Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life on Sunday, February 28, 2016 Lent III
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Welcome to Sunshine Cathedral, a congregational mission of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We come together each week to sing and pray, to read the sacred texts of ancient times and those of our day. We celebrate community and strive to live our lives ethically and lovingly in all that we do. Let us gather in community to rest in the love of the one who made us in Her image.
This week we take a little time out from our self-reflection to consider the value of hope. We reflect on the value of experience, intuition, and action in keeping hope alive and vital in our lives. Hope fuels a positive attitude and positive self-talk that acts as a necessary counterbalance to our daily dose of pain, violence, and negativity that bombards us in our media rich world.
The Call to Worship (adapted from Psalm 19)
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Your law, O God, is perfect, reviving our souls, and your commandments are sure, rejoicing our hearts.
Each Sunday during Lent we will replace our opening prayer with a prayer of confession. Please join me in saying this prayer in your own heart either aloud in your real life environment or in your heart. Let us pray:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
(from The Book of Common Prayer)
Isaiah 55.1, 10-13
All you people who are thirsty, come! Here is water for you to drink. Don’t worry if you have no money. Come, eat and drink until you are full!
You don’t need money. The milk and wine are free.
Rain and snow fall from the sky and don’t return until they have watered the ground. Then the ground causes the plants to sprout and grow, and they produce seeds for the farmer and food for people to eat.
In the same way, my words leave my mouth, and they don’t come back without results. My words make the things happen that I want to happen. They succeed in doing what I send them to do.
So you will go out with joy. You will be led out in peace. When you come to the mountains and hills, they will begin singing. All the trees in the fields will clap their hands.
Luke 13.6-9 (Easy to Read Version)
Jesus told this story: “A homeowner had a fig tree in the garden. The homeowner came looking for some fruit on it, but found none. The homeowner said to the gardener, ‘I have been looking for fruit on this tree for three years, but I never find any. Cut it down! It’s useless. But the gardener answered, ‘Let the tree have one more year to produce fruit. Let me dig up the dirt around it and fertilize it. Maybe the tree will have fruit on it next year. If it still does not produce, then you can cut it down.’”
Click on the audio bar below to hear the audio.
Our readings this week seem like a little vacation from the sometimes-arduousjourney through Lent. In the past two weeks we have tackled temptation and the experience of “swimming upstream.” This season’s overall focus is self-reflection, personal inventory, coming to terms with our own failings, accepting our shortcomings so that we can move forward. Then this week’s readings come along with these beautiful images of joy and hope. We’ve been on this journey long enough that we’re hungry for this spiritual food.
So let’s look at what our readings bring to us today. Our reading from the prophet Isaiah affirms a vision of abundance. These sound like the words of affirmation that some of us use to keep our spiritual balance in a world filled with media driven negativity, animosity, and hate. This reading from Isaiah is the equivalent of positive self-talk, positive images that we hold in our minds to counter balance the negativity we face in the world each day.
The message is simple… “Don’t worry if you have no money…You don’t need money.” There is enough. Abundance surrounds us. And the writer of this passage in Isaiah reminds us that our own words matter. What we speak into being is important. Our own interior self-talk matters. What we hear our own voice say out loud may be the most important thing we hear all day.
This week my preparation for our time together included listening to our Senior Pastor Rev Dr Durrell Watkins thoughts on our texts this week. Here are a couple of quotes from him that have fueled my meditation this week: “How can we hope when hope hasn’t changed much so far? And how can we share hope if don’t have any for ourselves?…Years in the wilderness can still lead to a land of promise. Three days in a tomb can still be followed by a new experience of life. Times of drought are eventually relieved by long awaited rains.”
Our gospel lesson gives us a kind of recipe for finding hope in what seems like hopeless times. And here’s what I think that recipe looks like – Equal parts Experience, Intuition, and Action. In our gospel story the homeowner is disappointed. He has had an expectation that when he goes to his fig tree it should be bearing fruit. And so he expresses his hopelessness in the tree’s ability to produce by saying, “Cut it down! It’s useless.” Our homeowner is expressing his emotions, he’s talking with someone who is an expert about his hopelessness.
But the gardener has experience with growing fig trees. And the reality is that fig trees that don’t bear fruit may be suffering from a variety of maladies but youngfig trees don’t bear fruit for the first 3-5 years. The gardener knows that what looks like barren trees in early days is just a normal and natural part of the development of a fig tree.
Isn’t it the same with some of our ideas? Isn’t it the same with some of our decisions? What seems to be reality in early days may prove to be incorrect. If we don’t have experience with a particular situation or kind of decision, maybe we need to consult someone who has more experience than us. It’s important to remind ourselves that the gardener’s prescription for helping the tree bear fruit is not to change course and make drastic changes, his intuition about this particular tree is informed by his actual experience with other trees. His regular care and maintenance each year would include digging around the tree, fertilizing it, and ensuring that the tree has every advantage it needs to flourish.
This image of the gardener tending the tree is an image of what we can do to nurture our own positive thoughts, our own positive visions, our own hopes for the future. And it’s really important that we realize that hope requires our participation. It may come to us from unexpected places but it needs our participation. We must take action to bring forth the fruit of our lives.
When we can rely on our own experience we do. When we need to get advice from others who have more experience we do. We rely on our own intuition and we take the advice of others into account. And ultimately finding and nurturing hope in our lives depends on our own willingness to take action. Sometimes that means fertilizing the tree and being patient, sometimes that means cutting down the tree. But more often than not, taking action means changing tactics not giving up our dreams, it means waiting a little while longer rather than over-reacting. And almost always, hope requires us to be in conversation and relationship with others to make good decisions.
Our readings today are ripe with concepts that we can use in our daily lives. But the overall message of our readings today is things are often not as they seem. The future is almost never as bleak as we imagine. We have some choice in how we think about the future and how that affects the paths of our lives.
So this week let’s reach out to people who have experience in the areas we feel uncomfortable. Let’s allow our own experience and that of others to inform our hopeful view of the future. Let’s use our own intuition to seek out those people and institutions that can support us when we feel hopeless. And then let’s take the action that is needed to keep hope alive for ourselves, for our families, friends, and co-workers. When I hear my own voice speaking I want to speak hope this week.
Hope is like a well-timed vacation when we’re over worked and over stressed. It renews us. It supports us. It keeps us from over-reacting when life looks bleak.Hope is the medicine that helps us stay strong in the face of disappointments, setbacks, and tragedy. Hope is not always logical, but it is ultimately important as we learn to live more lovingly and bring the good news of God’s love to the world.
I will continue to hold you in prayer this week as we journey toward the dawn of Easter morning. I ask your prayers on my behalf as well. May God bless us and keep us all until we meet again next week. Amen
Suggested music: Download SL20160228