Sunday, February 28, 2016

Urgent Care

Luke 13: 1-9

In the last few weeks, several people have shared with me the sad news of a young man who died – fathers in their 50s.
Some of us have had or are expecting to have major surgery.
I recently had a serious health issue that put me in the hospital for a week.
These events serve as reminders that our days are numbered. While we don’t believe that God knows from our birth the day when we will die, we will all die someday.  Crises like these remind us that we are here for a purpose – God’s purposes – to bear fruit for the kingdom/ reign of God.
In the first part of the gospel reading, Jesus mentions two occasions when a large number of people died suddenly, unexpectedly. In today’s setting, he would have been talking about the headlines in the newspaper or on the evening news.
Because of the tragic nature, everyone would have been talking about these events. A tower under construction in Jerusalem, apparently near the Pool of Siloam, collapsed and killed 18 workers and bystanders. Some Galileans were killed by the Romans and their blood flowed into the drainage channels with the blood of the animals which had just been sacrificed.
There must have also been some conversation that the people who died had been great sinners. Some said they “got what they deserved.” People in our time said that the people of New Orleans were being punished by God, and that’s why God sent Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. There are people claiming that the Zika virus is God’s punishment for Brazil’s sexual immorality.
Jesus is clear on this. Stuff happens that is not related to God’s activity in the world. God does not send punishment on the many for the sins of a few. And yet, there is also a challenge in his words. Unless we repent, we will die as the victims of these disasters died.
So, now, we can turn to the little story, the parable, about the fig tree. This tree had not been doing its job of producing figs, and the owner wanted to cut it down so another, more productive tree could be planted in its place. But the gardener said, let me give it some TLC, some urgent care. I’ll dig around the roots and loosen up the soil, and spread some manure. If the tree still does not produce fruit, then we’ll cut it down. If the TLC works, then we’ll have the fruit to enjoy, and to sell for profit.
We are like this. We tend to get lazy and think we have done all we need to do. We’ll just coast along in life and let others produce the fruit. This is true whether we are 19 or 91, so I’m not just talking about the oldest folks here.
And then someone we know about, maybe even someone we love, gets really sick. Someone dies suddenly. And we are forced to take stock of our fruit production. It’s like the event stirs up the soil and spreads some manure on our roots. We use the opportunity to evaluate our relationships, including the one we have with Jesus.  
So, what about this concept of producing fruit? What do you think it means? Certainly it refers to the way we care for the needy around us. Do we feed them, offer them health care and clothing and decent pay?
I believe bearing fruit also refers to our relationship with God. Do we give God lip service, showing up on Sunday morning and not thinking about God the rest of the week? Do we spend time in prayer and reflection each day? Do we do enough to “Know Christ and make Christ known”?
The main reason I prefer to change the prayer wording each season is so we can’t get in a rut, repeating the same words we have always said. For example, when the words of the confession are always the same, we can speak the words with our mouths while our minds are thinking about lunch. When we change the words, we are forced to concentrate on what we are saying. We are forced to confess – and hear ourselves saying -- that we do some things we shouldn’t, and we don’t do some things we should do. We are called to repent.
Life-changing news and events can have the effect of giving us some urgent care, such as the gardener gave to the fig tree, calling us back to God in a powerful way.
Fortunately for us, our God is like the owner of the garden. He allowed the gardener to work with the tree, and bring it back to fruitfulness again. We might say the owner / God is patient with us. We might also use the word grace – undeserved forgiveness. With God’s patience and grace, we are called and sent to make a difference in the lives of others. We are called and sent to spread the love and hope of the reign of God.
 Yesterday morning, I attended the pancake breakfast hosted by the Dunnellon Kiwanis Club. They are raising funds for the Boys and Girls Club. Because I was alone, I sat near a group of people I didn’t know and asked if I could join them.
We introduced ourselves and I asked what brought them to this breakfast. “We love to support the Boys and Girls Club.” It turns out that they are active members of Holy Faith Episcopal Church, and as we talked I learned more about what this couple did. They pack and deliver weekend backpacks of food. They take several names from the angel tree each Christmas and fill a gift bag with the required underwear, socks and shoes. And they include a toy or two, out of the love for giving.
I saw a story this week about Chris Archer, the wild-haired Rays pitcher. It turns out he was adopted by his grandmother after his parents showed little interest in caring for him, so he has a special place in his heart for foster children.
Zachary had been in foster care for years, shuffled from one home to another. He’s a great kid, but as a teenager, not so easy to adopt. Most families want babies, or toddlers.
Last year during Spring Training, Zachary was chosen to be featured in a video about adoption. He was paired with Chris Archer and the two connected. Zachary had been wondering if he even wanted to be adopted at his age. But his true desire to be part of a family showed through. Chris shared with Zach the positive aspects of being adopted.
The Schreffler family had been hoping to adopt a teenager, but after a year of waiting and searching, they doubted it would ever happen. Then, they saw the video of Zachary and Chris, and knew that Zach was the one they had been hoping to find.
So many little pieces in this true story fell into place. The timing was perfect, even though it seemed a long time in coming. The people connected in unexpected ways. It looks to me like a God-incidence. To me, it looks like Chris Archer bore some fruit, and Zach and his new family have been the happy beneficiaries of it.
 We should always be on the lookout for ways to be God’s people in our community, but we forget. Sometimes it takes a bit of urgent care; a crisis, a death, a serious illness, to remind us how precious life is, and how we are called and sent to bear fruit, divine fruit.
Pay attention this week. What kind of fruit are you bearing? Do you need an urgent reminder to spend more time, real time, with Jesus? To care kindly and tenderly for others?

Please pray with me: Jesus, here we are at the foot of the cross, your cross. Help us to see beyond our own needs to the need to spend time with you. Remind us to care for others as you do. Heal those affected by crises of any kind, and send us in to minister with them as we can. Amen