Sunday, February 28, 2016

LENT 3 - C


Second Chances… They are wonderful things.

I grew up believing in them. My parents got angry about the things I did, but they always gave me a chance to make up for it. Don’t get me wrong, I never got third chances. But a mistake was just a mistake – and then you try to correct it.

You know, when you think about it this was the message that Jesus began with – that we all have a second chance to get right with God; and it was the message that he in turn had heard from his cousin, John the Baptist. John said it a different way – Repent! But basically to repent is to start over, to turn around, and to choose a different, and better path.

I am not sure if you have heard the story behind Amazing Grace… The author was John Newton, born in London in the summer of 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. Later he was forced into the Navy, then started working on a slave ship, and finally he became captain of his own ship.

Newton had given up religion as a child – but on one homeward journey, while attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm he had what we might call a “come to Jesus movement.” And gave it all up to become an Anglican Priest.

For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, and later he would write the hymn which for him was all about the second chance he was given.


Luke 13:1–9
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were guiltier than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”


Ask the children to pretend that they have been given the important job of looking after a fruit tree. It could be an apple tree, a peach tree, or a pear tree—something that is appropriate for your climate and area. Ask the children how they would look after the tree. Ask them if they think it would produce fruit if they ignored it and didn’t provide any water or care. Explain that God looks after the people of the world, including the children, just as a good gardener looks after a fruit tree. God provides people to care for the children and supports in the community, such as churches and schools, so that the children can be productive members of society and produce fruit in the community.

Isaiah 55:1–9

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.


   Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the silk
of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says 
as much as
you can
help me

so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
wasps sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sunbaked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe
never again.


When I was growing up it seemed to me that my life was set out in front of me. At least, when I got to Jr High and High School. My father wanted me to be a doctor. He wanted me to go to Acadia where he went to school, where my grandparents had gone to school, where most of my aunts, uncles, and eventually my brothers went to school.
I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be different. And I ran… I went to Mt Allison intending to study art but getting lost in religion and political philosophy. I left Sackville and headed to Montreal in an attempt to get even further away from my family. Boy, did I ever think I knew it all.

If I could just be different from them. If I could just define myself somehow as not Baptist, as not a New Brunswicker, as not the “good obedient son.” And I did. I did that in spades. I was a rebellious teenager who was never far from trouble, I hung out on the streets of Montreal and idled away time and money and reputation…

I got in trouble with the law, lost friends, and went years without seeing my family.

Someday I will work the rest of my life into the sermons you hear. I think it is a pretty interesting story. But my point here is just to point out how far I veered from the plans of my family, and for that matter, from the gifts that I was probably intended to use by God.

I spent a lot of my life on the wrong path.

Now – your life may not have seemed so dramatic as this – or perhaps it is even more dramatic. I have a friend who is a minister in Ontario who actually joined the US Navy to get away from his parents and his past…

But we all do it. In some way we set out to find ourselves, we set out to be different from our parents. We set out to be original… And I would wager that all of us have made mistakes along the way.

But – here is the thing – no matter how far off of the route we are, God provides on ramps…

This is what struck me in the meandering poem I read to you… Here is this guy wandering through the city lost in his own thoughts, feeling negative about everything when all of a sudden he sees a fig tree, and he eats some figs, and so do others, and all of a sudden he remembers not only that life is good, but that he is not alone.

Give it a second chance, says the gardener, and I bet it will grow. We just need to be reminded that the second chance is out there. Perhaps it is as easy as seeing a fig tree where we didn’t expect it.


Some 4000 years ago the prophet Isaiah spoke to a bunch of people who had lost hope – have nothing to drink? He said, come and drink with me. Are you hungry? God has provided milk and honey. Leave behind your wicked ways and turn to God and you will be welcomed…

There is always a second chance.
This is another truth of Lent that we need to wrap our heads around – no matter how far gone and no matter what we think we have done, no matter if we think we are too young, too old, too stubborn or too weak, there is a second chance.

No one has sinned too much – no one is so far gone that they are not loved by God.

But we have to take the time to work the soil, to add a little water, to accept that love and start once more to bear fruit. That is the journey of Lent.

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