Br. Adam D. McCoy, OHC
Lent 3 C – Sunday, January 27, 2013
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
On Thursday, July 26, 2012, lightning hit a venerable Episcopal church in Brooklyn, designed by Richard Upjohn, Christ Church in Cobble Hill. Scaffolding had been erected six weeks or so earlier, in anticipation of renovation of the tower. A multi-pronged bolt struck the 16 foot northwest pinnacle of the tower, one of the four, and it and its supporting masonry crashed through the roof of the church and down through the floor, as well as through scaffolding. Richard Schwartz, a 61 year old New York State Justice Department economic justice antitrust lawyer, had taken shelter under the scaffolding but was hit by a pinnacle stone and died later at Long Island College Hospital.
Was Richard Schwartz a worse offender than all the others living in Brooklyn? Was his life or his work displeasing to God? Did he deserve what he got?
To ask such questions seems absurd – and shows us how different our understanding of causation is than that of our Lord’s time. There is not even a hint of the question of divine intervention in the article about it in the New York Times, of course. But such superstitious concern isn’t even found where you might look for it, in the Post,. Some two thousand years ago, in our story from Luke, Jesus goes out of his way to deny the divine origin of the catastrophes of nature and of political tyranny to his own superstitious hearers. The cruelty inflicted by the Roman governor, the havoc wrought by the instability of a building, are not instances of God’s capricious vengeance.
Which most of us probably think gets us off the hook of God’s wrath breaking through and finding us. Pontius Pilate was in a long line of despots who destroy the people who annoy them with hardly a second thought. The tower in Siloam was probably badly designed, as were some of Upjohn’s towers. There is a natural explanation for all of this. These things happen. Richard Schwartz just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can all be sorted out by insurance companies and litigation.
Except that is not what Jesus said. He didn’t say that the people who were harmed by wicked tyranny and bad engineering were not at fault. He did not let the bystanders off the hook. What he said was that the people who suffered were not worse than the rest of us. What he said was, “unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." Instead of innocent victims and onlookers, a few whose sins had caught them out, Everyone is potentially at fault. Everyone sins. Everyone is on the wrong side of what God wants. This is not the news of victimhood. It puts us all on notice. We are all in it together, and unless we get our act together before God, we will all be liable. What we want is disconnection of the “real world” from the inbreaking of the divine. What we want is understandable causes and fixable solutions: Install a more humane governor in Jerusalem. Re-engineer the Tower of Siloam, and make sure the builders don’t cut corners. Check our church towers for weaknesses and restore them. Find it, fix it, avoid lawsuits. And most of all, don’t drag us into it personally when things go wrong.
But instead of disconnecting our daily world from our responsibilities to God, what Jesus does is radically re-connect it. It isn’t just “them”, “those people”, the ones who died because they were in the way. We all of us, actually, are “in the way”. We all have the responsibility to see our reality and turn our lives around and start living as God wants us to live. What we do has consequences before God. What we do, who we are, matters.
Let’s follow this line of thought a little further. What if, instead of living in a world whose demonstrable chains of material causation leave less and less room for the presence of God, we live in a world in which those same chains of causation lead us deeper into the divine reality? What if we live in a world in which every scientific discovery leads us closer to the Word of God which created that world? What if we live in a world in which we come to understand that every time we injure someone else we mingle their blood with our sacrifices? What if we live in a world in which every one of our sins makes a tear, smaller or larger, in the fabric of God’s good creation? What if we live in a world in which every time we make peace with one other person we are helping to set the world right again? What if we live in a world in which every time we do a good deed for someone else we are re-weaving one small strand of the tapestry of creation? What if the fruits of our lives, good or bad, are vital to the whole of what is? We may want to be separate from God, but we are radically connected.
St. Paul tells us that the rock which gave the Israelites in the wilderness the water they needed to live was Christ. What a strange image! Their journey through the wilderness was made possible because Christ was with them, all the way, even though they did not know it. What makes our lives possible is Christ. He is the rock giving us the living water that sustains us through the wilderness. Our lives come from him, are sustained by him. What we do with our lives matters. We are deeply connected with Christ, even though we do not see it or know it until later, and maybe not even then.
Moses encountered God on the mountain, in the burning bush, was given his marching orders, and then asked at least to know His Name: “God said to Moses, "I AM Who I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God is What – or Who -- Is. There is no separating us from What Is, from What Really Is. The world God has made is – it Is. The world’s very being flows from the One whom we cannot even begin to encompass in our imaginings, because to imagine is to separate, to distinguish, to use the third person, to stand aside and describe. But God is always personally present: I AM. The world and we ourselves are only separate from God in our imaginings. Everything we are and everything we do is our commentary on our dependence on, our life in, the One Who Is, in whom we live and move and have our being.
Jesus - incarnate Son of God, Word of God made flesh, through whom all things are made - Jesus knows we cannot live up to the one who made us. We are like the fig tree. We have been planted in the vineyard, have been allowed to grow, and now is the time for figs. But not all of us bear fruit, and none of us bears as much as we were intended to. For three years – an interesting number, the conventional length of Jesus’ ministry – for three years the owner of vineyard has been looking for fruit and not finding it. But the gardener – the same gardener Mary Magdalene thought she saw at the empty tomb? – the gardener knows the tree, and begs for arboreal intensive care and for time. There will be water, even water from the Rock. There will be time, but that time is a time of urgency. The time for the reparation of the fruitfulness of the world, the fruitfulness of God’s people, has arrived. If not now, then, by the gracious love of Christ, next year is the time for the tree to bear fruit. Next year there will be figs.