A Meditation for 28 February 2016, the 3rd in Lent (Year C). The meditation is based on Isaiah 55: 1 – 9, 1 Corinthians 10: 1 – 13, and Luke 13: 1 – 9
One of the shows that is on my “favorite” list is “Leverage”, probably because of its contrarian viewpoint. In one of the early episodes, the Leverage team learned that Nate Ford, their leader, had been in seminary (“The Miracle Job”). In this episode, the villain is trying to foreclose on a Catholic church in Los Angeles (we will ignore the probability that the writers of this episode didn’t really understand the nature of Roman Catholic real estate proceedings). In what he assumes will be the last Mass held at the church, the priest (a friend of Nate’s) uses the Gospel reading for today as the basis for his homily.
Now, I have not heard that many homilies in my day so I am always surprised when this priest seems to be, as a former choir director of mine would say, is a bit more Pentecostal than usual. The priest tells the congregation that the message of the Gospel is that they must repent or perish.
I don’t think I have ever thought of that passage in those terms. For me, the central part of the message is the time-frame. In my own experiences, for any effective change to take place, you have to have a long-term plan and three years is not really that long. I am sure that someone will tell me that the three years in the Gospel story is related to the three years of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the traditional three years that a Methodist pastor serves a congregation comes from those two ideas.
Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in today’s New Testament reading reminds us that when we reflect on our past, it is very hard to move forward or even envision the future.
Balance this with the idea that Lent is the season of repentance and to repent is to change your life, totally and completely. For too many people, repentance, especially during Lent, simply means to ask forgiveness for whatever it is that they have done, try to avoid doing it for forty days, and then, after Lent is over, returning to that prior behavior.
Everything that is taking place today, in our society and throughout the world, seems to say that we have forgotten the lessons of the past and all that happened then. Or it is with the idea that yesterday was better than today and tomorrow can never be as good as today is.
In 1964, then Attorney General Robert Kennedy spoke to the students, faculty, and guests at an assembly at the California Institute of Technology about the role of science and technology in shaping the future. In what might be considered a rather prophetic statement, he said,
“To say that the future will be different from the present is, to scientists, hopelessly self-evident.· I observe regretfully that in politics, however it can be heresy. It can be denounced as radicalism, or branded as subversion. There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. It hardly seems necessary to point out in California – of all States — that change, although it involves risks, is the law of life.”
Nevertheless, there are those, frustrated by a difficult future, who grab out for the security of the non-existent past. Frustrated by change they condemn the wisdom, the motives, and even the patriotism of those who seek to contend with the realities of the future. (“The Opening To The Future”)
This is something I wrote about last week (“The Paradox Of Vision”). Some churches feel that the key to the future lies in repeating what was done in the past. Yet, the conditions that made the past successful are not always conditions that will work in the present and what might work today might not necessarily work tomorrow. If one does not understand the operating conditions, failure is almost certain.
Ultimately, it comes down to this, if you choose not to repent, to cast aside the past and begin anew, then you will surely repeat the past. And if it did not work then, it most certainly will not work today. And that means that there probably will not be a tomorrow.
On the other hand, if you repent and renounce that which ties you to the past and keeps you from moving forward, then you will have a future. It will be a future in which joy and hope abound beyond description; it will be a future that most definitely obtains the goals of the Gospel, to tell the Good News and bring relief to the downtrodden, good health to the sick, shelter for the homeless, and justice for the oppressed.
The choice is yours, repent and move forward or repeat the past and die in the backwaters of history.