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Lent 3 (C)
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Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

1. Exodus 3, 1-8 and 13-15

  • Moses was tending the flock.  It begins as an ordinary event.  Then a phenomenon appears, fire flaming out of a bush.  Every day I read of something unusual in nature, such as prehistoric men preserved under glaciers and two-headed frogs.  So what makes such an event a bearer of God’s revelation?
  • An angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire.  Quickly we are removed from mundane work to a life-changing theophany.  Let my voice mark the change, beginning after Moses decided to go over to look at this remarkable sight.
  • Moses! – Moses! – Come no nearer!  How does God say this?  I hear an invitation tinged with warning.  This is no time for my booming ‘Ten Commandments’ imitation.  Moses must not be scared off, and the congregation must be drawn in.  God will speak through me as softly and firmly as our sound system will allow.  God whispers to me in my prayer, and I cannot hear unless all is completely silent.  I want to foster the same attention in the assembly, so I will make my pauses until we all become alert to God’s presence. 
  • I am the God of your father.  The people may have forgotten, after all their wandering and residency in Egypt, but God has not.  The names of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob may have been distant memories even for Moses, further away in time from him than our grandparents are to us.  But God does not forget!
  • I have witnessed the affliction of my people.  God sees.  And God cares.  As Psalm 94 says, “Shall the maker of the eye not see?”  I want to convey a sense of attention, a sense that the people’s cry of complaint rings in God’s ears.
  • What am I to tell them?  All through the passage I hear no change in Moses, from his first curious approach to the bush to his worries and doubts when God calls him to lead the people.  (That calling, unfortunately, was cut from today’s passage.)  On the one hand I repeat the hesitations of Moses.  On the other I declare with a decisive look the intentions of God.
  • I am who am.  We have already heard one name for God; this is the second.  There have been many interpretations of this mysterious phrase, one of which is that God is and will be present.  I will say it in the same ambiguous and suggestive way, with reverence for the God who is so close to us and yet is not us.
  • Climax: I have come down.  God acts in our midst.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we accept God in our midst?  And does that acceptance change our lives?  Who is suffering affliction in Egypt today?
  • I will challenge myself: To preserve the sense of wonder about all callings.

 

2. I Corinthians 10, 1-6 and 10-12

  • I do not want you to be unaware.  The passage starts with a double negative, which is always rough going in English.  Let me take my time with this.  The apostle means something like ‘Now don’t you ever forget.’
  • We are listening to a homily on the journey of Israel, our ancestors, through the desert, and the lesson is applied directly to the church of Corinth, to us upon whom the end of the ages has come. 
  • As I list the privileges that Israel enjoyed, I only intend to emphasize the word all the first time we hear it.  Let my voice sound more exalted as I run through the list, and then let it shift to a more somber reflection when I say God was not pleased with most of them – for they were struck down. 
  • I hear the phrase happened as an example twice, and I affirm that the message fits not just the first recipients of the letter but our own church as well. 
  • On the one hand, the letter hearkens back to Israel’s journey to freedom in the time of Moses.  On the other, it gives us a foretaste of today’s Gospel with its warning about the need to change and produce good fruit.
  • Climax: These things happened as examples for us. 
  • The message for our assembly: Are we aware of the privileges given to us as believers and as affluent households?  “From those to whom much is given…”
  • I will challenge myself: To make the events of the Exodus, and the apostle’s subsequent warning, immediate to my listeners.

 

Gospel. Luke 13, 1-9

  • If you do not repent, you will all perish.  Today’s passage occurs only in Luke, though there are many other urgent warnings to repentance throughout the Gospels.  Let me listen and find the way to bring the church into the picture.
  • First I hear of the Galileans who were killed on Pilate’s orders during festival week, and then of eighteen people who were killed by a falling tower.   They could be TV news stories on any day of the week.  Let me read about the Galileans with a seasoned reporter’s eye, so that my listeners can navigate the unfamiliar language about mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
  • Then Jesus comments.  Were they greater sinners than all others?  By no means!  I agree completely with this.  But how much do I agree with the warning that follows?  Something like that will happen to us if we do not repent.  Do I attach to it the same measure of urgency as Jesus did?
  • There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard.  I wrote a sung dialog once for the landowner and the gardener.  My landowner demands a return on the investment: Why should it exhaust the soil?  My gardener isn’t ready to throw in the towel, and pleads for one more season: Leave it for this year also.  Those are the dimensions I will rehearse for this reading.
  • Climax: If you do not repent you will all perish as they did!  I hear it twice.
  • Message for our assembly: Is this just an old story from the days of Luke, or is there a vital lesson in it for us?  If there is, what are we waiting for?
  • I will challenge myself: To read with an insistence that reaches an uneasy spot inside my listeners.  I will not ‘scare’ them; I might want to ‘scar’ them instead.

From Word to Eucharist: Lent presents an opportunity to turn again to the Lord.  Can we look on each other knowingly as we come to the table of the Eucharist?  Do we approach in righteousness or in contrition?  Can we throw off our pretensions and admit our needs?

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