Change is Where God is Acting

by Genevieve Zetlan, Licensed Lay Preacher

Exodus 3:1-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8

There is a purportedly ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” It speaks, I think, to the truth that most of us spend a great deal of our time on earth trying to keep things humming along as usual – in our job, in our marriage, in our church. We human beings get pretty comfortable with what we know, or think we know, and we often dislike change.

And this is tough, because our readings this morning remind us that Change is where God is acting. We worship a God who is not about the status quo; a God who is sometimes even impatient with our reluctance to participate in the dream God has for our lives.

Take Moses. Moses has by all appearances a pretty nice life – he’s married, he’s a partner in his father in law’s successful sheep herding business, he has two fine sons. He’s been settled happily after his escape from Egypt for a “long period”. He appears to be doing well – doing everything he’s supposed to be doing. So it must have seemed preposterous – out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ordinary sheep—to see this completely unfathomable burning bush. An rather dramatic interruption of his daily life.

And in the ensuing conversation Moses manages to come up with reason after reason why he can’t possibly leave that nice, ordinary life to do what God is asking: Moses starts with self doubt: “What if I’m really not adequate?” And God says “Don’t worry, I will be with you.” “What if they ask me which God sent me, what is his name?” And God says, “Then tell them my name.” And after our passage this morning ends, Moses goes on to raise more objections: “What if they don’t believe me?” And God says “Your staff will turn into a serpent so they will believe”. “I can’t speak well.” And God says, “I’ll help you”. Finally Moses simply resorts to “Please send someone else”, and God, like many a worn-down, fed-up parent who just wants their kid to PLEASE get on with it, finally says “Fine. Your brother can help you.”

And Moses is just one in a long line of people called by God who aren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect. Because to be called by God is to be asked to leave behind what is comfortable and comforting, familiar and safe. And even if our call isn’t quite as dramatic as Moses’s, our first reaction is often to push back – to come up with all the reasons why we can’t change our lives and what we have now is perfectly fine, and we’ll just keep on doing that, thankyouverymuch.

But Change is where God is acting. And Jesus tells us that in fact, we have already lost the lives we think we have. Everyone will perish, one way or another. And just because it happens suddenly, or dramatically, is no commentary on the person’s life any more than your being still alive is any commentary on your own righteousness, he says.

And then Jesus tells this parable which sounds like its all about God striking down the fig tree for failing to bear fruit. This is the kind of passage we’d certainly rather ignore, rather relegate to the backburner under the idea we Christians sometimes have that the God of the Old Testament is the one who gets impatient and angry and punishes people to make an example out of them – as Paul says in his letter – but the God of the new testament, in the person of Jesus, is all gentleness and forgiveness and love.

But this parable, like Jesus overturning the money changers tables and the parable of the sheep and goats, shows us the love of God isn’t gentle and it isn’t at all complacent – the love of God is a love that is sometimes even impatient with our resistance to change, our resistance to growing into the people we are meant to be.

So we can’t ignore these readings, as much as we’d like to. These difficult passages—Jesus’s parable and the letter from Paul— are what I call rather “Lent-ey” in what appears to be their emphasis on punishment – excellent fodder for a “God will strike down sinners” sort of sermon. But before Lent was a period of time to flog ourselves for our unworthiness before going back to eating chocolate or ice cream on a regular basis, Lent was a period of preparation – preparation for becoming a Christian. And I think it’s worth noting in these readings that Moses and the fig tree both need preparation in order to bear fruit. After all, it’s hard to embrace God’s plan for us when we are stressed, overwhelmed with fears and doubts, and not getting what we need. It’s hard to be faithful, as Paul exhorts, when we feel like we are being “tested” and there’s no end in sight.

Last year my business was falling apart – I had to let my employee go. Then my marriage of 17 years ended. On top of that, my church seemed to be falling apart too, with the departure of Brad, Leslie, and Filippa. In every area of my life the status quo wasn’t any more, and everything that kept me comfortable was suddenly changing—all at once.

And to walk through change is to walk like Moses through a wilderness where we don’t know the way, to walk through Lent to the cross. But to walk through change is also to walk, like Moses, on Holy ground—because change is where God is acting. It is the place where we come to rely on God the most, when we are no longer sure of our reliance on ourselves or the world around us.

And it is hard when we are in the midst of walking through the wilderness, walking through the darkness of Lent, walking through times of great change, to see how, as Paul assures us, God will provide what we need. But the amazing thing is that even as we resist change, God is still willing to meet us where we are and give us what we need. Both our Old and New Testament readings show people arguing with God – and despite God’s impatience, God gives Moses exactly the preparation he needs to grow into God’s dreams for him. The fig tree also, is given fertilizer, oxygen around the roots, an environment in which it can blossom into its full potential. God gives us what we need to bear fruit and asks only that we do what we are created to do.

After all, who Moses is, at his core, is a shepherd – and God doesn’t ask him to change that – God asks him to become a shepherd of a people he will lead through the wilderness so that they, too, can become what they have the potential to be – a light to the nations. And the fig tree, too, isn’t asked by God to be an apple tree — it’s asked to bear fruit, to grow into the best fig tree it can be.

Both our old and new testament stories this morning show God calling us to live fully into who God made us to be. The impatient love of God pushes us to stop holding on to the status quo, and get on with it! Get on with becoming who we really are.

And God’s impatience with our love of our nice, stable lives at the expense of God’s dream for us is not like human impatience—when we are impatient we see others as a hindrance to our plans, we get angry with each other. And so we are inclined to view God’s impatience in human terms – inclined to read our readings today with an eye towards how we might be punished if God is having a bad day.

Of course, a certain amount of self-examination to see where we have fallen short and where we can strive to do better is worthwhile. But the crux of what Jesus says is that none of us are worthy. There is nothing we can do, nothing we can say, no amount of trying harder that will ever make us worthy of the love and grace and joy we experience when we become who God means us to be. The idea of being worthy, or unworthy, is missing the point entirely. God doesn’t love us because we are good. God loves us because God is good.

So what if we aren’t the fig tree about to be chopped down for our failure. What if we are all the gardener? What if we are asked during Lent to look at our souls and spend some time watering and fertilizing them, figuring out how to prepare ourselves and nurture each other, so that in the midst of the wilderness of change, we can all bear fruit.

Last Fall I was having one of “those” days. I unplugged the freezer to defrost the 2 inch layer of ice inside and found green goo leaking from the electrical outlet. So I replaced the outlet myself, and I felt accomplished! Then I went to take the kids to birthday party. The garage door wouldn’t open because the spring had snapped. So I opened it manually, moved everything to the other side of the garage so I could park on the side with the working door, and called a repairman. No problem. That evening I discovered the toilet upstairs wouldn’t stop running. And I poured some wine, turned off the water and gave up.

Then I posted this story to Facebook. Within 30 minutes someone from St. Timothy’s sent me a text volunteering to come over and fix my toilet.

This is the kind of tending we do for each other, the small acts of nurturing that create at St. Timothy’s fertile ground for us to bear fruit. It is an undeserved gift, pure and simple.

And when God pushes us through change, prods us to become who are are meant to be, that too is a gift. Not because we deserve or don’t deserve it, or because we have done the right kind or the right amount of pennance, but because we are loved with a fiery, burning-but-not-consuming, impatient kind of love. Our faith is that what God has in store for us beyond the scary times of change and wilderness and walking to the cross is more great and bountiful than we could ever ask for or imagine for ourselves.

Last weekend the Rector Search Committee kicked off the Search process. They will start by creating a parish profile – a snapshot of St. Timothy’s – the good, the bad, the ugly—and a picture of who we want to be – who we are in the process of growing into. We as a congregation have been through a wilderness of change, and we are still walking on that holy ground.

Our call, as individuals and as a church, is to listen very carefully, to discern how to nurture ourselves and each other to be what we are already made to be. And we can raise objections if necessary, absolutely! God is clearly not above a good argument! Ultimately, we are to live as fully as possible into who we are and where we are called to go, knowing that like Moses and the fig tree, God will indeed meet us where we are and give us what we need. Because Change is where God is acting.