I preached this sermon at Connexion on March 24, 2019 (Third Sunday of Lent). The texts referenced are Exodus 3:1-15 and Luke 13:1-9.
This past week, I got to see one of my personal idols, Laverne Cox. Some of you may know her as Sophia Burset on a little Netflix show called Orange is the New Black. Her career is made of many notable ‘firsts’ – she was the first transgender woman to win a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Special Class Special, the first trans person to appear on the cover of Time and Cosmopolitan magazines and, fun fact, the first openly trans person to have a wax statue of themselves at Madame Tussauds.
Laverne was at the University of Pennsylvania as a guest of an LGBTQ student group. The house was packed. Laverne shared quite a bit of her story with us- the pressures of fame, her journey of entering therapy and finding healing for herself. There is one statement that she made that has stuck with me all week.
Laverne told us about how when she first moved to New York to launch her career she thought she would be famous within two years. In reality, it took twenty years before she landed her role on Orange is the New Black. She learned after patience, rejection, and frustration that the work she felt called to would happen “on God’s time, not my time.” It ultimately wasn’t up to her, and she learned to trust that everything would work out – and it did, several times over.
“God’s Time. Not my time.”
There’s a persistent belief in our society that if we are patient and work hard enough, we will get everything we want, and we have a lot of platitudes in our culture around patience. We say things like, “Good things come to those who wait.” But in reality these statements have been used to continue people’s unjust treatment and silence dissent. The powerful and privileged can tell the oppressed that they’ll get their slice of the pie if they just work hard and be patient, all the while continuing to hoard a whole bakery’s worth.
But I think Laverne was getting at something much deeper than this. In Christian belief we have a concept called kairos – this idea of God’s appointed time for something. Scripture says, “Only the Father knows the hour.” This idea of God’s time subverts our expectations and stubbornness. An ideal time to us isn’t necessarily the same to God.
We have today the story of the burning bush, and I want to focus on the latter portion of the story. Moses is awestruck by this bewildering sight and also terrified at realizing he was in the presence of God. The Lord says to Moses, “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
Moses is suffering from imposter syndrome. Have you interviewed for a job, gotten the position and spent the first week or month wondering if we were actually qualified for it? Or if you’re a new parent, perhaps you’ve held your baby and thought, “Am I really ready for this?” How many of us have felt the burning call of the Holy Spirit in our very bodies and yet doubt that it could be real? How many of us make excuse after excuse to deny what we feel in our souls? How many of us have asked that very same question at some point in our lives, “Who am I to do this?”
Opportunity and challenge come and find us whether we are ready for them or not. That is kairos. It is God’s time, not ours. God has orchestrated a magnum opus, and we are playing our part in the symphony. You may have wanted to be in another movement, but God wanted you where you are. Your part is critical, because the music wouldn’t sound the same if you were in a different place. Kairos reminds us that we may insist that we aren’t ready when our part comes, but God has been preparing us.
The Gospel reading today is a very interesting choice. I want to turn your attention to the parable Jesus shares with the people in this passage. We hear about a landowner with a vineyard who comes upon a tree that hasn’t borne fruit yet. ‘So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
Now based on the all of the judgment and bloodiness that comes before this passage, we are inclined to think of God as being in the position of the landowner judging his crops, and the trees are a stand-in for us. We all have to get right with God and bear fruit, or else we will be cut down and thrown into the furnace.
But I want to offer you another interpretation of this parable. What if instead of playing the landowner in this story, God is actually the heroic gardener? The gardener sees potential in this tree, sees it worth, and wants to save it. So he says to the landowner, give it another year. Let me give this tree some fertilizer. In due time it will bear fruit. It’s not about when the landowner believes he should have fruit, but when the tree is ready. Just in case you were wondering, it actually can take up to five or six years, not three, for a fig tree to bear fruit.
Our capitalist society values productivity. We are told that our worth is bound up with our position in society, the amount of money we make, our material possessions. If you aren’t successful by a certain age or station in your life, you must have failed. This thinking doesn’t take into account that our society also denies people resources they need to survive, and it refuses to acknowledge that some people’s successes are built on the pain and oppression of others. (But I digress.)
God operates on different standards and measures. God looks upon the lowly and says, they are not worthless, because I made them.
God sees potential in us that the world doesn’t see, and God places us in different parts and scenes of the grand performance of life. That is why God chose Moses, despite Moses wondering aloud if he was the right choice, despite his hesitancy. That was the moment, and Moses was the person. That is why the gardener says, Give this tree the chance it deserves. Give it time. God’s time, not your time. It is up to us to discern the movement of God in our lives, and to rise to meet the opportunities presented to us.
In this Lenten season of preparation, we move closer to Holy Week and the shadow of the cross. We see God’s time playing out in each painful step of the walk to Calvary. Lent makes us very aware that there are things we may not want to face. With the universe running on God’s time, we will have to face them whether we want to or not, like Moses witnessing the blaze of the burning bush and being called by God to lead his people to freedom. But, like the gardener, God is preparing us to meet the challenge.