lord. We confess and ask forgiveness. But sometimes lost in all of the long faces is the pure joy that also comes to us when we seek God, when we allow God to “trouble our waters.” The passage from Isaiah also sends us to the waters, but it is to quench our thirst. Water, milk, honey, bread, rich foods; come and see what the Lord has prepared, and it is all free! The prophet is describing the richness of the covenant that God made with David and the people of Israel. By our adoption into Christ that same covenant is extended to us.
The prophet also asks us to seek the Lord while he can be found. Here is the reminder that the time is upon us to ask forgiveness and seize the moment. If we delay it would be a serious mistake. The Lord is ready to forgive—all we need to do is ask. And then the passage ends with a reminder that the riddles of life are not greater than the love God has for us.
“8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)
The events of the last week have really made us think and wonder, where is all of this going Lord? We have to be honest with ourselves and seek the best for everyone. Some folks have a hard-enough time anyway with their health issues. We do not need to add any more stress because they don’t want to let any one down by not going to events and activities. Church is one of those activities. Whether we gather or not that will not diminish the love of God. It is important for us to recognize that love is ever-lasting. Do we desire to be in fellowship with one another—of course! That’s why we come to church. We want to resume normal activities as soon as possible, but we also are seeking sensible reactions.
The water is troubled and it is also troubled by the Lord. Does that mean it may be double trouble? Yes! The Galileans suffered under Pilate just as Jesus would. Jesus asks the question, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” (v.2) His answer is “No!” Bad things happen to good and bad people and it is not a result of sinfulness that accidents happen. However Jesus also point out, “but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” (v.3) Again like Isaiah an immediate call to seize the moment and allow God’s forgiveness to save us.
I saw the other day that there are some preachers who are claiming that the victims of the Corona Virus are being punished for their sins. That is horrible theology. That is fear mongering. God does not want any of God’s children to suffer. Yet, the events of our world whether it be a tower that falls over, Pilate killing people or Corona Virus are going to occur. We are not permanent citizens of this world. Our citizenship lies in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus then tells the parable of a fig tree. Even though that tree does not bear fruit and the owner wants to chop it down the gardener pleads for one more year. What can be done in one year? The tree is not left alone in hopes it will bear fruit. It is tended to very carefully, with special attention. We have seen how people are willing to change at times with special attention, special affection, love. Again, the need for repentance but it is softened a little by asking for more time.
We often struggle to wonder if we are doing what we can—all that we should. But the parable reminds us that we do not operate in a vacuum. The gardener is with us, helping and supporting our efforts.
“The emphasis of hope is on the latter phrase [God’s a-gonna trouble the water] because in the song, it is the community that sings that part—‘God’s a-gonna trouble the water.’ It’s louder and stronger. It is the statement of faith. The water may represent trouble, but God is gonna trouble their trouble! That is real double trouble. Wade in the water. Take the risk to move forward even without full knowledge of what is going to come or how it is to come because God’s a-gonna trouble your water.”
Today more than any day in a long time we may need to hear those words. We need to trust that our decisions are the best we can do. In the long run, God will trouble our waters, but God is also right beside us. God wades in the same waters that we do. God does not leave us to figure it all out on our own, and every now and then, we glimpse the vastness of God’s wisdom and knowledge. Let’s not judge let’s accept. Let’s look for ways to be the helpers, and when we can, let helpers– help us. Amen.