Sunday, February 28, 2016

Homily for Lent 3c - God the Gardener

God the Gardener 
Homilist: Sr. Debra SSJD

Readings:  Isaiah 55:1-9   •  Psalm 63   •  1 Corinthians 10:1-13  •  Luke 13:1-9 

Inch by inch, row by row 
Gonna make this garden grow 
All it takes is a rake and a hoe 
And a piece of fertile ground 

 Inch by inch, and row by row 
God will bless these seeds we sow
 God will warm them from below 
When God’s tears come tumblin' down
Songwriter: David Mallett 
(second verse paraphrase Sister Debra SSJD) 

My Aunty Dot was one of the best gardeners I ever knew. She loved the land and she tended it. She knew every plant intimately. As a child I used to like to stroll through the gardens in the evening with her. We would walk along the rows and every now and then she would reach down to take some soil in her hand. She would sift it through her fingers and encourage me to do the same. Another time she would bend down to lovingly touch the leaf of a plant or to encourage a bug along its way. Her touch was so gentle. I remember the comments she would make, her voice was soft and she would smile with a glint in her eye, “Oh those potato bugs they’re at it again.” Or, “That creeping charley, I wish it would creep right out of here.” Still everything has its place in the garden. If there were no weeds, we would have no job.

 Now, I am not a gardener. My interest on those walks was not so much the plants as it was simply being present with my Aunty Dot. I knew intuitively that my Aunty Dot loved me and was as present with me, and as in tuned with me, as she was with the stuff of the land that she loved.

 I received a deep sense of acceptance, peace, encouragement and hope from my Aunty Dot as we walked among those rows of carrots, potatoes and beans. Those early evening strolls became an oasis. They were if you will a coming to the water time for me.

 In the book of the prophet Isaiah we hear these words, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you that have no money, come, buy and eat.” “Listen carefully to me and eat what is good. Incline your ear and come to me. Listen so that you may live.” In this passage, Isaiah is speaking words of comfort and hope to the exiled people of Israel. He is encouraging them to come and eat the good food that is being freely offered to them by God. This food is the Word of God; the promise of God.

The situation that the people of Israel find themselves in made it difficult for them to hear the Word of God and feel God’s presence among them. These were tough times for the people. They were a conquered, deported nation, living on the edge of the Babylonian empire. Pain, fear and uncertainty were the order of the day. This was not a “feel good about yourself time in their lives”. They needed to hear a Word of comfort and grace. Isaiah, on behalf of God offered them the assurance that they were not alone. Isaiah proclaimed that God was with them, God’s Word was all around them. They were to do everything in their power to listen to God.

God, understanding the desperate nature of their particular thirst for peace, invited them to come to the water where they could be refreshed and where they could also feed upon God’s grace.

If we can accept that the true nature of God is to offer comfort to the hurting, water to the thirsty, and rest to the weary than we can also accept the words that Christ spoke to those who came asking about the Galileans that Herod had had slaughtered and the eighteen individuals who had died when the tower of Siloam had fallen on them.

The people wondered what the Galileans and the 18 individuals had done to warrant such tragic punishment. Jesus understood that the inquires questions were not based on any kind of remorse or concern for the ones who had died, it was based on simple curiosity and a healthy dose of cultural insensitivity. Jesus said, if fact they did nothing wrong. And in Christ like fashion he told them a story. The story is told of a vineyard owner, a fig tree and a gardener.
See this fig tree; it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. Fig trees are supposed to produce figs, but this tree wasn’t. It wasn’t following the rules of a fig tree. And so the vineyard owner came in, angry at the tree for its lack of production, and called for the tree to be completely uprooted, chopped up and used for firewood. After all, this was a good for nothing fig tree. It did nothing but take up space, take valuable nutrients from the soil and waste the vineyard owner’s time. The vineyard owner of this particular vineyard wanted a fig tree that was a maker and not a taker. 
Having heard the story we ask, “Where is God in this story?” Do we view the nature of our Creator God through the lens of the vineyard owner, or through the lens of the gardener? We already understand that we are the fig tree.

If we see God through the lens of the vineyard owner, that we conclude that the nature of the Divine is a nature that punishes us for not doing what we are supposed to do, who sends tragedy and calamity our way when we mess up and who is always waiting to pounce on us; angry at our sin, our lack of production, and our lack of fruitfulness?

 If in fact we see God as the vineyard owner, how do we also see Jesus? If God is the vineyard owner and Jesus is the gardener do we view the primary role of our Lord as standing between us an abusive father’s rage, saying, give them one more chance, one more year to get their stuff together.

I believe the vineyard owner reflects the wisdom of the world. This is a wisdom that measures value in how good we are and how well we follow the rules. It is a wisdom that says our value is in how much we produce for the vineyard owner, how much profit we make for the person in charge, how much we are perceived as putting out for families, congregations, and communities. It is a wisdom that says if you are not a maker, then you are a taker and so you are a good for nothing. It is a wisdom that sees a vulnerable tree and demands that it be uprooted and thrown into the fire.

Actually I believe God is the gardener who says no to the wisdom of the world.

Homily by Sr Debra SSJD
God is the gardener who proclaims value not in terms of what we have, what we have done, or how good or bad we have been. God the gardener tells us, “All that doesn’t matter. What matters is how much God cares for us. What matters is that God loves us as we are.”

And so in this passage we come to understand that God cared so much for us that not only was God not going to send punishment down on us for mistakes made, that God not only was not going to uproot us when life seems to have sapped everything from us, but if fact our creator God was going to get down in the dirt, in the muck, in the hard places with us and there we would come to know God in the person of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

And so Jesus encouraged the people, in the midst of the news of tragedy, not to look to place blame on the victims of violence, the victims of hunger, the victims of poverty, the victims of grief, the victims of suffering. He instructed them not to try to explain away tragedy by finding a convenient place to put the blame for it. And he demanded that they not put this on God. Our God is not a vineyard owner who has come to get even.

In fact, amid tragedy, if we want to find God, we are to look where the suffering is because God is there suffering with us. This is the message of the Incarnation. God is with us in all things and through all things. In this parable, Jesus is telling us that God, when we feel most lifeless and hopeless and worthless, isn’t going to leave or forsake us or send us to the fires. Rather, God is entering into our lifelessness, hopelessness and worthlessness with compassion and love. God sees us and desires to raise us up from the dirt and give us peace. God is always working with us, tending the soil and creating life where life has been damaged and where lifelessness abounds.

 As a child, I used to stroll through the garden in the evening with my Aunty Dot. As we would walk along she would reach down and take some soil in her hands. She would speak softly. She was the best gardener I ever knew; ---- actually, maybe not the best. Amen.