Impatience and Love: Luke 13.1–9 and 31–35

2017.3.12 fig treeDelivered at Ames UCC
on March 12, 2017

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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SAME CONCLUSION
For the last two weeks we’ve had guest preachers, Tim Wolfe on Seminary Sunday and Harry Cook as our Theologian in Residence. Tim and Harry came to us from very different branches of the Christian family tree: Tim was, for most of his life, Pentecostal and for years directed very large African American gospel choirs. Harry is a long-retired Episcopal priest and newspaperman.

Tim preached on the transfiguration story. This is the one where a few of the disciples wake up and see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, prophets from the far distant past. Harry had the story of the Samaritan who helped a naked, bleeding man in a ditch when neither a priest nor a deacon would do so.

Tim’s message was “Get woke and stay woke.” Harry’s was “Go and do it.”

Despite their divergent religious traditions, Tim and Harry came to the same conclusion: God wants us to be awake to the world and responsive to what we see.

That was neither planned nor is it a coincidence: The Jesus in the gospel of Luke is insistently oriented to the needs of the world and to action.

HARSH STORY
He is also impatient, as in our reading today.

Do you think you are special? Do you think anyone is more favored by God? Jesus asks his listeners. Not really the best tactic for building a movement. But Jesus doesn’t care. He goes on to tell a story about an orchard owner and his farmer and a fig tree. One way to hear it is with God as the orchard owner and all of us as the gardener and our faith as the fig tree.

For years, such an interpretation goes, God has been looking for us to nurture some productivity from our faith, only to be met with disappointment. We are a waste of space and resources if we do not fertilize, till, and weed our souls so that they are actually of use. So that we may provide sustenance and succor. If our fig tree does not actually produce something, best to yank it out and move on, Jesus says.

It’s a harsh story. It is harsh because Jesus, like all of the Biblical prophets before him, knows what is on the line: lives. Not life in the sky by-and-by, but lives chucked into ditches like trash.

The reason we have so many healing stories about Jesus isn’t just because people are sick. It is also because he is impatient for us to know that God cares about actual bodies and so we should, too. When bodies and the communities in which they exist are sick, there is no time to waste.

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Neighbor to Neighbor

Published March 1, 2017 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

I have just added U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s Department of Justice comments line (202-353-1555) to my phone contacts. I called him (after calling Senators Ernst and Grassley and Congressman Steve King) regarding the barring of cameras and national press from the latest White House press briefing. My message to them was the same: This action by the Trump administration is a violation of the First Amendment and one step further away from democracy and toward totalitarianism. It was satisfying but I am still scared.

I do not know how effective my calls are. Surely, despite the rise of wealthy PACs, our elected officials still care a bit about how those who might or might not vote for them feel. And, surely, if enough of us express our opinions one way or another, that will have the power to sway their actions.

But we can do better than hope power is accumulating on the side of Lady Liberty. As she stands among the broken shackles of slavery to welcome all who would bring their talents and dreams and sweat to the American experiment, shining a beacon of hope for all who are being crushed by bigotry and greed, we have to do more than hope our power is growing. We have to make it grow.

Growing power takes time. The Civil Rights Movement did not succeed because Rosa Parks sat down one day and Martin Luther King, Jr. was a compelling orator. It succeeded because of the hundreds of people who talked to thousands of other people about the conditions of their lives and what they would be willing to risk to make a change. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days. That was 381 days—more than one year—of walking to and from work, as well as errands, in all kinds of weather, no matter how far or how tired those boycotters might have been.
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