The Pas Lent 3
24 March 2019
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
God of infinite goodness,
throughout the ages you have persevered
in claiming and reclaiming your people.
Renew for us your call to repentance,
surround us with witnesses to aid us in our journey,
and grant us the time to fashion our lives anew;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Have you noticed that humans that humanity, in general, loves to complain? to find fault with pretty much anything at all? The more so if it’s something not under our control or influence.
It’s something that we’re really quite good at, actually. But at the same time, it deflects attention from us, and puts it on something that is often nonconsequential, instead.
Today’s gospel shows us people complaining about the sacrifices at the Temple being defiled by the inclusion of human, of Jewish blood mixed into the temple sacrifices by Pilate.
“2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”” (Lk 13:2-5)
So, we see Jesus putting faces and names to those who died, not just at the hands of the Romans, but those who died senselessly, and tragically, as well.
And we see Jesus bring the focus back to each one of us, who like those in the gospel who died, those who are complaining to Jesus, have absolutely no idea how much time is left to each one of us; but still haven’t made the changes to our lives that will bring lasting change. And interestingly, that left in our own hands we are unable to bring such lasting change.
And Jesus reminds us of this “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:3b)
And he’s right because those who come to talk to Jesus, today, are only looking at how the actions of others affect their sense of righteousness, instead of how we are able to make our righteousness our own.
Two chapters earlier, Jesus is encouraging us to grow in our lives of faith, in our lives of prayer, in our trust that God has our best interests at heart.
He tells us: “9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk 9:9-10)
If we take the focus off others, and look at our own actions, and the impact of those actions, we are able to make changes the kind of changes Jesus is talking about when he tells us, tells those in the gospel to repent. We’re able to make positive impact on our own lives, every day.
Jesus points out that we, each one of us, are responsible for our own decisions, our own actions, our own expressions of right choices, right courses.
An old proverb tells us that the only thing we can count on, in life, are death and taxes. And that’s a pretty grim view of life if that’s all we’re going to look for – death, and taxes.
Instead, Jesus talks to us about repentance. And although we recite the brief order if Confession and Absolution, if we’re doing it from rote, from the habit of reciting it without ever actually asking God to help us make changes, then we’re never actually looking at what we’re actually doing in seeking God’s repentance.
The dictionary defines repentance as “the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse.”
Now, this is interesting, really.
We reach for complaining and faultfinding with every level of society, and with very little effort all around the world as a fall back action, but we never examine our own lives in depth. We never seek to make changes with and for the one who lives in our own shoes.
And we get easily distracted, when do try to honestly repent, seek repentance, and forgiveness. In fact, it’s virtually impossible not to be bombarded by bad news when we turn on the radio, the tv, or the internet. We do whatever we can to keep the focus on the problem of absolutely everywhere, except on ourselves.
If we look at the tragedy that happened in New Zealand, recently, how they dealt with that, as a nation, I’m finding inspiring.
Where a gunman sought to cause pain and grief among a select group of the population, the nation instead of pulling apart, of pointing fingers, and guarding their own behinds, instead, they pulled together.
They grieved, together. They honoured those who died, and they made changes to their nation to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, in the same way.
At the same time, Jesus keeps pointing to the fact that we are all responsible for our own lives, for our own path of repentance, for living our lives in ways that not only seeks God’s forgiveness but to live righteous lives in and to the world around us.
So, he tells us a parable about a tree that doesn’t produce any fruit.
Weekly, in our corporate worship we repent, we seek God’s forgiveness. In this, we ask for God’s guidance, and we strive to let go of the errors of the previous week.
And the words we use, every week are “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.” (BAS pg 217) In fact these are the words with which we started our worship, today.
The Lutheran worship uses a slightly different configuration of words. It says, “Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” (LBW pg 56)
And today, I like this phrasing better, because it describes how sin actually ties us and our lives and our actions and our intentions in knots so that we are helpless to untie those knots and free ourselves.
Instead, we need to ask for forgiveness. We need to intentionally seek repentance.
And God, then forgives, finds, and makes us righteous before God, when we are sincere in that asking.
And this brings us back to Jesus parable, today, about the tree not producing fruit. It brings us back to the complaints of the people that their offering was contaminated and so is made invalid.
It brings us back to the idea that we need to find righteousness in our lives, every day. And every day we have a new chance to do this.
Now, for those of us who grow gardens, to be able to spend a lot of time preserving the produce of those gardens, how many of us would keep a tree that isn’t providing any fruit at all?
But Jesus tells us: “6 “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Lk 13:6b-9)
The man wasn’t looking for a place to sit in the shade and enjoy the summer watching his garden grow. Instead, he wanted the fruit the tree had promised to provide, and was disappointed that such wasn’t the result. But in the parable, the gardener advocates for the tree.
He asks the land owner for one more chance, for the tree, one more opportunity to allow it to produce the kind of fruit that it should be producing.
And in doing that, I’m sure Jesus isn’t even blinking as he stares down those who bring their complaints to him against the Temple, against Pilate. Who feel that their sacrifices aren’t going anywhere because of the fault of others.
So, if we look at our own lives, Jesus, God encourages us to produce fruit of righteousness.
In our own lives, we are encouraged to repent and seek ways that will honour Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday, to find ways that will demonstrate our willingness to love God with our minds, hearts, souls and strength, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Today’s gospel passage, today’s parable doesn’t have a happy, tidy ending. Instead, it leaves us wondering about the tree, the gardener, and the landowner.
It leaves us wondering who is playing which role, and what this can and does mean for our lives, still today.
But each week, we remember that we make mistakes, and so, each week we return and we repent.
We ask God for forgiveness, we lay our sins, our problems and our errors at God’s feet, and we try to not repeat our mistakes, at least not in the same way.
Each week we remember that if we seek, we will find, if we ask it will be given, and if we knock, the door will be opened.
Why? Because we’re not standing at the door complaining that we can’t find the doorbell.
Instead, we’re striving to live lives better today than they were yesterday, better tomorrow than they are today.