March 24, 2019
Annunciation of Our Lady
(Third Sunday in Lent)
(1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9)
Today I have chosen to celebrate the Annunciation of Our Lady liturgically but using the readings and the sermon for the third Sunday in Lent. The Annunciation is not a holy day of obligation; however, I like honoring Mary when appropriate.
In the late summer of 2012 the Mars rover named "Curiosity" landed on the surface of the red planet. It took just seven minutes for the rover to enter the atmosphere and touch down successfully -- less time than a ride on Splash Mountain at Disneyland.
While the world tuned in and took notice of this amazing feat, many overlooked the fact that it was a long time coming -- a very long time in fact. NASA engineers spent roughly 8½ months simply waiting.
They had no choice. There was nothing they could do. They had to wait for more than eight months for Curiosity to travel the millions of miles between this planet and Mars. In that time there was certainly much work to be done, much monitoring of progress and planning for landing that took place. However, the primary task of every NASA engineer involved in the project was simply this: to wait, to wait and hope that every dollar spent building it and the dreams of epic Martian discoveries hinging on it would not be lost. And in this day and age, 8½ months is a long time to wait. However, the wait was worth it, because even today this rover is still studying the surface of Mars, sending back scientific information of the planet.
You could argue that waiting is a lost art in today's world and that as an art form, waiting is an experience best understood by the expectant mother. However, you can bet that if anyone finds a way to safely speed up even that process, many in this world would pay top dollar for it.
We're all part and party to an impatient, "now" culture. It's a culture that can't fathom living in the days when sending a letter from the East Coast to the West Coast took several months, and the Pony Express, which guaranteed delivery from St. Louis to Sacramento in 10 days or less, was the closest equivalent to text messaging.
We want the laptop that boots the fastest -- 20 seconds is too long -- and the ER whose wait is the shortest. Even drive-thru fast-food is too slow for many.
We're a people who increasingly expect -- and downright demand -- a world without waiting, which can make being a follower of Jesus Christ incredibly frustrating.
The longer you're a part of God's family, the more you begin to realize that God is not beholden to our obsession with efficiency or competition with others to improve turnaround. Our Father who art in heaven, whose name we hallow, and to whom we belong and by whom we are beloved through Jesus Christ his Son, is not troubled with things taking time. His time is not our time, we often hear.
This is especially true, and most vividly illustrated, in how God chooses to deal with sinful, broken people. You know, the sister-in-law who you wish would get her act together today, the daughter who you wish respected you now or the unbelieving spouse who you wish were with you this morning, the friend who betrayed you who you wish would see your hurt. You've been praying for them, working on them, being patient with them, and you just wish something would change with them. Truth-be-told, you're angry that God hasn't finally "landed the rover" with them. Ever felt that way?
That's why today's gospel reading is so important. Jesus is in the middle of a riff on repentance, in particular the importance of Israel, God's people, recognizing their need for a savior lest they experience the judgment of God. In doing so he relays a parable about an unfruitful fig tree, a tree that in the estimation of its owner has been given more than enough time. But rather than cut it down, Jesus tells us of a gracious vinedresser who intercedes for the tree saying, "Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it."
It may seem insignificant but this one sentence from Jesus is an essential reminder to how God does his most important, yet often painfully slow, work of changing lives. When examining these words, most people immediately jump to the verbs, to the action. The vinedresser (Jesus) wants to dig and fertilize. In relational terms we could think of this as the essential components of truth and love. To bring about change, God tills the soil of our hearts and minds with his truth -- ripping out the weeds of lies and the old roots of sin and making way for good things to be planted. He then adds in the fertilizer, or in real terms love, the truth of the gospel and the promise of his unrelenting compassion in Christ, which serves to enrich our soil, begins to take root and spurs on new growth. Life change takes truth and love.
But do not neglect what the vinedresser says first. "Leave it for this year also." There is a third component to life change. It doesn't only take truth. It doesn't only take love. It takes time. Truth, love, and time. A lot of time. Think about it; tilling soil around a single tree doesn't take forever. Adding fertilizer could be done in a day. Yet the vinedresser asks for an entire year for new growth to occur. Clearly this is an essential, irreplaceable part of the process.
This means that as members of God's family, we must not only learn how to wield his truth and comfort with the gospel, but we must be among the few who practice and perfect the lost art of waiting. We must wait so that the trees -- the people we love -- do not get cut down too soon or abandoned early. We must learn to wait so that this world can be as fruitful and as beautiful with the work of our good God as possible.
While waiting might not be an easy aspect of discipleship to live out in this day and age, the good news is that God's word is packed with insights and encouragement on how one can faithfully wait on God's work. First, we must wait with the golden rule in mind. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus tells us this: "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." We must constantly keep in mind not simply the level of patience God's requiring us to have with others as he does his work, but first and foremost the level of patience God has had with us as he's done his work. We're each beneficiaries of God's incredible patience and are quick to ask for more as we slip and stumble in this world. When we're tempted to rail that God is taking too long to fix others, let us remember how long he has worked on us and aim to afford them the same luxury.
Second, we must wait also with God's goodness in mind. It's tempting to think that what we're waiting on God to accomplish is the most pressing of issues, with no understanding of a how a truly good God could fail to grant it or tarry one minute. But to do so is to downplay the truly countless number of blessings -- each of which is undeserved and an act of utter mercy -- God has already afforded us, and continues to give without hesitation.
There is an old Jewish proverb that suggests every believer should carry two pieces of paper on him at all times -- one in each pocket. The one in the left should say, "I am dust and ashes." And the one in the right should read, "For me the world was created."
The goal of one is to keep us grounded, to remind us that the trouble we're facing is light in comparison to most, and that we might not be as important and deserving of immediacy as we think we are.
The other is to remind us that at the very same time God has given us all of creation to enjoy and all the blessings it bears. We are loved, we are valued, and we -- believe it or not -- aren't forgotten. "For you the world was created." Maybe an even more appropriate one now would be, "For me Christ died." We are dust, but we are already immensely, immeasurably blessed, no matter how long what we're waiting for takes to come through.
Lastly, we must wait with an end in mind. Notice the vinedresser asked for a year, but he didn't demand forever. Jesus' point in the parable was that eventually time would run out for the unfruitful trees, the unrepentant Israel, and God would prune them -- judge them -- accordingly. We must wait knowing that we will not sit with our noses to the screens waiting forever for the rover to land. Eventually something will happen. God will act, either in ways that make us cheer or in ways that make us wonder, but always in ways that are ultimately, according to his mysterious sovereignty, good. We will not wait forever.
This truth can also be instructive and freeing for us as God's people, seeking to know how long we should hold in a particular situation. We must feel free to set boundaries as we love people and wait for them to grow and change. Yes, we must extend them the luxuries of truth, grace and time, well beyond our initial impulses to throw in the towel. But we cannot wait forever. At some point it's okay to wish them well, pray for their change, but shake the dust off our feet and move forward. In fact, many times simply knowing that you have the freedom to move on from a situation gives you the strength to keep going in that situation.
Waiting is inevitable. Sure, we boot our computers and share our data faster. But babies still take nine months, Mars is still 350 million miles away, and God is still giving broken people bountiful amounts of truth, love and time. For everything that comes to pass right now there is something else that remains a "not yet." Our existence on this planet is one of waiting. This means if you haven't learned to wait, you haven't learned how to live.
May we be a people who afford others the same luxuries and patience we've received from the Lord. May we hold on to his goodness while we bemoan his seeming tardiness. May we trust that though we tap our toes impatiently, eventually a good and gracious end will come. Until then we wait.
Let us pray.
In today’s gospel, with the parable of the fig tree, Jesus reminds us that we too will be called to account for the fruits we produce in our lives. We pray for the grace and commitment to have a greater love and dedication to our communities, our families and our church. We pray to the Lord.
For the Church, that we may be faithful to the mission of Jesus, living out the gospel and bearing fruit in the world. We pray to the Lord.
For national leaders, that they may cultivate a spirit of kindness and compassion among their people and lead by their example. We pray to the Lord.
For those who make their living off the land, that the seeds they plant this spring may bear fruit sufficient to feed all who hunger. We pray to the Lord.
For immigrants, refugees, and migrants, that they may be kept safe and healthy as they struggle to find a home. We pray to the Lord.
When confronted with someone with whom we disagree and/or want to help change, that we remember that we must plant the seeds and allow the person to grow in their time and God’s time. We pray to the Lord.
For Sydney Aiello who had been close friends with Meadow Pollack, one of the victims of the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, and graduated last year. She had been suffering from survivors’ guilt and PTSD. She took her life over the weekend. May she rest in peace and repose for all eternity. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Lord, our God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of all generations, have mercy on us in our sinfulness and hear the prayers we make today. Walk with us, we pray, O Lord, as we make this Lenten pilgrimage. May we open our hearts to more truth and be more generous with love, always knowing that your time is not ours and that we all fail in some way and thus should always be empathetic to those different from us and our expectations. Most merciful Father, you have manifested your love for us through Christ who died for us. Let us remain faithful to that love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA