Sunday, March 11, 2007

Actions Speak Louder Than Words


“Actions Speak Louder than Words…”

The blazing burning bush drew Moses’ attention. Going over to look more closely, he dramatically encountered God. “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt…and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians….” And Moses, you are going to lead this liberation movement. Moses wasn’t so sure about this. He argued and came up with all kinds of reasons why this was not a good idea. But God consistently countered with consistent offers of companionship. As our weekly Lenten study* asks - the big question for Moses was: Would he do it? Would he act? Would he change his life, his focus, his direction, and act at God’s request?

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul commented on what happened. Moses said yes to God. He led the Hebrew people out of slavery and into the freedom of the promised land, through the travails of a forty year sojourn in the desert. Moses acted – and because of his faith, the people passed through the Red Sea. They drank water from the rock in the wilderness. They ate manna from heaven. They were protected by the cloud and led by the fire – all symbols of God’s abiding presence – and yet, they, like the Corinthians, and like us – were masters at self-deception. Thinking that they owed nothing to God, forgetting who they were, and what God had done for them, they turned aside from their own freedom, and were struck down.

Surely, as St. Paul says, this is written for our edification. The Corinthians (and we) are no better than the Hebrews. Just because we are baptized and partakers of the Eucharistic feast and regular church goers, does not mean that we are better than others. Just because we take communion, does not guarantee us a pass when it comes to bearing fruit worthy of repentance. We should not succumb to a false sense of security.

The parable of the fig tree is rather chilling in that regard, isn’t it. Fig trees are not difficult to grow. According to a gardener’s web site, fig trees are pretty much suited to any climate. They don’t take a great deal of care. They don’t require a tremendous amount of fertilizer. So, fig trees that don’t produce are worthless, and rather easily replaced. No wonder the property owner is ready to clear it out to make room for another vine or tree that will produce. Any farmer would see the sense in that.

But the gardener, perhaps thinking of the time it takes for a new plant to grow, asks for one more year – to see what he can do with some extra attention and care. One year – it isn’t an extension of “however long it takes” that is granted – it is a time limited extension. Chopping it down is still very much an option if it isn’t bearing fruit at the same time next year.

I don’t think Jesus’ intention is to scare us as much as to say wake up. This is real life. Your actions have consequences. Your inaction has consequences.

Many biblical scholars believe that the fig tree parable was directed at the national leaders – the barren tree being the leadership of Israel at that time. Jesus certainly called individuals to repentance, but, as with all Hebrew prophets, he also called the entire nation to repentance.

The truth is, people don’t die because God gets angry and punishes them. Pilate slaughtered the Galileans in the temple to make a statement. Shortly after this Pilate crucified Jesus – for much the same reason that he slaughtered these Galileans. He suspected them all of fomenting rebellion. He worshiped at the idol of political power and dominance and ruthlessly repressed anyone who got in his way.

People don’t die because God is paying them back for their sins. But people do die because of faulty construction and cheap building materials. Who knows why the tower of Siloam fell crushing the people, but it was not because God willed it. My daughter spent a year working as a young adult missioner with Hondurans. Honduras suffered a huge earthquake many years ago, and there is still tremendous suffering resulting from that quake. Many people, poor people, lived in buildings that had no chance to withstand the earth tremors, and so, many died as the poorly built building collapsed on top of them. They died because much of the world worships at the idol of accumulating wealth, leaving many to suffer as resources flow towards the lucky few.

Our action and our inaction have consequences – and while we are rightly happy with our OSHA standards and building codes, and our electoral democracy – the truth is that much of our way of life is built directly upon the misery of the poor around the world. That is a hard truth. And one that is made even harder because it isn’t at all easy to see what to do about it.

This past Thursday, several parishioners and I were at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Episcopal seminary just up the road from us, to hear Nora Gallagher talk about her new book, Changing Light. This work of fiction is about the making of nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, New Mexico, during World War II. After the bombs were unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mahatma Gandhi said the bombs had crushed the soul of Japan, and it remained to be seen, what would happen to the soul of the nation that had used these weapons of mass destruction. This question is very much on Nora’s trained Episcopalian mind – what has happened to the soul of our nation, after the dropping of the atomic weapons on Japan in 1945. Is there a connection between that and Abu Graib?

What does it mean to repent? Literally it means to change your mind – to change your direction. If you are walking towards a cliff, repentance means to look up, see where you’re going and change direction. If you are worshipping an idol – which can be anything that takes the place of God as the center point of your life – change your mind. Change your focus.

Look up. See the sign of the times. Change direction.

A couple years ago, eminent scientists visited the White House carrying their concerns that the realities of the earth sciences were being ignored in favor of political agendas. The earth has her own ways of bringing her children to repentance. And, as the owner of the barren fig tree warned, judgment may be delayed, but it will come.

So, this is a morning of rather grim news. Other than the one year delay for the fig tree, where is the good news?

The truth is the grim news of the need for changing direction, and the good news of God’s love is one and the same, because, in the very act of sorrow and change, we discover God’s abundant mercy and unfailing love.

We are in the midst of Lent and for these forty days we are focused on changing direction, releasing our anxieties and our insecurities and our desire to take shortcuts on the way to wealth and wellbeing and replacing them with trust and faith and confidence in God who is our Creator and Redeemer. Who is the source of true power and security.

So, I’ve been talking about really big issues – issues that are overwhelming in so many ways. Instead of being overwhelmed, I invite you to see if you can do one thing this week – take one action that flows directly out of your faith and confidence in God. Maybe it will be an act of compassion. Maybe you will tell someone else a story of the difference God’s love makes in your life, or maybe you will do some service for someone else.

You might write a letter to some leader about one of the Millenium Development Goals that we have been reading about each week in our bulletins. You might find out more about how you can help with the Gulf Coast mission trip that the youth will take in June. You might sign up for a half hour of the Interfaith Peace Prayer Vigil that will happen here in late March. You might pledge towards the Access fund, to help open the facilities of this church to those who are handicapped. You might decide to find out more about sandwich making for the Souper Center.

See what God lays on your heart and follow up with some action. Bear some small piece of fruit this week on behalf of God's kingdom of peace, justice and mercy.

The Rev. Linda Campbell

*Groundwork: Digging Deep for Growth and Change, Lent IIIC

Isaiah invites us:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;

And you that have no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

And your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.