Originally delivered by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño at Washington National Cathedral, Sunday, February 28, 2016 – Video of the sermon is below
This week we found ourselves living with those who one day surrounded Jesus with their questions about the tragedies of life. What did Jesus think about the people from Galilee who were in worship when Pilate had them killed, their blood mingling with the blood of the animals they had just sacrificed to bring praise and thanksgiving to God?
Jesus knew what they were thinking. Had this happened to them because they were more sinful than all others? No, they were not. Well what about the 18 people who just happened to be in the shadow of the tower of Siloam when it fell. Why did they die like that? Was their sin greater than that of others?
Joining those who questioned Jesus about death we too have wondered. Why did those people have to die at the hands of the Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan? Why them? What fault did they have? And what about those who died battered and broken by the mighty winds of unexpected and unexplained tornadoes from Louisiana through Florida and on up through the East coast? Why? Why were they the ones to die in this terrible, tragic way?
With those who were with Jesus we too have this need to know because death scares the heck out of us. How do we avoid untimely death? We want to know! Is our sinfulness setting us up to be snuffed out at any moment? Does the degree of our sin make us more visible and more susceptible to the grasp of death?
Jesus does not deny the power of sin or the fact that death is sin’s ultimate result. But he does invite us to look at the bigger picture. Twice he says that those who died did not die because they were any more sinful than the rest. However, if we do not change our hearts and lives, then we will be destroyed as well.
The bigger picture and the real question is not why did death come to them, but rather how do we live before death comes for us?
Let us pray for those who have died and those who grieve most deeply for them. And let us honor their lives by committing to live faithfully. Living faithfully has the power to calm our hearts and even make a difference in a world that each day faces death.
Jesus paints the picture for us through a parable. The master of the vineyard went looking for the sweet fruit of the fig tree and found none. In fact he had been patiently waiting for it to bear fruit for 3 years; long enough. It was taking up space, giving nothing in return. So the master orders it cut down. But the servant who cared for the fig tree begged the master for just one more year. Would the master be willing to allow him to give the fig tree a little help. He would loosen up the dirt around it to give it some air, some life, and add some manure to further assist it. Just one more year and if after that year the fig tree still bore no fruit then it would be cut down.
There is a tall fig tree in the corner of my backyard. It is fully grown and quit lovely, but it has yet to bear fruit. I inherited that fig tree but I have been watching and waiting for 3 years and still it has given no fruit. I’m inspired, though, by Jesus who in his parable offers up that fig trees sometimes just need a little help.
I had not thought of turning to Jesus for gardening advice but by now I should know better! Jesus’ wisdom is all-encompassing of life. Whatever you or I may be facing, Jesus always has a word of guidance even comfort and hope.
My brothers and sisters, death will come for each one of us, but Jesus is willing to give us a little help. He is willing to be our advocate and the tender gardener of our lives so that we may live life well, bearing the fruit that is worthy of God’s expectations of us.
The fig tree was expected to bear sweet delicious figs. As people of faith you and I are expected to bear the fruit of God’s love and justice. The fig tree was not fully living out its purpose, and we fail to fully live out our purpose when we do not bear the fruit of God’s kingdom.
Just a bit of self-reflection would lead us to have to confess that all too often we are partners with death and even perpetrators of death through omission or commission instead of being God’s life-giving and fruit-bearing sons and daughters, disciples of Jesus who comes to tend to our souls and encourage our right living.
We ended this week remembering the death of Trayvon Martin. This past Friday we should have been celebrating his 21st birthday instead of remembering the 4th anniversary of his unnecessary death. The ongoing deaths of young black men in this country at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them and keep them safe, is a sign that we have yet to bear the fruit of justice in this country.
We continue to hear presidential candidates offer up a wall of human separation as the solution to the broken U.S. immigration policies. And we hear this with the extremes of cheers or complacency, both of which only encourage death; the physical death of those trapped in poverty and the spiritual death of those of us who do not care.
The dead bodies of little children from Africa and the Middle East are being washed ashore in places like Turkey after being forced to migrate because of the devastating violence of war. Nothing brings death faster than war. Children everywhere are the promise of life, and if they die so does our future. When will we stand and bear the fruit of faithful witness — that witness that proclaims unequivocally that all children are precious to God our Creator and need to be protected from the enemy of war and the death it brings.
And what of the smaller deaths happening in our daily living through our neglect? The death of a family, the death of a marriage, of a friendship, the death of a neighborhood, of a community of faith? And what about the premature and untimely death of possibility? The possibility of life-enriching and life-giving relationships with persons of other races, cultures, classes, persons of a different age than us or of a different gender orientation, persons perhaps different from us but all children of God, and thus our brothers and sisters. How much life do we lose just because we don’t have the disposition or the courage or the love to stretch out a hand and welcome those who are different from us into our lives?
Living, true living, death defying living, is going to take a change of our hearts and our lives.
Friends, on this morning God knows we want to live, fully live. And Jesus is committed to helping us live. The fullness of life is found in bearing fruit; the fruit of God’s kingdom, the fruit of love and justice. May Jesus our Lord be our help.