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Sunday message 28 February 2016 (Lent 3) – Choices

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9


There are some questions that have clear undisputed answers. Like who won last year’s FA cup. Whether we like the winning team or not, we can’t argue with the truth. And which flag will win the referendum? An open question now – but after the poll closes, it will be clear and certain.

There are some choices we make that are simple too. What to eat for breakfast? They’re not earth shattering life changing matters.Then there are those complex ones. Grey areas. Moral choices say in war.

And questions that involve faith – what we believe – like the one about loving your neighbour as yourself. As Christians we believe it’s true.

Jesus had difficult choices at his temptations. We looked at those the other day. They were real options – although judging by the looks on some of your faces, you weren’t convinced that they were. He really could have turned rocks into bread and was considering it. Think of the choices you make when you are hungry. In the fridge or at the takeaway.

His disciples had choices – like how to deal with people who did Jesus’ type things but weren’t part of their team. Remember how they wanted to be like Elijah – and call down fire from heaven on one lot who did not welcome Jesus? (Luke 9:54 – Samaritans less than thrilled he was going to Jerusalem).

Most of our challenging choices where we fail are to do with how we treat people – how we judge them.

The people in the two tragedies Jesus refers to today would have been judged by people. Surely if they were good people those things should not have happened. (In John 9:2 the debate about the blind man and sin is an example of the view of the day. Joh 9:1  As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  Joh 9:2  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Interesting that that man was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam – where the tower fell.)

And then your attitude to authorities that do bad things – like Pilate. Or Herod whom we talked about last week. It’s easy to become enraged. Pilate murdered pilgrims from Galilee in the temple in Jerusalem. It would be like killing people in church. It happens a lot in parts of Africa where there are terrorist groups. It happened in South Africa in Cape Town – people were shot dead in church.

It’s easy to be enraged. And people were probably telling Jesus these stories about injustices by those in authority, and tragedies because of failed health and safety systems and building codes. (Did you hear about that Jesus?) Perhaps they were expecting him to judge the people too –  they must have been bad to deserve that.

  • How we respond a choice.
  • Forgiveness is also a choice.

Anything that depends on emotions – well we’re done for.

We do the same thing today as we judge categories of people. Well maybe you don’t… But some do.

  • To the unemployed (what’s wrong with them?)
  • Mentally ill (they should pull themselves together)
  • The sick (they’re weak or sinners – a classic bible view cf. John 9:2)
  • Prisoners (they’ve only got themselves to blame).

Jesus says to them:

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 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? (Luke 13:2-4)

What are we to do? What’s the correct response?

Unless we repent – says Jesus – twice in vss. 3 and 5: Luk 13:5  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Be careful about the moral choices you make – the judgmental ones. You’re on shaky ground.Repentance is an ongoing turning away from self and sin. From self obsession.

The rest of the passage is equally challenging for us – about that fig tree. In a nutshell – you don’t want to be like a fruit tree that is a waste of space. In time you could be cut down. Be careful how you judge. Are you bearing fruit appropriate to being a Christ follower?

We’re not here except by God’s grace to bear good fruit for him. The fruits of the spirit are a great place to start.

Patience, kindness, goodness are a good place to begin when you see the plight of others. And always – love.

To go back to the people killed in the temple, or in churches today, or when the tower fell.

There’s a thing called survivor guilt in tragedies. Person number 19 under the tower that fell would have felt bad that he made it and the others did. Why me? To bear fruit of course. Anyone who survived Pilate’s massacre in the temple – survivor guilt.

It’s been suggested there is also a survivor’s arrogance or presumption.

  • Because I made it I must be good. Worth more. Righteous.
  • Because I am successful, healthy, free etc.

The Gospel requires repentance – change in thinking about what really matters and about how we are rescued from our mess.

  • It’s not because of us.
  • We are not more deserving.
  • It’s through him. Through Christ.
  • And we need to be useful. Fruitful.

The parable is in our face really. The tree has sat around for three years. It’s given one more year to do what it is supposed to, or it gets the chop.

Lent realities

If you take Lent seriously – self-examination is at the heart of things.

The Shrove Tuesday thing – all those words for repentance – being sorry, apologizing, shriving (cleansing), admitting, being pardoned, being acquitted, absolution, mercy. Remember the word chart we built on the white board?

They are part of the pruning – and the fertilizer is needed too – for growth to come. Digging and dung is involved. The gardener will “dig around it” or “throw dung at it”.

Augustine was clear on the symbolic importance of manure: “[It] is a sign of humility.” (DANIEL G. DEFFENBAUGH Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Location 3438). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.)

The best story I heard was a talk on this passage where the speaker spoke about his father who was a pastor who in his retirement was often an interim pastor in churches. We call it “transitional ministries” today. You know when you need someone at the end of a ministry to help the church find its way for the future – often whether there is a future at all. He says this passage was one of his dad’s favourites.

He showed up at a church that was particularly difficult and conflicted (he was Lutheran I hasten to add) and told the congregation at his opening sermon:

“I’m going to be here for a little while and I’ll spread a little manure and see if you grow… and if you don’t….” An open ended statement.

It takes the issue seriously the mission of Jesus and our purpose as a church – and it’s all about growth. Our growth as individuals and as a family welcoming new people in to know Jesus better.

Bearing fruit. Changing. Making good choices like Jesus.

The fruit of repentance that John the Baptist was keen to see. He too said he had an axe.

To end – a reflection by a writer on repentance and manure. Smelly stuff that it can be.

Here we find the essence of repentance: the faithful affirmation that “while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The manure around our roots is the very blood of the one who pleads for our justification before God, the one through whom we may offer up the fruits of the kingdom to our Creator. Lent is the season of metanoia, but our sanctifying acts of penance are nothing unless we are able to claim as our own the very humility of Christ, who “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,… [who] humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8).  (DANIEL G. DEFFENBAUGH Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2009-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Location 3438). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.)

Humility. Obedience. Surrender. Lifting our hands (“hands up!”) is a sign of surrender – and we do that in worship. Like Jesus did as recorded in Philippians 2. We are emptied too.