3/24/2019 Third Sunday of Lent The text is Luke 13:1-9.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Each Sunday, after the gospel has been read, I proclaim, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.” To which you say…. The word “gospel,” as we know, means good news. But, the gospel for today doesn’t sound like very good news at all.
It begins with a recap of a couple of disasters which result in the untimely death of some people. The first disaster involves Pilate who goes on a killing spree, much in the same way as those we hear about all over the news. Of course, Pilate did his dirty work without guns and without bloodying his hands, but the results are just as deadly and repulsive. In the end, a group of Galileans lay motionless with their blood mixing with the blood of the sacrifice. The second disaster is one of those awful things that can happen in life – the collapse of a building. In this case, it isn’t a roof heavily laden with snow that brings down the tower of Siloam, but some unexpected problem that is not described in the gospel, and yet, no matter what caused the collapse, the result is the same. Those near the tower die a horrid death, resulting in 18 unfortunate souls lying motionless.
Of course, not all disasters strike randomly. Sometimes, a family can be plagued by one unfortunate event after another…like a series of deaths or illnesses in one year, or financial crises that occur one after another. We may think that money, power or prestige can immune people from tragedies, but they don’t. Take the Kennedys for example. A stroke rendered Joe Kennedy silent for the last eight years of his life. Joe Junior was blown out of the sky on a dangerous mission in WWII. One daughter was severely handicapped. Two sons, John and Robert, were assassinated. And Ted, well, Ted was involved in one mess after another.
Whenever a disaster strikes or a family is plagued by one misfortune after another, it’s human nature to search for the answer as to why. Why do such things happen? If God is a gracious God, how can bad things happen to good people? Or are those on whom disaster and misfortunes strike worse sinners than the rest of us?
We live in a cause and effect world. From an early age we learn that there are consequences to our actions. If we run a red light with our car and we get hit, we know it’s our fault. And yet, what about the victim in the other car…what did that person do to deserve being involved in an accident? If God is gracious and merciful and gives his angels charge over us so that we will not dash our foot against a rock, then the victim in the other car is no innocent part either, but a sinner bearing the consequences of sin.
Jesus’ response to all of this speculation and gossip about the misfortunes of others is clear…these people are not worse sinners than anyone else. The truth of the matter is there is no cause and effect here. Great evil does not necessarily produce great misfortune. Great goodness does not necessarily produce great fortune. Things happen in this world. And rather than wasting time judging others by the disasters which head in their direction, we should spend time worrying about ourselves. For after Jesus snuffs out the gossip and wondering about the victims of tragedy, he turns the focus off the victims and onto the living with a word of warning, “I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
This is the gospel of the Lord. This is the good news? It doesn’t sound too wonderful to me. Salvation sounds like something we must earn through our contrition and our act of repentance. But does not God freely offer salvation to us like in Christ Jesus? Did not Christ come so we need not perish? Does not salvation belong to him? Yes…salvation belongs to God who paid the ultimate price in the sacrifice of his Son for our sin. But repentance, turning the focus of our life in the direction of God’s mercy and salvation is for our sake, in order that we may live in hope and peace every day, no matter what comes our way. Repentance is for our sake and it is our choice to make. God has made a clear choice for us in Jesus Christ. We have a choice when it comes to the focal point in our lives.
Our bodies have certain needs which must be met for us to live. The blood needs to be circulated and the lungs need oxygen. But, to live life to its fullest, we also need a daily dose of God’s grace. To repent is to be reformed, reshaped, reborn daily by the love of God. We may not have a choice when it comes to the air we breathe or the basic function of our body, but we have a choice when it comes to the focal point of daily living…or do we? In our psalm for today, the psalmist, in an inspiring statement of faith, makes it clear that there really isn’t a choice – for without you, O God, I am like a desert – “in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” I am fit for nothing. Yet with God, my soul is satisfied and my life is filled to overflowing. With God in my life, there are no limits to what I can do and who I can become. To be in God’s presence is to experience constant love, love that is better than life itself. Words can barely express what joy there is in having God at the center of life. That joy fills us both when we are awake and asleep. Who would not want to experience God in this way? It would seem to be an easy choice, a choice which leads us away from despair and sorrow to a place of hope and joy…a choice that leads us away from death and b rings us to the fullness of life.
The time to take a step in this direction, the time to repent and refocus life in the joys of God’s kingdom, is now. For God is faithful and merciful. God cultivates and fertilizes our lives and provides intensive care with the hope that we will produce. God agonizes over the lost souls. God agonizes over us whenever we miss out on his mercy. God wants us to share in the blessing of life in him.
So seize the moment. Turn to God. Live in the joy and peace of God’s salvation. Find strength and courage in that life-giving relationship and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.