Homily – 3rd Sunday of Lent

Just back from a rather vigorous trip to Chile, visiting Santiago, Valparaiso, and our ultimate destination of Easter Island, which took us into the culture of the Rapa Nui people and their ideas of the spiritual expressed through the outstanding creations of the Moai statues; I opted for parts of a homily from three years ago today—but be looking for more about our Chilean experience in later homilies!

All of our readings today show us a different face of God and together they leave God rather mysterious, not unlike the Moaian statues on Easter Island.   The Catechism of the Catholic church overtime has described God as all-knowing, all-loving, and all-present.  Moses’ encounter with God can only be said to be awesome—from the burning bush that couldn’t be explained, to the strange name, “I Am Who I Am,” that God used.  Clearly, God wanted to get Moses’ attention!

Exegetes can’t agree on what this name means.  They do agree that it is a Hebrew form of the verb “to be.” But whether it means, “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be,” they can’t agree.  So, is God claiming to be the source of all that is, or is God saying something about the future?  It could be God’s way of telling us that as hard as we try, we can never fully understand who God is.  This is a God who lets us see, but doesn’t let us see all.   Fr. Richard Rohr, in his book, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality,  seems to be saying that it is us humans who make God mysterious when all God really wants is for each of us to know that we are loved.

Rohr compares it to when we first fall in love.  The one loving us delights in us, enjoys us and when we are looked on with love, he says,  we feel like our very best selves. And as we are reflected in the eyes of the lover—we can do anything and this is exciting!    God looks on each of us with love and calls us to love in return—to live our lives in a way that understands that to be loved means that we will love in return—first God and then others. Meister Eckhart, a 13th Century German theologian says it like this, “The eyes with which you will look back at God will be the same eyes with which God first looked at you.”  To me, this sounds like a God who is very involved with us!

And, as wonderful as this seems; we humans often want to make it harder and more complex than God intended.  Maybe we can’t handle being loved in this way, so we keep God’s love for us on our own terms—more abstract, less involved. Rohr says, “We will always resist relational, practical truth in favor of abstractions”—and I believe this truth has been played out in our Churches over time.  A God of our own making allows for more control over our lives.  When we return God’s gaze of love as did Jesus, our actions toward the rest of humanity are clear—we must move in love toward all, and here it can get uncomfortable, and even, messy, at times.

Just as the first reading from Exodus is confusing, the Gospel account from Luke is as well.  It relates the story of the Galileans killed by Pilate and the people who were crushed by the wall.  This basically illustrates for us that we can’t understand why God allows bad things to happen to us—a question humankind has struggled with ever since the first covenant between God and people was made.

The one thing we do learn in this Gospel is that our loving God will always show us mercy as related in the beautiful story of the fig tree.  The owner is willing to give up on the tree—on us, whereas the vinedresser—God, wants the tree, wants us, to have a second chance.

Blessed John Duns Scotus, a 14th Century Franciscan believed that our God is about one thing and one thing only—love.  He proclaimed, unlike our Church Universal today—in its more conservative branches, and especially during this holy season of Lent that God’s purpose was to have an intimate relationship with humanity, not the traditional belief that Jesus came to die on the cross so as to save us from our sins.

Scottish scholar, Sister Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ states clearly, “The Incarnation was not plan B (because something went wrong in the garden)—it was always plan A”—God became one of us out of love, to show us in no uncertain terms, how to live and how to love.

For each of us, our journey through life is a process; coming to understand this mystery of how much God loves us. Few of us get to have a “burning bush” experience in our life-times like Moses did—something that seals in our hearts and minds that God is above, around, and within, and will not let anything happen to us. We have all struggled with the “whys” in life—why horrible and sad things happen to people, like the cyclone in Africa, starvation, drug overdoses, people who are not wanted or not considered by some, good enough, due to how our God happened to have made them; female, gay, trans, black. Much in the news today gives us reason to ponder and wonder why seemingly innocent people are made to suffer.

Sometimes we realize that tragedies happen due to people’s choices. But at other times, the ravages of nature can devastate, gun violence, due to the easy availability of these weapons in our society, leave us reeling. Our hope is that we as a world, as a nation, can do what we must to make it possible for everyone to eat,  to make our people safer going forward, taking the necessary steps on common sense gun safety measures as New Zealand did so decisively this last week.  If we truly are about protecting the children and all others, perhaps we need to, as a nation, give up the weapons, or at least reduce the amount that make the slaughter of the innocents all too common, all too easy.

The same can be said of clergy sex abuse in our Church.  We must as a Church be willing to do whatever it takes to stop this abuse and we must demand this of our so-called leaders.  Francis is a step in the right direction with admitting at least that the problem lies within the clerical cult.  We need to pray for him that the Spirit guiding him can break through so that he can see the real truth, and begin to dismantle the clerical structure that makes abuse of every kind possible.

Today, we are comforted in the story of the fig tree as it reminds us to always remember that our loving God is a God of mercy, who will be there to stand with us in our pain, to give us a second chance, when needed.

Many of us grew up with the message that God sent Jesus, our brother to die for our sins and Lent was a time to dwell on that notion. It wasn’t something we questioned as children and grew into adulthood believing.  In a black and white world such theology can, for a time, be acceptable, but when placed alongside the “gray” of what life brings, it often falls short. Ministers over time have tried to give consolation to parents who have lost a child with the fact that God understands their loss because of Jesus’ death.  That old theology said God sent or chose to have Jesus die whereas the grieving parents didn’t choose to lose their child, so there is a disconnect.

We have to remember God’s words to Moses about who God is:  “I am who I am” and not try to mold God into someone we can understand.  Perhaps reading God’s words and seeing the very best offered there should be our task. Our human experience is about “being on holy ground,” about seeing God’s continual mercy—about always giving us another chance to make good with our lives.

Paul’s reading today from Corinthians, basically relates the story of how God through Moses saved the people from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land.  But this people forgot time and again their promises to God and felt they were invincible—that they could live as they wished.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that God in Jesus asks that they live and act with justice, mercy and love toward all, just as Jesus showed them, shows us, the way.

The God whom we hopefully all believe in is one of love who wants a loving relationship with us, and thus sent us our brother Jesus, to help us to truly understand. Yes, Jesus did die, but it was a direct result of how he had lived—not because of our sin. I believe a theology such as this makes sense to all of us and then allows God to bring comfort to a grieving parent whose love relationship with their child ended in tragedy, or simply too soon. And just as God cried when Jesus died, God, who is all about love, cries with us in our suffering—rejoices with us in our happiness.  We have a very relational God, my friends, a fact that we shouldn’t often forget!

The psalmist’s prayer today can truly be ours in hard times, “our God is truly kind and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in gracious ways.”   As we live our lives, I think it behooves us to have eyes and ears open to see the interventions God makes through parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbors—God is always there—we just have to have eyes to see and recognize. I think of the examples in my family’s lives—walking through cancer, loss of an expected baby, the loss of family members—times when we stood as a family, sharing the tears, giving the support—God was there as we shared our love and concern.  And I know it was so with each of you in your life’s journey. We must remember as in our first reading today, what God told Moses—he was standing on holy ground. We must realize the chances we have daily to share God’s love, God’s desire to be one with us in the encounters of each day.  We too are standing on holy ground!

So, if we are waiting for one “burning bush” experience; we may miss the gracious appearance of our loving God in all we meet and touch each and every day.  May the ordinary, seen through new eyes, become then, “burning bush” experiences for each of us!  Amen? Amen!