3rd Weekend in Lent - 3-20-2022
March 20, 2022 | Jodi Schuman
Passage: Luke 13:1-9
I want to thank Pastor Ryan for the invitation to preach this weekend. As he said, my husband, Bill and I are new members here at Bethesda. We live in Nevada when we're members at Memorial since 1997, when we moved to Iowa. During our time there, I joined the staff and that led me to candidacy for rostered ministry commissioning and call as a Minister of Word and Service what our church now calls Deacons. Last April, I took a new call to serve in the office of the Bishop here in the southeastern Iowa Synod, where my title is Assistant to the Bishop for Candidacy and Operations. This new call necessitated a transfer to a new congregation. We thank you for the warm welcome. I also want to share a word of greeting from Bishop Currant and my other colleagues in the office of the Bishop. We give thanks for Bethesda and the other 135 congregations of this Synod. We rejoice in the ways that you proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in this place, in this community and across the globe. We cherish your partnership as we all share in accompanying the pastors, deacons and people of this Synod and equip one another for God's mission that we share. This week, we are especially grateful that Bethesda will open the doors for the rostered ministers and ministry professionals in this area of the Synod who will gather with Bishop Currant for a Service of Renewal.
Bishop Currant is conducting six of these services across the Synod, as well as two retiree gatherings, ahead of our 2022 Synod assembly. These will be the first face to face gatherings for the Bishop and rostered ministers in over two years. For many, it will be the first opportunity to meet Bishop Currant in person. Again, thank you.
And now grace and peace to you from God, the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Have you ever changed your mind? I cannot imagine anyone of almost any age could answer No. I remember our daughter Amanda, changing her mind as soon as she learned that word "no" and had to keep trying it on. She would often answer "no," as soon as we asked her a question before her brain even had the chance to consider what we had asked. Amanda, would you like a cookie? "No. Oh, yes." As we get older, we may change our minds about bigger issues than wanting a cookie. Beliefs and practices we learn in our families of origin become challenged as we expand our experiences. Saul changed his mind about Christianity and went from persecutor to great apostle, carrying the good news as Paul. John Newton went from sailor involved in the slave trade to abolitionist, preacher and author of the hymn Amazing Grace. We, too, are confronted with people and situations that call our ingrained ideas into question.
One situation of mind changing that has always fascinated me is married couples who share how one of the spouses was not so wild about the other one at first. Somewhere along the way, though, they changed their mind about the other person. A couple sharing their story might go like this. Spouse A says they knew from the very beginning that Spouse B was the person they would marry. Spouse B -- not so much. They did not feel that way. But eventually the perseverance and care of the first spouse helped them to change their mind. I believe that changing our mind about long-held beliefs rarely happens of our own accord. There are times when we change our mind after some quick transformative experience. The legend that Martin Luther chose the monastery over a career in law happened on the road when a lightning came and struck. John Newton, as I mentioned before, left seafaring after a storm at sea, as well. And Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus was also with thunder and lightning. You may have experienced these life altering events that caused you to question your own beliefs and actions. Other times, as in the case of the married couples I described, the change occurs slowly over time due to the loving and careful nurture of the other spouse. We are sometimes won over by a series of experiences that confront our long held ideas. Jesus implores us to repent. It's a common theme in Lent and back in Advent, when John the Baptist did the same.
This repentance is not regretting bad behavior, but changing our hearts and minds and orienting them to God. In the first reading we heard, "Seek the Lord, while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them return to the Lord that He may have mercy on them and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." We repent, change direction, change our minds, change our hearts. Not out of fear, but because we want and need God's mercy, this mercy that will be there in abundance, thank God, because it will only be a matter of time before we go astray again and need to be brought back to the right direction again.
We are like the fig tree that spends time on pursuits that do not bear fruit, even to the point that branches begin to wither and die. Christ, the good gardener does not give up on us. He continues to nurture us with good soil until we bear fruit. This is the promise of your baptism, when you were washed in water and word and sealed with the sign of the cross. You will forever be part of God's garden, tended with love. The mission we share is to bear fruit by serving our neighbor and loving the world God loves, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
We know and confess each time we gather for worship that we need to repent and turn back to God on a regular basis. In Lent, we especially spend these 40 days focusing on our need for repentance as we journey with Christ to the cross. We are also Easter people. We know how each Lent ends. We know that death does not have the last word. We do not live in fear of being cast aside when we fail to bear fruit. This is the good news. God's abundant mercy is already here for us. In the death and resurrection of Christ. We, too, are promised eternal life. We don't repent and return to God out of fear. We just make the choice for love. Like the unsure spouse we are loved into loving. We change our hearts and minds and find God's warm embrace in the new direction. The love is already there for us, even when we set our hearts and minds on other things. Just like the prodigal son or the lost sheep, we are welcomed back each and every time. Jesus calls us to repent, to return to God and bear fruit. As God's beloved, we give thanks for this abundant mercy, this great gift that is ours by the death and resurrection of Christ. We are nurtured in the Word revealing God to us, and fed at the table so we can go out in the world and bear fruit. Amen.