Thursday, March 15, 2007

of moses and fig trees

This is my sermon from last Sunday. Not my best. Not my worst. But it is like I tell my congregation...I don't take credit for the good ones, and I don't take blame for the bad ones.

“I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you…you shall worship God on this mountain.”

May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard, Amen!

Today is a special day. Not only is the Sun due to peek its head out this afternoon; not only, with the advancement of the clocks this morning, do we have a clear sign that spring is about to be sprung; not only do we get to freely gather here in this house of God and experience the mystery of communion when we come to this table and receive the ultimate gift of God’s grace in the mundane gifts of bread and wine; not only do we get to sing and pray, but we also get to witness the birth of a community.

Just a few minutes ago, we read the calling of Moses, also known as the story of the burning bush. Now we usually get caught up in Moses when we hear this story. We talk about how he is drawn up the mountain, how he is commanded to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground, and how he baulks at the prospect of leading his people because he doesn’t know God’s name. We get so caught up in the figure head of Moses that we forget what God is doing for all the people called Israel.

See, it’s like this: (yall know I’m a recovering camp counselor, right?) When I was working camps, I was on leadership staff. One of my jobs was to motivate the other counselors to do their jobs. Now this was rarely needed, for indeed most of the counselors I worked with are some of the most dedicated, hard working, self-starting people I know. But, after three or four weeks of mainly 20 hour days, hot sun, the occasionally challenging camper, and always having to be up and energetic, a modicum of exhaustion and self-pity is to be expected. Expected or not, it still must be overcome; therefore, us leadership staff folks had a little saying for when the whining began. We would tell the wayward counselor to “Suck it up, your working for God!”

Now, the staff that were able to actually hear that phrase, my self included, gained the most from the camp counseling experience. We, that is to say I learned what it was to be committed to a community, that my actions always effect someone else, and if I fail someone else suffers with me. In short I learned on a deep level that there is no I in Team.

So, yes, God calls Moses. God calls a person to lead God’s people, a person for God to act through. However, who God called is not nearly as important as to what end Moses was called. Moses was called for God to act through for the creation of a community, a society, indeed a nation founded on the Grace and freedom of God. Now, our story today is barely the beginning of the story of the Exodus, but we get a glimpse of what this community is to be when we hear God say, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you…you shall worship God on this mountain.” Now, that might not sound like much to us. That might not sound like a big deal, but to the slaves in Egypt, and even more so their masters, it is a huge deal. The statement that they would worship the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, is crazy; at least to Pharaoh. The God that we call God, that Jesus called father, the I AM, the one whose name is so Holy that the ancients simply said “the Lord” because they did not want the Lord’s name defamed by their unholy lips, pharaoh did not know this God. The ruler of Egypt had not given sanction to the worship of this God. How could Pharaoh be sure this God would tell the people what Pharaoh wanted said to them. What if this God commanded something of these people that undermined his rule. Well, that just isn’t done, that can’t be. We can’t have free Gods running around graciously acting upon the people, calling their allegiance, there devotion, indeed their love and worship away from the State, away from the king, away from pharaoh. But indeed that is what God’s says will happen. Furthermore, not only will they worship God, they will do it on God’s mountain. They will worship God where God says to worship God not where Pharaoh says.

Our reading from exodus this morning is not the beginning of the story nor is it the end. The people are liberated from pharaoh they do indeed journey to the mountain of God and worship God, but it doesn’t stop there either. They build a society, a nation based on a covenant, not with a king or a bureaucracy, but with God and on God’s commandments. And what a weird society it is, a society that is do what God did in liberating the slaves from Egypt. See, in the exodus we learn that God prefers, not pharaoh who had won many battles and much material wealth, but the slaves, the lowly, the ones Jesus called the least.

We see evidence of this preferential option for the poor in the law given to Moses on the holy mountain. The edges of fields are not to be harvested so that the poor and landless can harvest them and have food. A cloak, taken as collateral from a poor person, is to be returned at night; so that he or she won’t freeze. Every fifty years is to be a year of Jubilee where all debts are forgiven and land taken as payment of debts is to be returned to ancestral owners. The care and protection of the alien, the widow, and the orphan—all metaphors for the poor—are the responsibility of the entire community. In short the “good and broad land…land flowing with milk and honey” is to be organized, worked, and used to the benefit of all. The resources available to the community are not to be exploited for individual gain, but managed for the good of all.

So, what does all this have to do with fig trees? I confess I’ve been banging head against this Gospel reading all week. Deacon Bob Henrichsen, had to deal with me repeatedly coming out of my office this week and lamenting my lack of knowledge of the rearing of fig trees. Indeed, to my knowledge no one in the office this week, staff or congregant that happened to drop by, has ever owned a fig tree.
So, where’s the good news in Jesus’ parable about the fig tree. As far as I can tell, where the fig tree is located, is as important as the fact that it isn’t blooming. See, the fig tree is in the desert, resources are scant. For this farmer, if the tree is going to take up water and fertilizer, it had best produce fruit. It can’t take up the resources and time of the community without contributing to the community.

Now, yall, I love you but we’re the fig tree. Jesus is calling us to remember that our actions affect everyone. Jesus is calling us to remember, that we must use the resources of the community for the good of all, not just ourselves. Whether it is in our neighborhoods, our schools, our city, state, nation, or world, we are called to produce the fruit of God for the community. We are called to live in the covenant of God which commands we most serve the poor. Indeed, Jesus says in Matthew chapter 25 verse 40, it is by how we treat the least of society that we will be judged. Not whether we make a lot of money, not whether we win a lot of wars, not whether we wear the latest clothes, drive the coolest car, or live in the right neighborhood, the right house, with the right friends, but by how we as a community of the faithful live for the least, how we as a team, as a people, a congregation, community, society and state suck it up, ‘cause we working for God. Amen!

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