Rev. Karen Bowles, third Sunday in Lent, 1 Kings 19:1-13, Luke 13:6-9
What are you doing here Elijah? On the run. In a cave. 40 days and 40 nights out in the wilderness. Your King Ahab has married Jezebel – she comes from a people that worship the god Ba’al. You became enraged at your people turning from the true faith breaking the covenant and on Mount Horeb you killed the prophets of Baal – some 40 of them. You were some mad. Having done what you thought was God’s will – killing the prophets of the god Ba’al – you made yourself one who exacts vengeance on behalf of Jahweh. What are you doing, Elijah? You decide for Yahweh do you Elijah? – who will live and who will die. And you know what you have done – you even say “It is enough – take my life for I am no better than my ancestors.” Sober second thought follows hot on the heels of red hot righteous anger.
And in a cave all alone you go out and stand on the mountain for the Lord is about to pass by -and we hear these words not of image or of idol – not of signs or portents – not of tsunamis or earthquake’s as signals of God’s favour or displeasure: ‘There was a great wind so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord but the Lord was not in the wind and after the wind an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake and after the earthquake a fire but the Lord was not in the fire and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.’
The sound of sheer silence.
Is not this book, this Bible remarkable? – I have read it much and studied it much but it still never fails to make me stop in wonder. To feel for a moment a connection with these people of long ago – with the writer of long ago – this writer who could have set down the story of Elijah – the story of the deaths – the triumph of the ’right’ side – and written a victorious righteous piece – for all history is written by the victors. But whoever it was – he did not – he wrote a piece that begs for more – he wrote a piece that is so existential – Albert Camus would be envious – he wrote a piece that plunks us, each one of us, right there on that mountain and the mouth of the cave – a piece that is successively gut wrenching in its honesty, hopeful making in its profundity and compassionate making in the anguish of its unclear answer to the question: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah’ met with the answer, that is seemingly no answer at all: the sound of sheer silence.
And it is a great responsibility and a equally great privilege to have stood with you and before you exploring the answer to that mother of all questions.
I want this morning to one last time and share where I stand today on that question. I come to this answer informed by the writings I have ingested, by the stances I have rejected, by the joy and despair I have witnessed and shared with you in our time together.
Here is where I stand: You are here to meet your Maker. We are here to meet our Maker.
And so in the silence – Open your eyes and take a gander at the world. Take a long look at this earth: at the crocus pushing itself up once again in the hint of spring in the garden, in the uncovering of the earth warming again in the garden, at the pearl being slowly made in the oyster, at the frog, at the whale, at the reef, at the plankton, at the oak tree, and at the acorn – at the flower and the bindweed – at the tundra and the desert, at the plains and the swamp at the wolf and the deer and the bear and the fly, common and fruit – and remember how wonder full this is. LOOK – Open your eyes. Having looked and wondered – look again and wonder why is it all here? Why is this abundance and complexity and beauty here?
First, to recognize your Maker. And this a recognition that moves us humans from the centre of all things to part of all that is. From the arrogance of the master to the humility of the integral part. Jesus said love one another as yourself. We are literally part of the whole.
And part of what I have learned is that becoming an atheist is not the answer — rejecting God is not the answer. Opening our minds as a canvas to what it is we know and continue to uncover, this is the wonder of recognizing our Maker— the earth on its axis propelling once a day like a revolving door. If you are fifty three you have gone around the sun thirty billion miles – each year an anniversary of 574,380,400 miles (with apologies to the metric system). If you are eighty four you have travelled almost fifty billion, with gravity deceiving us into thinking that the sky is moving and we are standing still. We are all in that sense space travellers. There are 20,000 genes in the human genome – rice has an astonishing 38,000 genes. We have 48 chromosomes – the potato 46. Every 7 years our body completely regenerates its cells – think about that – the cells you were born with – are completely replaced every 7 years. There are posited to be 100 billion galaxies in the universe – we can see 3,000 with the Hubble telescope. We are drinking the same water the dinosaurs drank. In one year, the average tree gives off enough oxygen to allow four people to breathe for a year. You breathe 6 litres of air per minute. It takes a plastic container 50000 years to start decomposing. The speed of light is a mind boggling 670,610,000 miles per hour. Bacteria, the tiniest free-living cells, are so small that a single drop of liquid contains as many as 50 million of them. One tree can filter up to 27 kg of pollutants from the air each year. There are 62,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body – laid end to end they would circle the earth 2.5 times. Butterflies taste with their hind feet. Mind boggling, isn’t it? And yet Thomas Edison, one of the world’s best minds – said we only know 1/10 of 1/millionth of any thing. And in the knowledge uncovered even since Edison, in the work of the scientists and the bioligists and all the ‘ists’, we come to recognize our Maker.
Second we are here to meet our Maker. And meeting our Maker happens also on a whole other level and understanding. I have recently taken a course required of me for my move to Metropolitan United and one of the descriptions of ministry was the need to be able to take a balcony view of the people we serve. To see the connections that can be made, the teaching needed to be done based on the observations taken from the balcony eye view. What I see from the balcony view in this place turns this on it’s head back on the one in the balcony. The connections you have made that need making, the teachings you have taught that need teaching, moving through living and dying and laughing and crying, holding on and out to one another – you have show me my Maker. Even in trouble there is beauty and even in despair there is hope. You have shown me what it is to meet my Maker.
And this takes us to the second reading for this morning – from one of Jesus parables taken from Luke chapter 13 verses 6 to 9
13:6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.
13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
We read from these two testaments, the Hebrew and the Christian testament, these two compilations of writings, each week to wrestle insights, to gain understandings, to find strength and hope for this journey, for guidance on how to live. I say this and I say this without equivocation, they are not to be read and applied literally where they do not provide insight or understanding or strength or hope or guidance that negate or take away from our ability to meet our Maker. If Jesus were in the balcony, he would nod as I say this to you.
There are those today who would interpret the passage Gail and I read from Elijah’s journey as providing justification for the killing of others in the name of God or another misguided interpretation. We have seen this hatred recently in the news and too often. This is not valid. And there are those who would interpret this parable from Luke as judgement on those who do not live up to the rules laid down by those who say they speak on behalf of the Maker, based not on Jesus teachings but on fear and small mindedness. This perverts and stunts and is Maker denying. If there is one thing I have learned in my time among you it is that this congregation, this community, can and does know how to think, to wrestle, to come to its own conclusions. May this wrestling, this discernment, continue.
And so I come to the part where I channel my father, where I put as the reading says; ‘manure on it.’ When we were young, Dad would insist on rolling down the windows as we came to farms being readied for planting for spring, great machines spreading manure on the fields and encourage us, ignoring our protestations to ‘breathe deeply, it will put hair on your chests!’ My sisters and I will confirm this did not work.
Jesus in this parable is not teaching of exclusion or judgement – he is speaking of what he always teaches – resting in the Maker – finding fertile ground. To Jesus, it was as plain as the nose on his face. Nothing bears fruit without tending. Every thing tended will bear fruit. It is really simple as all of Jesus teachings. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our addictions and our denials as never able to bear fruit, never allowing us to rest. And if we are not there for one another, there is really no point in being. We may not understand another or even like another’s creed or point of view but nothing will change if we do not at least recognize the Maker in every thing and work to tend where we would prefer to cut down. Third, we are made to rest in the Maker and that knowledge makes our work less burdensome and indeed, righteous.
Jesus did not set out to make a religion. Jesus asked us to embark on a way of being that was simple, non-violent, shared and loving. We made that way of being into an established religion and avoided changing our way of being. We allowed war, greed, racism, selfishness and vanity in most of Christian history, justified we thought, as long as we claimed Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour. The world has no time for such duplicitous anymore.
My heartfelt wish as I leave you is that you continue to affirm Jesus as the one who makes us whole – allows us to meet our Maker with whoops of recognition – and that this be a place replete with fertilizer, where seeds become shoots and shoots become plants and at the risk of tortured metaphors – where meeting the Maker is as everyday as winter turning over to spring – where meeting the Maker is seen in prayers prayed and hands held – where meeting the Maker is intelligence provoked – by both EQ and IQ – in teaching and in action – where resting in the Maker is assured in the pregnant spirit filled silences in our lives and at our deaths.
So on we go. Recognizing, meeting and resting in our Maker wherever this journey of our lives may take us. Where science and religion once again become one – where we meet our Maker.
It has been a blessing.
And so we come to extinguish another candle in this journey of Lent through this 40 days – grateful for the company of one another and willing to let go of that which does not bear fruit, in the confident expectation of meeting our Maker in the gift of our lives now and in all that is to come.