It does not mean what you think it means

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How many times do we try and make sense of tragedy or other things that happen?  We look for reasons why.  If we can come up with a logical enough reason for why things happen, then we can avoid the same tragic occurrence upon ourselves.  It means that I can somehow control what does and doesn’t happen to me.  But Jesus says that this is not the way it works.  A wall fell and the people who happened to be standing there died.  It is as simple and horrible as that.  There is no satisfying explanation.  We live in a world where tragic things happen and people die.

 

Third
Sunday in Lent; Year C

Isaiah
55.1-9; Psalm 63.1-8; 1 Cor. 10.1-13; Luke 13.1-9

Pastor
Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace
and peace to you from the gardener, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

On
Friday I finally went to see the movie, “Lincoln.”  In between scenes of witty humor and intense
legislative debate, I was reminded of the horror of the US civil war by the
camera moving through bloody bodies piled upon bloody bodies.  Each side, the north and the south, fighting
for something they believe in.  Each side,
dehumanizing the other enough to where they could stare each other in the face
and take the other’s life.  My guess is
both sides prayed to the same God to spare life and take life, prayed that
their side would win the war, prayed also for peace.

I
can imagine some people from the south having a conversation with Jesus,
justifying their self-righteousness and reason for war.  “Jesus,” they say, “The North wants to take
away our rights and freedom.  God the Creator
gave us this land and as it says in Leviticus 25.44, we may rightfully own
slaves.  Those people in the North
deserve to die if they try and take what is rightfully ours.”

“Jesus,”
people from the North say, “The South is treating their slaves like animals and
not people.  You call us to love you and
love our neighbors as ourselves.  If they
will not release their slaves we will make them through war.”

In
our reading today we hear something similar: “Jesus,” the Galileans say, “That
nasty Pilot and those jerks the Romans, are occupying our land, killing our
people, and even mixing our people’s blood with their sacrifices to fake
gods!  Maybe those other Galileans sinned
more than us and got what was coming to them, but Pilot at least deserves to be
condemned.  Don’t you think, Jesus?”

Since
Adam and Eve pointed the finger at one another in the garden, human beings have
turned towards each other to cast blame, condemn, judge, and make themselves
feel self-righteous.  As long as we can
look at someone else and think: At least
I’m a better person than her.  At least I
haven’t done the things he’s done…
Then we feel like we don’t need to
change.

Jesus,
today and every day, stands before you and me, every group and every person and
says, “Unless you repent, you will all perish…”

The
honest truth about you, me, and all others is said well by St. Paul: “All have
sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).” Only when we recognize
our own sin first and foremost can we move toward living lives of repentance.

I
have always deeply appreciated Jesus’ words concerning the 18 people who were
killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. 
This is an incredibly tragic event and it’s clear that people are
thinking the tower fell on the people because it was God’s judgment upon them;
that they were worse sinners than other people who didn’t have the tower fall
on them.  Jesus challenges this deeply
engrained mindset: “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the
others living in Jerusalem?  No, I tell
you;”

How
many times do we try and make sense of tragedy or other things that
happen?  We look for reasons why.  If we can come up with a logical enough
reason for why things happen, then we can avoid the same tragic occurrence upon
ourselves.  It means that I can somehow
control what does and doesn’t happen to me. 
But Jesus says that this is not the way it works.  A wall fell and the people who happened to be
standing there died.  It is as simple and
horrible as that.  There is no satisfying
explanation.  We live in a world where
tragic things happen and people die.

What
these stories are supposed to call to mind for us is the reality and possible
immanence of our own death.  Fun, I
know.  (I’m very jealous of Shera who
gets to preach on the prodigal son text next week!).  But what our reading today is also meant to do
is to call us to repentance while you and I still have the chance, while we are
here on this earth with the gift of this day, March 3rd, 2013.

But
what is repentance?  I think pastor
Richard Jensen can explain repentance much better than I ever could.

“Repentance
is not a fruit problem; it is a root problem. It is the root of who we
are that is a problem…So repentance cannot be composed of "I can"
statements. "I have sinned God. I am sorry God. I can do better."
Repentance, rather, must be composed of "I can't" statements. "I
have sinned, God. I am sorry. God, I've tried and tried and tried but I just
don't produce good fruit. I can't seem to do better. I need your
Vinedresser [Jesus] to work on the roots of my life. Give me a new life, God.
Give me your life. I can't. You can." [Preaching
Luke’s Gospel,
p. 147]

Repentance,
in a nutshell, is falling into your Maker’s arms and resting there.  It is a turning towards God who gives life,
and away from things that don’t give life. 
It is admitting that you don’t have the power to control everything and
being okay with it. 

Repentance
is realizing that you don’t know everything there is to know about God and why
things happen the way they do.  It is
understanding that you are a creature of the earth and that you will one day
return to it as dust. 

Repentance
is trusting God no matter what happens in your life or anyone else’s.  Repentance is not a one-time thing…it is a
way of life.  It is a turning towards God
every day because you understand that you can’t live life without God.

God, I call to you in the early morning;

help me pray and gather my thoughts;

I cannot do it alone.

In me it is dark, but
with you there is light.

I am lonely, but you do
not leave me.

I am faint-hearted, but
with you there is help.

I am restless, but with
you there is peace.

In me there is
bitterness, but with you there is patience.

I do not understand your
ways,

But you know the right
way for me.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Want to Live These Days with You, p. 62

The
Good News in this text comes to us in the form of the parable, or story, Jesus
tells about a gardener and a fig tree. 
For six years the fig tree produces nothing.  It is a fig tree!  Its purpose is to produce figs!  The man who owns the vineyard rightfully thinks
the fig tree is taking up good soil where something else could be planted that
will actually do what it’s created to do. 
But, the gardener loves the fig tree and pleads with the owner not to
cut it down.  The gardener promises to dig
around it, care for it, and help it to produce its fruit.  It is given one more year to do what it is
created to do, if not, it will be cut down.

Think
of yourself as the fig tree and Jesus as the gardener.  “Are you bearing fruit or just taking up space
(Rodney Clapp, Feasting on the Word, p.
96)?”  Jesus, the patient gardener, gives
you everything you need to grow and have good things come forth from you.  Jesus pleads for more time for you to realize
the unconditional self-giving love of God for
you

You
have been given your life to live and have been created to be in loving
relationship with God.  The song of the
great gardener can be heard in Isaiah 55.7: “…let them return to the Lord, that
he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon
(55.7).”

Paul
write in Romans: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you
to repentance (Romans 2:4)?”  We have a God
who is constantly pouring out grace and mercy, ready to receive you when you
turn towards God and ask to be fruit bearers, to have good things come forth
from you for the building up of community. 
The Spirit is active in your life, helping you to understand that you
cannot go through life on your own.

Yes,
it is true that death can come to us at any time.  We get anxious about this when we don’t feel
at peace with God or with others in our lives. 
Jesus warns us to reconcile and repent while our hearts are still
beating.

Pastor
Barbara Brown Taylor has wise words for us today: “For those of us who have discovered
that we cannot make life safe, nor God tame, what we can do is turn our faces
to the light.  That way, whatever befalls
us, we will fall the right way (p. 72 – Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way.”