You know, my friends, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like Mondays. I wake up feeling, “Yuck, another week.” I live for the weekends. (Of course, being a preacher, I often hear, “You only work on Sundays anyway!”) And I guess, as a preacher, I could take Mondays off. But then that would mean….I’d hate Tuesdays! Anyway, Monday mornings, I’m just not at my best. And it’s probably good you’re not around to see it.
But it’s important to remember that my life is not just about Saturdays, or Fridays. It’s not just a succession of Sundays. We have to live through the whole week! And I think that in the Christian church, we don’t pay enough attention to the Mondays through the Saturdays.
We do not pay attention enough to what happened between between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. We know something about Thursday and Friday of Holy Week – but not much about Monday and Tuesday. We go from high point to even higher point. From Hosannas to Hallelujahs. From “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Christ has risen. He has risen indeed. Alleluia.” And, indeed it is good that we praise God and bask in the resurrection glory of Jesus Christ. Hosannas and Hallelujahs are due to the one in whose name we gather every Sunday.
But we can lose sight of the reality of the “valley of the shadow” where most of us dwell day to day. The dips in the landscape – for our lives are lived and our spiritual lives are shaped in the confusing Monday to Thursday – filled with decision and distractions. Yes, of many joys but also of sorrows. Yes, of triumphs but also of tragedies. Yes, of great news, but also some bad news. So we have to pay attention to the Mondays and Tuesdays.
On Sunday evening, Jesus enters the temple and “looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” That is a full statement… that Christ comes into the temple square of our world and look around what does he see?
He sees a religious institution that was dividing the people from the divine. The temple mediated every aspect of institutional Judaism. Removed from the people, the scribes and Sadducees and the chief priests who were essentially Roman political appointees, stayed in their ivory towers of privilege and fear. Jesus knew full well that this system was bankrupt – what people yearned for was unmediated access to God – no divide; a God whose kingdom was very near. The Temple wasn’t needed anymore. Jesus knew that it was already late.
During the middle ages, the spirit of God, through the Reformers, again saw a religious institution that sought to mediate faith – the hierarchical institution filled with priestly politicians… and Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli looked around and sensed a new spirit of change. They knew it was already late.
During the 20th century, churches excluded women from being ordained and preaching and the spirit of Jesus looked around and knew that it was already late.
Just a year ago our denomination barred Christian woman and men who were gay and lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered – but the Spirit of Jesus looked around – it was already late.
At one time, our nation had poll taxes to keep black people from voting, and laws that separated toilets and dining spaces and movie seats – but Dr. King, and many others looked around and saw that “it was already late.” Although the case of Trayvon Martin shows us that there is still a great divide. It is not late enough! I pray it is not too late!
And so any institution, any system – religious or otherwise – that, even in all good conscience and traditional faithfulness, seeks to create litmus tests for entry, or sells and charges for sacrifices, or attempts to keep people out, or divide according to race, or income, or status, or education, or whatever – well, Jesus looks around and sees that it is indeed very late. Because in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul reminds us: “There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, for all are one in Christ.” (Gal. 3:27, 28) And remember, at Pentecost – the Spirit was poured out on ALL flesh – sons and daughters, young and old, slaves and free. There is no divide anymore, just the walls that humans create, not God.
Monday comes and Jesus curses the fig tree. That is an uncomfortable picture of Jesus. Jesus; hungry, stressed and tired – nothing like knowing you are going to die that gets you agitated. He cursed. I got my mouth washed out with soap or worse, if I cursed in front of my parents. Poor fig tree – it was even out-of-season, what did it do to deserve this?
And then Jesus goes crazy, ballistic in the temple square, turning over the tables and causing havoc. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the people are spellbound. But the chief priests and the scribes – they want to kill Jesus because they are afraid.
And on Tuesday morning, Peter calls him on it; “Look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus’ answer sounds like “spin;” trying to regain some divine authority and cover up an unfortunate utterance. Like Rick Santorum who cursed a New York Times reporter and then had to “explain;” or Mitt Romney “not caring for poor people;” or President Obama caught on a hot mike: “I will have more flexibility after the election.”
But what we have here is more than an uncomfortable spin to explain Jesus “going off.”
No, this is the expression of divine angst at the world that still doesn’t get it: the good news of Jesus Christ is that there is no divide. The relationship Jesus wants with you is about freedom, it is about access to the gifts. It is about inclusion, it is about power. Jesus curses the divide, curses the fruitless institution, and yearns to break down whatever walls divide: “Come in! Come to me!”
Faith is not about maintaining the status quo, but turning over the tables. God’s grace is not a reward. It is offering everyone an “A” on the exam whether or not you studied for it.
That makes me feel uncomfortable. But Jesus declared that God’s house is a house for ALL nations. Jesus extends the boundaries. When Jesus extends his arms on the cross it will be to include ALL of creation. His embrace extends that far: for me and for you but also for every Tom, Dick and Harry, every Betty, Doris and Ruth, every DeQuan, Phuong, Ahmed, Mose, and Carlos.
The fruitless, out-of-season Fig Tree IS the temple, you see – that which is supposed to be a place of welcome, a never-out-of-season home for all, a place to receive nourishment and nurture, a place that reveals God’s inclusive love, of extravagant hospitality, a place where people come to find themselves in community, to be equipped and empowered to find their gift – not to receive permission or jump through hoops.
The fruitless out-of-season Fig Tree is the institution that bars any door, that keeps any out, that makes of itself a fortress and not a hospital. The fruitless out-of-season Fig Tree is any relationship of inequality, trying to keep people down.
The fruitless out-of-season Fig Tree is the recorded, internal messages that you do not count, that you are not good enough, that you are not beautiful enough, that you do not have gifts. Just the opposite of what Aibileen says to Mae Mobley – a little girl who is not noticed by her mother – in the movie “The Help:” “You Is Smart, You Is Kind, You Is Important.”
The fruitless out-of-season Fig Tree is found anywhere where deadly convention, and fear, and suspicion, and ignorance, and mistrust reigns.
The fruitless out-of-season Fig Tree is when you give your doubts more power than your trust, your cynicism more power than your joy.
Jesus curses the out-of-season, fruitless fig tree, as well he should – because there is no out-of-season in the kingdom of God. There is no time to be slaves to convention, or obligation or guilt. However, there is always time for power and faith and hope, and joy and courage. That is why Jesus says: “Have faith in God (trust God) – you already have enough faith to say to a mountain “Be taken up and be thrown into the sea.” If you already have that faith, within you why not activate it, trust it, practice it, exercise it. Just think if collectively we put our untapped faith together -we might actually even change this world.
I know that faith-based organizing, shaped by Saul Alinsky and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is suspect among many – but that is a fruitless out-of-season criticism – for the power of collective faith, the power of shared values, the power of common cause towards extending the boundaries, extending the welcome is always of God. So the word is: “Don’t be passive!” “Claim your faith and use it.” “Turn over a table or two on the way!” Fruitless out-of-season fig trees need to be uprooted.
Jesus finishes; “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Now that is something.
I was expecting, “Whatever you ask for in prayer you WILL receive it.” Not passive waiting but active participation. BE the prayer you have asked for. MAKE the change you are waiting for. CLAIM the faith that you yearn for. KICK the doors down that seek to keep you out. Prayer is not a wish list; prayer is the place where you plug into the divine source.
If you ask me: “So I can pray for a new Ferrari, I will receive it?” I say to you: that is a fruitless, out-of-season, prayer request. Prayer is about what you REALLY are seeking for. If all you want is riches, go for it. You may gain the world even as you lose your soul.
This week, this holy week – as we turn from the high of Palm Sunday and enter the shadow the valley, Monday and Tuesday – the week of despair – claim your faith, forgive yourself and forgive others and trust that you have enough right now to do what you need to do – you are beloved enough, you are powerful enough – don’t let anybody say you are not worthy.
Go curse a fruitless out-of-season fig tree or two and get ready for Easter – because Jesus Christ calls you away from institutions that burden, and traps that keep you down, and graves that keep you entombed – you HAVE received the gift.
You are beloved!
Now get organized and go for it!