A CALL TO REPENTANCE
We continue on this journey through Lent with another story from the gospel of Luke. In it Jesus teaches about repentance and forgiveness. In effect, what he talks about is how God gives us a second chance.
It starts like this in Luke 13:1 (NIV): “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” That sounds a bit odd to us so let me explain what’s going on here.
It seems that Pilate, the Roman Prefect of Judea committed an atrocity. Some Galilean had journeyed down to Jerusalem to present an aminal sacrifices to God. This was required by the Jewish law and the only place sacrifices could be made was at the Temple in Jerusalem. People were free to worship at their local synagogues but, if they wanted to make an sacrifice, it had to be in Jerusalem. For some reason Pilate took exception to them being there. He probably thought they were insurrectionaries or something similar and that would not do. Do you remember how we talk last week about Herod’s power, that as the governor, he had the power of life or death? Pilate was the same. If he said, “Off with his head,” it was off with his head. Pilate, like Herod, was a rather ruthless man and so, to make his point, he had the Galileans executed while they were making their sacrifices at the altar. Hence, their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifice. Sadly, it has a very literal meaning in this case.
No doubt everyone would have heard about this because to execute someone in the Temple would have been seen as a particularly hideous incident. It would have been like the shooting of Archbishop Romero while he was officiating over communion in a hospital in San Salvador way back in 1980. Or similar but not quite so tragic, the stabbing of Father Claude Grou as he celebrated mass in Montreal on Friday. And of course, we cannot forget the shooting spree at the mosque in Christchurch New Zealand. To commit a crime in such a place as church or a temple somehow seems worse even if it’s not.
So that’s what Jesus is referring to. Pilate, by the way, was known for doing such things. In fact, it was because of a similar atrocity that he was eventually recalled to Rome in 36 A.D. and replaced as Roman prefect in Judea.
It goes on to say this in Luke 13:2 (NIV): “Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?'” What Jesus is doing is challenging an assumption that was common then and even common now I think. It is that these Galileans were slain because they had done something wrong, that they somehow were worse sinners than those around them. So somehow they were punished for their action.
We hear echoes of that today. We hear people say things like, “What did I ever do to deserve that?” Or, “Wow you must have been a really bad kid to have that happen to you.” Now, to be truthful, many times the rotten things that happen to us are products of our own decision. If you choose to smoke don’t be surprises if you get lung cancer. If you text while driving, don’t be surprise if you get fined and lose your license – or worse. In that sense we have to be responsible for our actions.
I think what Jesus is getting at, however, is that God does not punish us for our sins, at least not in this life. When Pilate killed the Galileans at the altar, God had nothing to do with that. It had nothing to do with God. It simply happened because we live in a fallen world. So don’t blame God when bad things happen to you.
But then Jesus goes on to say this in Luke 13:3 (NIV): “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” So Jesus is emphasizing that God does not punish us in this life. But nonetheless, we are still called to repent. Why? Because that is how we ensure that we won’t be punished in eternity. What he’s saying is this: You see what happened to those Galileans. That happened in this life. But if you don’t repent of your sins, how much worse it will be for you in eternity. After all, as bad as it is to perish in this life, it will be much worse to perish in eternity. So repent of your sins to wipe our slate clean and be right with God. That’s what Jesus is saying.
Then Jesus begins a second story in Luke 13:4-5 (NIV): “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? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” This is the same story, isn’t it? Siloam located just outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem and everyone would have been familiar with what happened there. A tower fell on a group of men and killed them. Once more Jesus asks if they were any worse than anyone else. And the answer is no. But then he says again that unless the people repent they will perish eternally.
Why does Jesus tell a similar story twice? Why does he remind people to repent or perish twice? It’s really quite simple and not the least bit complicated. It’s the same reason you tell you kids to brush their teeth every day and the same reason MADD constantly pays for commercials on TV telling us to not drive intoxicated. Basically, if it’s important to say once, it’s important to say twice because some people will miss it the first time. But maybe they won’t miss it the second time or the third time or the fourth time. What Jesus is doing when he says it twice is emphasizing just how important this is.
NO FRUIT, WRONG PLACE
Now Jesus tells a parable. People sometimes ask me what a parable is. For those who don’t know, a parable is a fictional story about everyday things that most people would understand. The story is used as an object lesson. Jesus was a master at using parables as a teaching tool.
In begins like this in Luke 13:6-7 (NIV) where we read: “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 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?”’”
There are two problems with the fig tree. The first one is pretty obvious. What is it? It’s that the fig tree isn’t bearing any fruit. The owner comes along and sees that the fig tree isn’t bearing any fruit and understandably wonders why he should keep it. And, by the way, this isn’t the first time it hasn’t born fruit. It’s been barren the previous two years as well. So this tree is of no economic value to the land owner so maybe it should be cut down and replaced with something that will bear fruit.
So that’s the first problem. The tree is barren. The second problem is less obvious. Do you see it? Here’s a hint; where is the fig tree growing? It’s growing in a vineyard. Is that where fig trees are supposed to grow? No they’re supposed to grow in fig groves with other fig trees. Grapes are supposed to grow in vineyards. What that means is that this fig tree isn’t growing where it’s supposed to grow. And that’s the other problem. It’s not where it’s supposed to be.
How did it get there? We don’t know. It doesn’t say. Maybe one of the workers in the vineyard a few years ago was eating a fig during his lunch break and some seeds fell on the ground. One of them germinated and sent down some roots. And before anyone knew it, there was a little fig sprout in amongst the grape vines. The fact that the fig tress is growing in the wrong place does not help its cause. In fact, it’s just added incentive for the owner to have it cut down. So the poor fig tree has two strikes against it. “Why,” the owner asks, “should I let it sit there taking up room when I could replace it with something else?” It’s a reasonable question.
But here’s another question. How many times are we like that fig tree? Do we always bear fruit? Are we always where we’re supposed to be? Those are two really good questions to ask ourselves during Lent. Remember that Lent is a time to think about our lives and if we are living them the way that God wants us to live them.
So, let’s ask ourselves those questions. Are you bearing the fruit in your life that God wants you to bear? What I mean by that is this; does the fruit of you work and you decisions measure up to what God wants you to achieve in your life? Are people better off because you connect with them? Do your activities enhance the well-being of others? Are you making a positive difference in the lives of those you touch and in your church and community? That’s the fruit of what you do. Does it measure up? I’m sure it does in some senses and, when it does, you should rightly rejoice because God rejoices when you get it right. But all of us also fall short. The fruit that we bear is not always good fruit. We still hurt others whether we mean to or not. None of us is perfect. Lent is a time for us to think about that and consider now we could do better. So, are you bearing the fruit God wants you to bear?
Here’s the second question. Are you where God wants you to be? Or are you like a fig tree planted in a vineyard? We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’ve all had the experience where we thought we were doing just fine and life was good and then one day you stop and look around and wonder how you got to where you are. I’ve been getting a sense of that lately. On my next birthday in May, I’m going to be sixty-four. How did I get there? In some ways, considering some of the things that I’ve done in my life it’s a miracle that that I made it past thirty. Twenty years ago I was forty-four and that’s pretty young and looking younger all the time. But twenty years from now, I’ll be eighty-four and that’s not so young any more. I’m starting to understand why so many guys my age buy sports cars.
And somewhere along the line, I going to have to retire. Or maybe I’ll be like Ruth’s grandfather who died one evening on the platform of the Salvation Army in Little Bay Islands Newfoundland while leading worship.
But seriously, we come to places in life and we ask those questions. In fact, we should ask those question. Am I where God wants me to be? Or should I be somewhere else? Those are good Lent questions. And if your answer is that you are where you’re supposed to be then great. Stay there. But if you aren’t, then you’d better think about making changes because if you aren’t where you’re supposed to be, you will never be satisfied and life will never make sense.
A SECOND CHANCE
The worker of the vineyard heard the owner but encouraged him not to give up quite yet on the young tree. Let’s hear what he says in Luke 13:8 (NIV): “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” The worker, then isn’t so sure that the tree should be cut down. “Let’s give it a second chance,” he suggests.
Why is that? Why is the worker willing to give the fig tree another chance even though it has born fruit and it is in the wrong place? Maybe he knows the tree better than the owner. Here’s a bit of information that may come in handy about fig trees. First of all, we know that this fig tree is at least three years old. Remember that the owner previously said that he had looked for fruit for three years but had found none. Fig trees, however, often take a few years to blossom and bear fruit. Fig trees is usually three years old before the start producing fruit. But it can take up to six years. So maybe the worker is telling the owner that the young tree just needs more time. It’s still young. Give it a chance. Some trees just take longer than others.
People too. Some people take longer than others to bear the fruit of faith. Some people catch on right away and their lives change but with others it takes time. Here’s the thing. When someone comes to Christ, it’s called a conversion. That word is wisely used because a conversion is a turning around. It is about going in one direction and then turning around and going in the opposite direction.
That’s not always easy because some of us come to Christ with a whole lot of baggage. That’s why twice in the previous verses, Jesus called the people to repent or perish. Repentance is the very first step of conversion. Repentance is an acknowledgement that there’s something wrong in my life that I need to change. But you can never fix a problem until you first recognize it. Repentance is the recognition that we have sinned and we need to change.
Think of your life as a boat and that boat represents the things that need to change in your life. They’re the baggage you come with when you come to Christ. Some people are like a canoe. They’ve never been that far from Jesus. He’s always been there trying to get their attention and direct their lives even if they did not acknowledge him. It’s not so hard for them to turn around. A couple of paddle strokes and you’re going in the direction God wants you to go.
But other people come with more baggage. Some people’s lives are more like a cruise ship. They’ve had lots of self-indulgence and fancy food. They played and had lots of fun but never much listened to the Holy Spirit in their lives. In fact, they’ve treated their bodies more like an amusement park than the temple of the Holy Spirit that it ws created to be. Have you ever seen a cruise ship try to turn around? It takes more than a couple of paddle strokes. It can take a long time. And then there is the odd person who is like an aircraft carrier. I’m not even going to go into that one.
But whether you’re a canoe or a cruise ship or even an aircraft carrier, Jesus gives you a second chance. Like the worker in the vineyard he will take you where you are, barren and out of place. And he will dig around you and fertilize you and work on you so that you will bear good fruit in your life.
And the really neat thing about that is that he also calls us to help each other to become the people God created us to be. What that means is that Jesus calls us to mentor and support each other on this journey of faith. He calls the more mature Christians to help the new ones to appreciate the lifestyles that God has called us to live in love and service to each other. In Ephesians 4:1 we are called to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. And then we are told what that means in Ephesians 4 and 5. It might be a good idea to go home and read that after worship as a basic review of Christianity 101.
Jesus always gives us a second chance. In fact, he gives us a second and a third and a fourth chance because it is God’s desire that everyone be saved and that none be lost. So Jesus is not about to give up on you. And neither should we ever give up on each other.
And finally, I want to make this
point about fig trees. It might take a few years for them to bear fruit but,
once they do, they can bear fruit for 200 years. That’s quite a payback. It
sometimes takes people a little longer to turn their lives around. It sometimes
takes a little more effort on our part to mentor our younger brothers and
sisters in the faith. But we need to be persistent at it because when they
finally do come around and live the lives that God has called them to live,
their fruit will multiply and multiply and multiply. You might spend a few
years mentoring someone else but think of the payback when they finally do get
it. And when they do there will be great rejoicing in heaven because one more
child of God has come to know the truth.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Peace, we give you thanks for the way that you have made yourself available to us. Thank you for the amazing covenant relationship that you have made possible for us through Jesus Christ. It is our desire to understand more of your covenant and what has been made available to us through it. May we never take for granted the price you paid for us to be able to stand before your throne as forgiven and forgiving people.
We offer our thanks for our friends and neighbours, those who are there for us in times of celebration and in times of need. We thank you for special relationships that are expressed in godly and righteous ways. May we be as faithful to our friends as you are to us.
We pray this day, for those living through the violence throughout the world and especially for those who face attacks because of their faith. We remember the people of New Zealand who are coming together to combat gun violence. We pray also for Fr Claude Grou as he recovers from the stabbing incident in Montreal. There are many Christians who face daily persecution and violence, especially in places like Nigeria and China. Give them strength and peace O God. May your Spirit inspire noble people to create a social, government and spiritual structure that will benefit all people.
We would ask your blessings upon the world, O God of Creation. In a world of strife, we pray for peace. In a world of darkness, we pray for light. In a world of fear, we pray for love. In a world of suffering, we pray for healing and fulfilment. Lift us up above the problems of our own making and set our feet upon the higher ground when your Spirit would lead us.
We pray for healing for those in need of your special touch, especially for Sharon and Mary. May your Healing Spirit so touch their lives that they may know your presence and live in your love both now and into eternity.
You, O God, are a great God. You
are an awesome and wonderful God. You know our prayers before we speak them.
You know our needs before we experience them. We lift our prayers to you in the
assurance that you will intercede and walk with us in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
March 24, 2019 / Lent 3
Psalm 63:1-8; Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
CALL TO WORSHIP
We long for you God.
We desire your presence among us.
Come to us now in our worship.
Fill us anew, O God, with your Spirit.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of All Creation, we come to you seeking your Spirit in our worship. We also seek wisdom and guidance as we travel life’s journey. Enable us to understand your plan and to live according to your purpose. We want to make the most of every opportunity to do good and exemplify your character and values. Renew us daily that our actions may be accomplished with your principles and promises. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, the pain of sin surrounds us and we are filled with guilt. We seek your forgiveness but often find it difficult to forgive our sisters and brothers. According to your Word, we must be willing to forgive quickly when others cause hurt or offense. We need to exemplify your character and love to them as we seek healing and wholeness. Help us to put aside past grudges and to seek reconciliation with all your people. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God offers us so much that is undeserved and unearned. But we are told that, when we turn to God in prayer, that our prayers are heard. When we confess our sins, God hears and is merciful and quick to forgive. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God’s thoughts above ours.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We offer our gifts and tithes, O God, in the knowledge that there are many people who have far less than we possess. There are those who have no food or housing, whose lives are filled with worry and fear. We give out of our abundance that others may also be able to live life to the fullest. Amen.
in faith seeking God’s presence. We go in faith with assurance that Jesus walks
beside us. Touch the world gently and make a difference in your corner of creation.