Exodus 3: 1-8, 13-15; I Corinth 10: 1-6, 10-12; Luke 13: 1-9
As imminent and edgy the message is from Jesus today about repenting, changing, seeking conversion, whatever way you want to describe it, it’s really Paul that sends up the flares to the people of Corinth today that they need to change their ways less their world is about to fall apart around them. We hear at the end of that reading that the one that thinks his life is secure should anticipate a fall. As a people that are obsessed with safety and security, I think it’s something we can relate to in our own circumstances. Maybe the reality is that this journey that we participate in, not only during Lent, but throughout our entire lives, is more about falling than it is safety and security. As a matter of fact, when it comes to faith, there is no safety and security, there is only falling freely into this deeper mystery, into the great I AM.
But the people of Corinth, like us, look for something to hold onto, something tactile, something known that gives us the illusion of safety and security. For them, as often us, it’s their way of life. In particular here, he calls them out about the way their treating other people and the traps of idols that they have created for themselves. He has even witnessed how they celebrate the Eucharist. It’s not like we celebrate it here, where anyone can walk in off the streets. In Corinth it’s still done in small communities, in homes and it had become a celebration of the elites, excluding others or at best offering them the scraps left over. These were a people that were caught up in greed, power, sex, and it was beginning to take a toll on the larger community, the common good of the people. Paul wants to warn them that this will all pass and fall apart for it’s not grounded in faith. They have the yearning within for something more, love, God, the promised land, whatever you want to call it, but they seek it and try to fill it in all the wrong ways. As it goes, the larger you build and try to protect yourself, feeling safe and secure, the harder you’ll fall when things that will pass begin to crumble.
The story of the fall is also that of people Israel. Even Paul makes reference to that in the reading to the Corinthians where many perished during their time in the desert. Of course, it’s no easy experience for them individually or as a people. Of course, the one charged with leading them in that experience we hear from in today’s first reading from Exodus, none other than Moses himself. Their journey, though, is first Moses’ journey. He too must learn to let go of what has given him security and safety and learn to fall into this mystery, into the great I AM that he encounters today. Anyone that allows themselves to participate in such an experience knows how difficult that is, in letting go and feeling like the world is falling apart around them. He will soon head out to meet Israel, finding itself in the throws of slavery in Egypt, not only at the hands of the Egyptians, but their own way of life, which is why the desert becomes central to their journey and ours.
Remember even that experience, though, as the build the golden calf as they seek the promised land. They too look for something to hold onto, something that will give them some sense of security and safety, albeit it an illusion, but there nonetheless. Like Paul, Moses becomes frustrated with them, and yet over and over again, encounters this mystery inviting him to fall into the hands of I AM, a God that weeps for people Israel. A God that weeps for the people of Corinth. A God that continues to weep for his people that have such a desire deep within, a yearning for love, for relationship, for the promised land, and yet they prefer to hold onto their old way of life, a life that no longer satisfies, a life that no longer fulfills. How much better, and yet, how much harder to allow ourselves to fall into mystery. That’s faith. That’s the spiritual journey we walk together.
Throughout it all, God remains faithful, calling forth to this new place, never giving up. Despite that imminent call to repent in today’s Gospel, it’s coupled with this parable of the fig tree that no longer bears fruit. What once was no longer gives life. The immediate reaction, as is often ours, is to destroy it, get rid of it, it no longer produces. The gardener, though, like God, doesn’t see death but rather opportunity for growth in the face of no longer bearing fruit. Rather than destroying it, cultivate the plant, nurture it, and hope for life to be given. If anything, we can be thankful that God doesn’t just discard us and dispose of us, but rather remains faithful through it all, inviting us into the deeper yearning of our hearts and fall into the the mystery of I AM.
These are tough readings to preach on and to hear but readings we need to take to heart in our own lives and especially during this lenten season and we have our own experience of exodus. I know the natural response is safety and security, to hold onto things even if they no longer give us life, but we are called forth today as individuals and community to look at our lives and ask ourselves what we’re holding onto, that no longer feeds us and no longer bears fruit. No, it’s not the call to destroy; God takes us warts and all. Rather, it’s an invitation to let go of what has given us security and to fall more deeply into love and in love with the mystery Moses encounters today in the burning bush, the mystery of the great I AM.