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27th Sunday – Year C

Late one afternoon

archaeologist Gene Savoy and his companion

became lost in a jungle in Peru.

 

A sickening feeling came over them.

They Knew

that if they did not reach camp by sundown,

they would never reach it alive.

 

They began to run about feverishly,

searching for the trail

that brought them into the jungle.

 

Suddenly they realized

that this feverish running

was only making matters worse.

Then they stopped and stood perfectly still.

 

As they did,

a thought passed through Gene’s mind.

 

God is in the jungle; it is God’s house.

 

 

When Gene was a boy in Oregon,

his parents had taught him that God

created the universe,

sustains it

and lives in it.

 

Instantly,

Gene relaxed and put all his faith in God.

He said later,

“I looked up into the beautiful world

of wild orchids, and fragrant blossoms

where hummingbirds hovered.

Yes, God was here, too. My heart quieted.”

 

Then, as I stood and stared,

something within me seemed to say:

“Walk a few paces to the left.

As I did, there was a tiny trail!”

 

Gene said later,

“I am proud of all of my discoveries.

But my greatest discovery, I believe,

was in recognizing God’s presence everywhere.”

 

That story fits beautifully

with today’s Scripture readings.

First, It illustrates the prophet Habakkuk’s words

in the first reading, when he says,

“The just man, because of his faith

shall live.”

 

And second, it illustrates

Jesus’ words in the gospel reading,

when he says,

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,

you would say to this mulberry tree,

‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’

and it would obey you.”

 

This brings us to an important point

about faith.

It’s a point we tend to forget –

one that can cause unnecessary worry.

The point is this:

 

Even the strongest faith in God

tends to go in and out of focus.

What is clear to us one day

becomes cloudy the next.

 

Like the sun,

our faith sometimes hides behind a cloud

and disappears for a while.

We’ve all experienced this in our lives.

How do we explain it?

 

These times of darkness are usually caused

by one of three things:

human nature, ourselves, or God.

 

First,

they may be caused by our human nature,

which has “highs” and “lows.”

 

In other words, our faith simply reflects

the natural mood swings of everyday life.

 

Commenting on these swings,

one writer says:

 

“On one day, life is beautiful. . .

we appreciate everything and everyone. . .

on such a day it is difficult to know

why we ever thought life was difficult.

 

 

On another day, however, nothing is right. . .

it is a time

when we count more enemies than we have

and find fault with every friend.

 

On such a day, it is difficult to know

why we ever thought life was easy.”

 

Our faith is like that.

This simply goes with the territory of being human.

 

Second, the periods of darkness of faith

may be caused by ourselves.

We can bring them on by neglecting our faith.

That is,

we can let our faith grow weak from sin

or from lack of spiritual nourishment.

 

In other words,

just as our body grows weak from abuse

or lack of physical nourishment,

so our soul grows weak from sin

or spiritual nourishment.

 

Third and finally,

these periods of darkness may be caused by God.

That is,

God allows them to happen

in order to strengthen and deepen our faith.

 

God uses them to help us to mature in our faith,

just as God helped Abraham mature in his faith.

Abraham was thrown into darkness

when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-12)

 

Regardless of the cause

of these periods of darkness,

the agony they can produce is great.

 

In his novel The Devil’s Advocate,

Morris West describes the agony of a person

experiencing a long period of faith darkness.

The person says:

 

“I groped for God and could not find God.

I prayed to God. . .and God did not answer.

I wept at night for the loss of God. . .

Then one day, God was there again. . .

I had a parent. . .God knew me. . .

I had never understood till this moment

the meaning of the words ‘gift of faith,’ ”

 

And so we come back to our original point.

At times in our lives,

our faith seems to go behind a cloud

for a while.

This creates a period of faith darkness.

 

Sometimes this is simply a reflection

of our human mood swings.

Sometimes it is caused by a neglect of faith:

either though sin

or a lack of spiritual nourishment.

 

And sometimes it may be allowed by God,

in the sense that he uses it

to strengthen and deepen our faith.

 

Jesus teaches us that faith starts with humility.

The beginning of true faith

is accepting that Jesus is the creative Word of God,

Who brought everything out of nothing.                                          

 

As we seek to strengthen our faith,

it would be wise to do everything out of our love of God.

Learning to know, love and serve God better,

may seem to have no immediate reward,

except peace in our hearts

and the knowledge that though trusting in him

we will be granted a share in his everlasting glory.

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Lent 3 – year C

 A Dallas city newspaper

carried a photo of some prisoners

on a work release program.

 

They were restoring a condemned house

on the city’s west side.

Several days later

one of the prisoners wrote to the editor,

saying:

 

“Thank you for the coverage . . .

the last time my name and picture

appeared in the paper,

was the day I was sentenced . . .

so it was a real joy

to see my picture in your paper

doing something good.

 

“When I entered prison 18 months ago,

I was a lot like the house we just remodelled . . .

but God took charge of my life

and has made me a new creation in Christ.”

 

We could hardly find a better illustration

of the point Jesus is making in today’s gospel.

 

The first half of the gospel

tells about two groups of people who are killed

by recent tragedies in Jerusalem.

Jesus ends his reference to these tragedies

by saying to his hearers,

“If you do not repent,

you will perish as they did!”

 

The second half of the gospel

tells about a fig tree

that was planted inside a vineyard.

A vineyard was an ideal place

for fig trees to grow.

If a fig tree couldn’t grow there,

it couldn’t grow anywhere.

 

A fig tree takes three years to mature.

If it doesn’t bear fruit in that time,

it probably won’t bear it at all.

 

This explains why the owner of the vineyard

instructed his gardener to cut the tree down.

 

And so it is remarkable

that instead of cutting the tree down,

the gardener begs the owner

to give it a second chance.

“Leave it this year also,

and I shall cultivate the ground around it

and fertilize it,” he says.

 

Jesus intended his parables

for two groups of people.

 

First, Jesus meant them for the instruction

of the people of his time.

Second, he meant them for the instruction

of people of all times.

 

The group of people

for whom Jesus told today’s parable

is, of course, the people of Israel.

Jesus tells them

that God gave them a choice place in his plan

and took special care of them.

but they didn’t bear fruit.

 

 

 

Jesus tells them further

that in spite of their failure,

God will be patient with them a little longer.

He will give them a second chance,

like the fig tree.

 

The wider group of people

for whom Jesus told this parable

includes all of us here today.

 

Jesus’ parable also applies to us.

We are like Israel.

God has given us a choice place in his plan,

and he has taken special care of us.

God expects us to bear fruit.

If we don’t, the, like Israel,

God will give us an opportunity

to repent.

If we don’t repent,

then, like Israel, we will perish.

 

This brings us back to our opening story.

Both the prisoner and the house

illustrate the point of Jesus’ parable.

Both were given a second chance.

 

The house was condemned by the city.

It was scheduled to be torn down.

But someone persuaded the officials

to give it a second chance.

 

“Let the prisoners work on it,” they said.

“If they can make it a useful property again,

then we won’t tear it down.”

 

The prisoner himself was also condemned.

He was considered unfit for society.

He was put behind bars.

 

Although society gave up on him, Jesus didn’t.

Jesus gave him a second chance.

Like the gardener in today’s gospel,

Jesus watered and cared for his spirit.

The man responded and became a new creation.

 

All of us can relate to that story.

At one point in our lives,

many of us here were like the fig tree,

the house and the prisoner.

 

We too were in danger

of being rejected as useless.

But in his mercy God took pity on us.

Like the house, the prisoner and the fig tree

we were given another chance.

 

Today’s gospel then,

calls forth from us a deep gratitude to God

for the second chance he has given us.

It also calls forth a deep determination

to make the most of our second chance.

 

And so we say to Jesus,

“Thank you, Lord Jesus, for our second chance.

Help us to make the most of it.

Help us carry out your plan for us.

Help us do this especially

during these remaining weeks of Lent.”

 

Let’s close with a poem.

It’s about an old violin which, like us,

was given a second chance.

It’s yet another image of your story

and my story and God’s love for us.

 

You may have heard it. The author is unknown.

I hope it will move you to celebrate today’s Eucharist

with more than ordinary gratitude and love.

 

THE VIOLIN:

 

“It was battered and scarred and the auctioneer

thought it scarcely worth his while

to waste much time on the old violin.

but he held it up with a smile.

 

“ ‘What am I bid good folks?’ he cried.

‘Who’ll start the bidding for me?

A dollar, a dollar, then two, only two?

Two dollars and who’ll make it three?

 

“ ‘Three dollars once, and three dollars twice,

 and going for three, but no!’

From the room far back a gray-haired man

came forward and picked up the bow.

And wiping the dust from the old violin

and tightening the loosened strings

he played a melody pure and sweet,

sweet as an angel sings.

 

“The music ceased and the auctioneer

in a voice that was quiet and low

said, ‘What am I bid for the old violin?’

and he held it up with the bow.

‘A thousand dollars who’ll make it two?

Two thousand and who’ll make it three?

Three thousand once, three thousand twice

and going and gone!’ said he.

 

“The people cheered but some of them cried,

‘We don’t quite understand

what changed it’s worth?’ Quick came the reply:

‘The touch of the master’s hand.’

And many a man with life out of tune

and battered and scarred with sin

is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

much like the old violin.

 

“A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,

A game and he travels on.

He’s going once, going twice,

He’s going and almost gone.

 

But the Master comes and the foolish crowd

never can quite understand

the worth of the soul and the change

that’s wrought

by the touch of the Master’s hand.”

 

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