Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, 7 March 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 55: 1- 9, 1 Corinthians 10: 1- 13, and Luke 13: 1 – 9.
What value do we place on the future? I would say that we don’t place any value on it. After all, it is only something “out there” with no physical capabilities. And we know that the future changes and it is never what it might be.
But it isn’t so much that we place some sort of value on the future as it is we place too much value on the present. And we do everything we can to hold onto what we have now. And as the past months have shown, when the future does become a reality, it is something that we are neither prepared for or what we thought it might be.
Jesus tells the story about a man with a fig tree that had yet to produce any fruit. And a fig tree, or for that matter, any fruit tree that does not produce fruit is a useless tree. Oh, it does provide shade on a hot, sunny day and it does offer a place where the birds can build a nest but that’s not why we planted the tree. So, a fruit tree that does not produce fruit should be cut down. It isn’t just the owner of the vineyard in the Gospel reading who feels that way; it is the way we, as a society, feel today.
If you are not producing something of value now, then you should be just cast aside. Look at our schools. Several years ago, Congress passed the “No Child Left Behind” law as a means of determining the accountability of our schools. Now, more and more people are suddenly realizing what many of us knew several years ago, the law does not work. You cannot measure the success of any school by a single year’s test scores; the true measure of success is several years down the road and unless you cultivate the “soil”, i.e. the school environment, it will never produce the “fruit”. But when we see a school in trouble, society’s answer is to blame the teachers and fire them, dismantle the school, and create some sort of private school that will do a better job.
But if you spend time looking at what they are doing in these charter schools, you will see that (and again, this is something that I know that I have said time and time again) they are teaching the students the answers to the test. We see the scores go up but when the students are tested later, they don’t know the answers.
We fear the future more than we value it. It is an unknown that we are unwilling to face. So we live in the moment rather than for tomorrow. We need to hear the words of Isaiah from today’s Old Testament reading – we need to eat what is good instead of constantly eating junk food. But a lot of people aren’t going to get to those words in the passage; they will stop and turn away when Isaiah offers food and drink for free. We rebel at the idea that everyone gets the best food and the best drink. We cannot stand the thought that everyone will have the best because we really don’t care for others; all that we care about is ourselves.
We cannot see that unless we change our ways, unless we repent and begin anew, then we are going to be like those who Isaiah complains about, like those who Paul complains about and those whom Jesus flat out says will die.
When I looked at the translation of Isaiah from The Message, it included verses 10 & 11 –
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.
We should not begin to think that we will think like God, for such thoughts are beyond our capability (verses 8 & 9) but we can hear the words that he speaks to us and it will be the words that change this world. The words were spoken to us, first by Jesus, then by the disciples and Paul, and then by everyone who has heard them down through the ages.
Yes, the words have changed over the years but we have the words before us and we can do great things with what those words mean, provided that we place some value on the future. If we do not care for the fig tree, it will not yield fruit. If we do not place a more intrinsic value on education, it will not bear fruit. If we do not begin to put value on the message of the Gospel, to heal the sick, to feed the poor, to free the oppressed, then there will be no value in our lives even if we, individually and/or collectively, are well-fed, healthy, and not oppressed.
It is time to take care of the fig tree. We are faced with a health care crisis in this country and it is one that will not be solved by any plan that does not put the people first. If the decision is made to let companies, driven by the bottom line of profit, make the decisions about health care then the fig tree will die.
We are faced with innumerable people in this world who are faced with little or no health care, inadequate or limited food supplies, inadequate or limited shelter. We know from history that nations have gone to war for these reasons and yet we are more willing to fight wars than provide health care, food, and shelter.
We profess outrage at the idea of abortion and say that “thou shall not murder” but are quite willing to let the state or federal government execute someone. We are quite willing to invade the bedroom and scream at what we see as sexual immorality but we will not invade the boardroom and scream at greed and avarice. (Yes, I know there is no degree of sin and sexual immorality is just as sinful as greed and avarice but who is hurt more by the actions of two people – two people in their bedroom or two bankers keeping all the money that they scammed from countless numbers of people.)
But, whether you read the words of Paul, Isaiah, or Jesus, you hear the same thing. There is an opportunity today to change the direction, to change the outcome, to change the world. Seek the Lord and abandon your previous thoughts and ways, Isaiah said. Do not test the Lord and he will not test you said Paul.
And “unless you repent, you will perish as the others did” said Christ. There is a value to the future; it is what lies before us and it contains so much more than we can imagine. But if we are caught up in the moment called now, we cannot get there. If we put all of our value in the present, there can be no value in the future.
We have a choice and we need to make that choice right now.