Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Debussy wrote his préludes with the title at the end of each piece in parentheses like a suggestion for the listener. I am following in this tradition, allowing you to choose your own title, with a suggestion from me.
One winter night in August
When the larks sang in their eggs,
A barefoot boy with shoes on
Stood kneeling on his legs.
I saw your looks of surprise. I got your attention, didn’t I? What does a nonsense poem have to do with the scriptures for tomorrow? In fact, you may be thinking it’s not quite right, even flippant or sacrilegious, to be using a nonsense poem to help understand the scriptures. However, I believe that surprise is one of the key ways God operates.
The first scripture: Moses and the burning bush that did not burn. That’s definitely surprising. My family had a wood stove when I was young. We definitely would have been surprised if the fire was burning and the stove warm but the wood wasn’t burning up. Moses’ sense of normalcy and how the world worked was suddenly thrown open and God stepped into that void. Think about your own life, personally or communally: how has your sense of normalcy been thrown out of proportion? Is it being thrown apart now?
I believe our Community is in Moses’ shoes right now, that there is a voice speaking out of the cracks of the way we’ve always done things telling us to do something we don’t understand or even want to do. Maybe there is a lifestyle change we could do. Maybe we could be open to other’s lifestyles. Maybe there is a new way to be relevant that we could step into that doesn’t involve planning — Moses tried to plan and negotiate with God, but that didn’t work.
The Gospel pericope: someone told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate killed and about the tower of Siloam falling and killing at least eighteen people. Jesus’ audience were very rudely surprised by his proclamation that the people that were killed were not any worse than anyone else. It was accepted theology at the time of cause and effect, if something bad happened to someone, they must’ve done something bad to deserve it. There are some who buy into this theology even in our time.
And then the story about the fig tree. Of course the farmer would want it cut down! In farming, it is extremely wasteful to keep nurturing plants that don’t serve their intended purpose. When I was young, we had a garden. My mother loved celery and tried planting it several years in a row. No matter what she did, we didn’t have the right je ne sais quois to grow celery, so after a few years she gave up and we planted other plants in that spot. This is yet another story about the wasteful generosity of God.
Is there an area in our life and time that we have kept and dedicated to something that is not growing or bearing fruit? Maybe we are not using the right fertilizer, or maybe we want to do something else in its stead that we know can work. I don’t think we are the gardener here, but we need to listen to the One Who Is.
The second reading by Paul is helpful here. These events in our history are all there for a reason, that we may learn from them. The Israelites did not allow themselves to be surprised by God: they all ate the same spiritual bread, they all had the same spiritual drink, they all had the same experiences. It was tempting to veer into a rut of grumbling and insecurity, complaining about the way things had always been.
So enough talking about surprise already. Go and surprise someone with a nonsense poem, surprise them with your silliness, surprise them with your willingness to think about something different than you usually do. Go surprise someone with your forward-thinking, with your wonderfully inclusive viewpoint, with your willingness to seek God wherever God may be found. God can be found in the most surprising places! And if love is not there, put love, and then you will find it.