Tumbling in the Sand
Tragedies are (as what we name of them states) Tragic. Sad. Shocking. Horrifying. Disorienting
And those of us who find ourselves living on the other side of a tragedy
are left first of all to grieve the lives of those lost
And perhaps that is where we should stop.
We should grieve their lives, show each other support and love
And pick up and live—live as fully and wholly as we can.
Recognizing that death and life interweave with each other more than we think
and that every death makes life that much more precious to live.
The thing is, we don’t stop there.
We start to pick apart the tragedy and we want to know the why of it.
Why did this happen?
Why did this happen to those people in particular?
And, I will grant that there is something to asking “Why?”
Sometimes, it can help prevent further tragedy when something fixable is identified and changed.
But, you know, most of the time we don’t ask why to fix anything. We ask why because a tragedy blows our understanding of the way the world works out of the water and we want to restore order.
We think in this world that what you do is what you get.
When you work hard, you do well, your life has meaning, you are important. Life goes great.
When you don’t work hard, you do poorly, your life is meaningless. You are meaningless. Life goes bad.
And with this kind of thinking … when we encounter a tragedy we start to wonder what the victims did to deserve their fate.
But, here’s the thing:
(and this is what Jesus is telling the people in our gospel reading this morning)
—the victims did nothing to deserve their fate.
They didn’t deserve their fate.
Tragedy just happens.
And who survives and who doesn’t is not a matter of reward or punishment.
It is a matter of happenstance.
It’s a matter of the messiness of life.
So, what is it with Jesus’ comment about unless you repent, you will encounter the same fate…?
I think what he is saying is that
when we run our lives by judging others
when we think that the entire world runs on reward and punishment based on work
when we think that we can justify our own lives over against other’s lives
—by how each of us is “succeeding” or not “succeeding” in this life.
(however you define that strange term “success”)
Our lives will be defined that way.
We will define ourselves through judgment. And we will find ourselves judged accordingly.
To repent is to let go of the need to judge.
To repent is to let go of the idea that what we do is always what we get.
To repent is to see that there is inherent value in being rather than believing it is all about doing. And that all of us are worth enough.
To repent is to answer God’s call in Isaiah.
So often, we think repentance is about sack cloth and ashes
we think repentance is about giving up
and in this kind of repentance—to turn away from the “what we do is what we get” assumption about the world—could, in fact seem like a kind of giving up.
Because when we let go of that assumption, we kind of step off the hamster wheel of our economy that tells us that having lots of stuff demonstrates that we have done lots and therefore are worthwhile.
You see it’s just a reversal of the logic of “what we do is what we get” it’s just: what we’ve got is what we’ve done (and, by the way, therefore what we are worth).
And if we let go of that kind of logic, we might not have as much. At least not as much stuff. Because, to not buy into this whole hamster wheel kind of kills off the drive to get more.
But here’s the thing: we know that stuff doesn’t make us happy.
We know that accumulating more and climbing ladders and adding prestige doesn’t make us happy — at least not for long. See, living with the mindset “what we do is what we get” leaves us constantly grabbing for more, so that we can prove that we’ve done good and are therefore worthwhile.
And that constant grabbing for more leaves us thinking that there isn’t enough to go around.
It leaves us envious of those who have more and judgmental of those who have less.
It leaves us empty, unsure of our own value,
is right around the corner.
Which brings me to Jesus’ incredible parable
where we are, in fact, the vineyard owner and the fig tree.
Ah. You thought the vineyard owner was God, didn’t you?
I suppose it could be, but really, no…
We are the ones who show up in our own lives and the lives of others
and want judge the value of our lives and others
We are the ones who are quick to uproot the seeming fruitlessness of our selves
—the seemingly worthless parts of us
—things planted in our lives and others that seem worthless to us
—things we perceive to be weeds (because, really, why would there be a fig tree in a vineyard?)
We want to root them out to make room for what is society tells us is “better.”
But God, the gardner, shows up.
God, the one who planted the garden in the beginning
God, the one who looks an awful lot like a gardener at the resurrection
God, the one who tends the tree of life in the middle of the city in Revelation
God, the gardner, shows up
in our lives
and pleads with us
to let God tend us
to let God take those things we think are worthless
to let God care for us and feed us abundantly in our poverty
and to let God bring fruitfulness out of our barren branches.
And that is the repentance we need:
to let go of our judgment
to let go of our need to control
to let go of our obsession with determining worthiness
and to let God hold us—and the whole world—in God’s abundant care.