Psalm 104:24-30; Judges 13; Luke 21:29-38

Psalm 104:24-30: In this long peaen to God and His creation, the author praises its marvelous riches and order. “The lions roar for prey, / seeking from God their food.” (21) But then return to their dens as “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening.” (23) Even though lions and men are natural enemies, they both operate in creation by the diurnal pattern God has instilled in them.  This is just one example, as the psalmist writes, “How many Your deeds, O LORD/, all of them You do in wisdom./ All the earth is filled with Your riches.” (24)  It is the same at sea as on land: “There the ships go, / this Leviathan You fashioned to play with.” (26) Because of God’s wisdom man and Leviathan can coexist in the same creation.

All of creation, including ourselves, is dependent on God:God provides for every creature: “All of them look to You / to give them their food in its season.” (28)  But there will be times when it appears God has deserted His creation, and panic and death ensue: “When You hide Your face, they panic, / You withdraw their breath and they perish, and to the dust they return.” (29) But even after the hardest times, there will always be renewal: “When You send forth Your breath, they are created, / and You renew the face of the earth.” (30)

Death and renewal: the endless cycle. But when we are faced with hardship and trials and disease, and God seems to have “hidden His face,” there is always the promise of renewal. This psalm of course is also a metaphor for Jesus’ work for all of humankind. Death and then not just renewal, but Resurrection.

Judges 13: Then, there is the other endless cycle: “The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.” (1) Then, Israel repents and returns to God until the nation drifts away form God once again. Each cycle seems to last 40 years, which can be taken literally or symbolically, 40 being the number for a long time. 

In a remarkable parallel to the Abraham-Sarah story, and a presaging of words we will hear at the Annunciation, there is a barren woman in the tribe of Dan. “And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.” (3)  Unlike the other stories, there are clear instructions about what to to: “Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean… No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. (4,5) Even better, there is a wonderful promise, “It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”  (6)

The wife goes to her husband, who unlike many of his neighbors, is still a man of God. He prays, asking for the angel to return, “O Lord, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.”  Eventually the man and his wife meet up with the angel, who gives them instructions, but not his name “because it is too wonderful.”  The grateful couple, still unaware that their visitor is an angel, ask him to stay for lunch, but the declines, suggesting they offer the goat as a sacrifice to God.

When they do, the angel ascends to heaven on the flames. The man, Manoah, fears they will die for having seen God, but his wife points out if that was God’s plan, they would already be dead.

This wonderful story of a still-faithful couple being visited by an “angel unaware” is a marvelous promise to us: God can come to us in a lot of ways, and turn our lives inside out. We may not understand why a particular event or person or even illness comes our way, but as this couple from the tribe of Dan discovered, it may indeed have come from God. God is always full of surprises.

 Luke 21:29-38: My NRSV Bible has subject headers, and this one says, “The Lesson of the Fig Tree.” So what exactly, is the lesson of the fig tree? Is it an eschatological statement? Perhaps. Jesus points to the fig leaves and talks about things happening “before this generation passes away,” and an unbelievable thing certainly did happen later that week.  But I think the lesson of the fig tree is also once again about being prepared, about being alert, and about having our priorities straight.

For me, Jesus’ central statement is, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” (34) In other words don’t waste your time on the things we’d expect Jesus to tell us not to waste our time doing: “dissipation and drunkenness.” OK, but then and for me, more importantly, don’t waste our time on “the worries of life.”

Jesus admonition about not worrying is paramount and becoming more so as I grow older. The topics to worry about seem endless: Will my cancer come back? What happens when Susan can’t walk? Will we have enough money for retirement? Will Geoff get tenure? What kind of world will our grandkids grow up into? Will there be enough water in California? What will happen geopolitically? The list is endless. As Jesus points out, it’s got to be a conscious act to decide not to worry.

But we also need to remember that “not worrying” does not mean becoming clueless to what’s going on. That’s why Jesus is also telling us to stay alert. Staying alert but not worrying by placing our trust in God.  In fact, I think that’s a spiritual discipline I would do well to keep practicing.

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