Homily from service on March 20, 2022 – Third Sunday in Lent
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
May the words of my lips and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Was it paper whites I noticed in the garden on my way in this morning? And the earliest signs of peonies – the tips of red stalks – beginning to emerge from the soil. And this week, in my back yard, almost imperceptibly the muddiness of the lawn began to have the slightest fresh green sheen to it. The clocks have shifted, magically lengthening our days.
The signs of spring are accumulating around us, it’s not too soon to say that we are emerging from a long, dark winter.
Even more of a relief, the signs that we are emerging from a long, dark, pandemic are also accumulating. Towns and cities are dropping mask requirements for indoor spaces. This evening, I’m going to a high school basketball state championship game with my sons, in a large crowded arena, without a mask. You will have probably noticed that we here at All Saints, in response to shifting COVID conditions, are planning for a transition in our own policies, including a return to the common cup in a couple of weeks. True, it’s not over. We’ll have to keep our eyes on changing conditions and respond accordingly, but it does feel as if we’re moving into a new moment. A two-year period that has been fallow in many ways is beginning to draw to a close.
Perhaps. Perhaps for all of us, in some way – maybe in most ways – this description of our current state rings true. Spring is coming! Masks are disappearing! Let’s get back to the fullness of life! The cloud of concern that has hung over us for so, so long is slowly lifting.
And yet. It’s not that simple, is it? For many, these have been long, lonely, difficult years. You may count yourself among this group. This has been my experience at times and the experience of loved ones. Though the sun is emerging, we may still be under the shadow of two years of loss. Despite the signals the world is sending our way, some of us may not feel like we have returned to normal. We may not be ready for frenzied pre-pandemic levels of activity and productivity.
I see this same dynamic in today’s gospel. It can be read as a similar call for urgent renewal: Time is short! Move quickly! The consequences could be dire if you don’t!
This passage is about repentance. It starts with Jesus’ followers informing him of the murder of a group of Galilean pilgrims in the temple in Jerusalem. In a separate event, eighteen people died when a tower in the city wall collapsed without warning. A common assumption of their day would have it that the Galileans and the eighteen were worse sinners than others. They did something that led to their death. Even today, sometimes we instinctively fall back to a belief that “you reap what you sow,” or “if we do the right thing, God will reward us.” Instead, Jesus uses these events to emphasize the point that, in the words of one commentator, “life is uncertain, death is capricious, and judgment is inevitable” [Source, 270]. For everyone. Jesus’ message? It is important to repent now. We never know when a tower will fall on our head – or, in our day, when we’ll be hit by the proverbial bus.
But then Jesus continues his teaching with a parable featuring a fig tree. Unlike the cursed fig trees in Matthew and Mark, in Luke’s version of this parable, the steward begs the landowner to be merciful – and some might say, wise – saving the fig tree from immediate destruction. The implication is clear, though: that tree has had three years already to bear fruit. If it doesn’t get moving before the next season, the landowner will cut it down. ///
Time is short! Move quickly! Be productive – or fruit-ful, as this parable would have it. Otherwise, you’re just wasting space. Or, in this case, wasting soil. /// I can feel my body tensing up just thinking about it. ///
[Now,] this language, this teaching… it would likely make us shift awkwardly in our pews at the best of times. Right now, though, it may cause even more discomfort…may feel even more at odds with our sense of the world. Is urgency what we need? Is fruitfulness or productivity our imperative?
I would suggest that, for many of us, the answer to that question may be no. Even though things are looking up, and we are in a better place with respect to the pandemic, and for many of us – not all, but for many – the cloud of concern has begun to lift. But after two years – and everything beyond the pandemic that we have been taking in – we are up to here. There is no space left. We are beyond our capacity.
Think about this: levels of depression in the US tripled in the early days of the pandemic. And according to a report from October, that new high level had not subsided [Source]. Among college students, for example, data released last year found that half – HALF – of the students surveyed reported experiencing anxiety or depression; more than two-thirds reported experiencing loneliness or isolation; over 80% reported that mental health challenges were disrupting their academic performance [Source].
/// These years have taken their toll. So, as we return to some aspects of normalcy, I invite you to consider Luke’s parable of the fig tree /// whether you may want to accept the grace / and mercy / and nourishment of the steward who tends to the fig tree…who recognizes that in fallowness healing and growth can occur…that in a long, dark winter, new life can be taking shape. ///
It will take us a while to recover. And thanks be to God, that recovery has started and continues. But as we move into this time, can we pray for the gift of being gentle with ourselves? Can we gently attend to others? We will emerge into a new season…in God’s time.