2016-02-28, 3rd Sun Lent C; Hope, Mercy and Challenge

Homily 02-28-16
Third Sunday Lent, Cycle C
Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11; 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9

(Scriptures included after homily)

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Hope, Mercy and Challenge

On this Third Sunday of Lent, we are confronted with three pretty serious concepts: Hope, Mercy and Challenge.

You see, as human beings, IF we’ve lived any longer than a few moments, we’ve learned that we, ourselves, can either be Givers or Receivers of Hope, Mercy and Challenge.  An infant, for example, brings us Hope, just by the smile on their face.  Or, they could even bring us Challenge, if that smile is not there.

And if we’re a parent, we know that it’s our responsibility to offer our children Hope and Mercy, and to Challenge them to grow, just as God does with us.

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Well, you know how there are certain songs, or words, or even smells that instantly bring us back to another time and place . . .  How it actually feels like ‘being there’ all over again!  And in that moment, we can remember every little detail: the colors, the emotions, the expressions.  And some of those memories, we wish we can hang on to forever . . . while others, we’d like to erase, like they’d never happened.

Well, Jesus had a way of bringing people into His stories by connecting them with something they were very familiar with: like fishing and farming, like cooking, weddings and even politics.  The stories brought back memories.  They opened wounds.  They offered Hope to the hopeless; Mercy to the sinner, and Challenge to those who felt – just a little too comfortable with life.

And today’s parable was no different.  You see, the people were grumbling and actually boasting about the punishment of “sinners.”  And in doing so, they were placing themselves above that category.  So Jesus had to remind them to stop judging others and instead to look at their own Spiritual Health.

It was a challenge, especially because, being judgmental was exactly the behavior that the Jewish religious leaders Modeled.  And of course, we know that:

“the Model we follow,
is the Model we become!”

You see, they were quick to say, “Look, there is no fruit, so let’s cut it down.” 

And where there is no Mercy,
there is no Hope
.

And yet, the parable implied that, not only did the fruitless tree represent the People who were lacking good nourishment, but it also represented the Leaders who did not bear the fruit that God expected – the fruit of Mercy, and Nourishment, and Hope that the people so needed . . . the Mercy and Hope that Jesus, ‘the Gardener,’ offers to all of us.

You see, being fruitful is a Gift that we are Challenged to accept and respond to, just as Moses was, at the burning bush.  OR, (because of the Grace of God), we have the free-will choice to reject that Gift, and then, to suffer any consequence resulting from that choice.  God will never force us, one way or another.  But He will ALWAYS offer us: the Hope, the Mercy and the Challenge, and we will find them in all of our lives.

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Now, maybe we just don’t relate to the parables that Jesus used for the Mediterranean people of the First-Century, because we don’t see very many Fig Trees growing here in mid-Missouri.  But for me, the Fig Tree is one of those triggers we spoke of, that carries me back to a different time and place.  So let’s take a little journey . . .

You see, I grew up in the ‘Cement-Jungle’ of Northern New Jersey, a literal suburb of New York City.  It was a place where seeing dirt was a rarity; let alone, fields and cows, and orchards.  We lived on the second story of a 3-story apartment house, with my uncle and cousins upstairs and my Italian grandparents down.

They immigrated to the U.S. around the turn of the 20th Century, and my grandfather, a novice gardener, brought with him, from Sicily, the twig of a FIG TREE.  Now, keep in mind, that a Fig Tree is a warm-climate plant, and there is no-way that a fig tree could stay alive through the long, cold, North Jersey winters: save for . . . Hope, Mercy and Challenge!

You see, my grandfather was very creative.  He was a faith-filled man, who was always up for a challenge.  And many years later, when I grew old enough to understand; there, Living in a little, 20 x 30 foot plot of dirt, in the middle of our cement back yard, was probably the only Sicilian Fig Tree for a thousand miles.

fig-treeWas it a miracle?   NO!

Was it a challenge? Absolutely!

Because year after year, every autumn, my 70-80 year old grandfather would tie-together and wrap – all of the branches of that fig tree.  He would raise the ball of roots, lay it on its side, and then insulate it with leaves, newspapers and burlap.  It would then be enclosed in a wooden coffin and insulated some more – for the winter.

The following spring, the whole process would be reversed.  And every Easter, along with the resurrection of Christ, we celebrated the resurrection of our Fig Tree!  In the weeks that followed, we would anxiously wait to see the buds, the flowers and then, the most wonderful – green and red, sweet and juicy figs, you could ever imagine!

You see, when we keep God in the picture,
all things are possible, especially Hope and Mercy. 

And to be perfectly honest, we didn’t really get that awesome fruit – every year.  And some years we didn’t even get any!  But, my grandfather stayed vigilant in his Care, in his Challenge, and in his Mercy, and we never lost Hope!

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Jesus is calling us today to take a look at our own fig trees, our lives, and ask ourselves, “How fruitful are we, as children of God’s Kingdom?”

Are we comfortable in our Spiritual lives?  St. Paul said, “Whoever thinks he’s standing secure should take care not to fall.”

You see, Jesus can only save
those who understand their
need for salvation.

This is why we have Lent.  We evaluate our own spirituality and we make sure it’s still growing.  Because, whatever is not growing is dying!  What are we reading, watching and listening to?  And is it helping, or hurting us?

We humbly take stock of our own sins, and then, slowly, with the help of God, we repent – knowing that sin is not some need or desire within us, but it’s simply a weakness of our spirit; A weakness that can be strengthened and healed.

And in the strength of our Lenten (and life-long) conversion, we offer ourselves for the growth of others.

And there’s our fruit!

You see, life provides us with limitless opportunities for fruitfulness and growth.  All we need to do is open our eyes and our hearts.

Even within our own parish family there are needs that we can address.  So when you get your “Stewardship Time and Talent” sheets, be sure to pray over your decisions, because:

God and our Church are truly counting
on every one of us. 

Call the office if you have questions about any of the ministries.  Pick up one of the Ministry Brochures on the kiosks in the Gathering Space or from the office, and find something that fits your style, your talents, your likes and your time availability.

Our God has created every one of us with Goodness
that we may not even know about yet:

– It’s the goodness of Life.
– It’s the goodness of Creativity.
– It’s the goodness of Charity.

And Jesus has blessed and Challenged us all
with the ability to bear fruit
through our Hope and through our Mercy.

Now it’s our turn!

jmp 02-28-16

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Scripture Readings for the Mass of 02-28-16
Third Sunday of Lent, C

First Reading:  Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian.  Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There an angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed.  So Moses decided, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.”

When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!”  He answered, “Here I am.”

God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  But the LORD said, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”  God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.”  God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.  “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

Responsorial Psalm:  Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11

R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills,  He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
The LORD secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. He has made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Second Reading:  1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ.

Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.

Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come.

Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.

Gospel:  Lk 13:1-9

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.

Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?  By no means!  But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!

Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?  By no means!  But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

And he told them this parable:  “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’

He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

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