Bad news happens and people talk. Imagine the buzz in the marketplace in Jesus time. Maybe it sounded like this: Did you hear about what Pilate did this time? He killed the Galileans and dared to mingle their blood with the blood of sacrifice. That goes against God. Did you hear about the tower that fell in Jerusalem and killed 18 people? It’s awful.
Some things don’t change. Bad news happens… and people talk. It happens today too. Remember what ISIS did to the Coptic Christians in Egypt? Lined them up hooded and killed them execution style. What about the Uber driver – randomly killing innocent bystanders? It doesn’t make sense.
Whether in Jesus’ day or ours, bad news happens and people talk. People talk – and ask God: “How can you allow such a thing? How can you permit such evil?” “Why is there such suffering?” Then and now people ask the questions: “If God is All Good and All Powerful, why is there evil in the world?” “Why do innocent bystanders suffer?” “Is this part of God’s plan?” “Did God cause this suffering?” And then…people try to find meaning for all this suffering and often wonder…sometimes out loud: Did those people who are suffering or who were killed DO SOMETHING to deserve this? Are they being punished for their sin?
Jesus answers the last question with an emphatic “NO.” Speaking plainly, Jesus says, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you.” And in case his listeners wondered if he was speaking only of this particular situation, Jesus gives another example. Speaking of what seems like innocent bystanders when a tower fell, Jesus says, “do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you.”
Jesus makes it really clear that God does not cause people to die horrific deaths or suffer excruciating pain because they were worse sinners than anyone else. This is true for the people killed by Pilate, by Nazis, by ISIS or any other hateful person or group and it is true for people killed by the falling tower of Siloam, the falling of the Twin Towers, the bridge collapse or for those killed by the Uber driver. God is NOT punishing them for their sin. These people were no worse sinners than anyone else.
The fact that everyone sins doesn’t mean that sin – falling short of the life God has for us – doesn’t matter. It does matter – and Jesus calls us to repent. Twice Jesus tells his disciples and us, “unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." Can you hear the urgency in his message? Repent. Do it NOW.
Stories of unexpected deaths remind us: We are mortal. I serve as a volunteer Police Chaplin for Robbinsdale, Crystal and New Hope. Most of the time when I’m called to a scene, it’s because someone has died. This past week the deceased was a woman who had clearly made some unhealthy choices in life. She smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day, drank 3 pots of coffee, used street drugs, never exercised, and after staying up all night watching TV together, her brother – who weighed close to 450 pounds -- would make her a breakfast of “the works” including fried eggs, bacon, and sausage and more. And, he told me, “I didn’t give her skimpy portions.”
It’s pretty easy to make some connections between her lifestyle and her early death. Of course, the story is more complicated than simply making bad choices. They had other challenges that they couldn’t control that may have led to the unhealthy behavior that I won’t go into here. Their story made me sad for them – but their bad choices didn’t make them any worse “sinners” than I am.
Jesus calls them AND ME to repent. In Greek, the word is “metanoeó (met-an-o-eh'-o).” While in Hebrew the word for repentance means: “turn around,” the New Testament understanding is a little more nuanced. It means: “to change one’s mind or purposes.” Change is still needed, but it might not be a 180 degree turn. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of things that I do and choices that I make that aren't “bad” – they are even “good” but sometimes doing those things keeps me from doing the most important things. In calling us to repent – to turn from those decisions that keep us from being all that God made us to be, Jesus is calling his disciples and us to live a life worth living.
I heard a story on MPR this week about a sculptor who makes beautiful sculptures of people out of ice. When asked why she goes to all of this work – only to have her beautiful sculptures melt away, she gave a surprising answer. She had looked at the great sculptures of people of the past and noticed that they were made of the most durable materials – bronze and stone. And she noticed that they were made larger than life – and that often they were raised high on horses or pedestals. She set out to do… the opposite. So she made smaller than life - three foot - figures out of ice, a most impermanent material, especially since she doesn’t place them outside at a Winter Carnival but instead takes them out of her frozen workshop and displays them inside. She sets metal bowls under her melting masterpieces to catch the drips and then amplifies the bowls to make the noise of dripping water even louder… When asked why she goes to so much work only to have it melt away, she replied, “to remind us of our mortality.” Clearly taken aback, the interviewer said, “Oh! Isn’t that depressing?” To which the artist replied, “No, it’s to remind us to make the most of THIS Life.”
We are mortal. How do we repent, change our mind, our purpose, to make the MOST of this life, to live the life that Jesus would have us live? As followers of Jesus, you maybe don’t need a 180 degree turnaround. But just as a sailing ship continues to need small course corrections as it battles wind and waves, so we too need help to “stay the course” and focus and refocus on Jesus’ way, and not to get distracted by all of the things around us, things that aren’t really “bad” -- especially compared to what other people are doing.//
But wait… did you catch that? We so quickly make this move: “especially compared to what other people are doing.” We are accustomed to comparing ourselves to OTHER PEOPLE – like the woman with the unhealthy lifestyle. The people in Jesus’ day made the same kind of comparisons. But that’s not the standard that Jesus holds out for them or us. The standard is Jesus – on the cross. So…if you want to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to Jesus. We all fall short.
Jesus calls us to repentance. Again, there’s urgency to it. Don’t wait. Life is too uncertain. Jesus doesn’t give excuses or reasons that life is uncertain. He just states the truth. Life is uncertain. You are mortal. Repent. Do it NOW.
The reason that Jesus wants us to repent is because Jesus wants more for us. Jesus wants us to have a life worth living. And Jesus wants that for ALL of us. To illustrate, Jesus tells a story, a parable of hope and second chances.
In the parable, the owner of the fig tree first pronounces judgment – and then a second chance. That’s Grace. But the question remains: Will the fig tree change? Not by itself. The fig tree needs the help of the gardener to dig up the soil, to add the manure and fertilizer before it can grow.
Jesus calls us to repent, to change our focus, to refocus on Jesus’ ways. But like the fig tree, we can’t do it by ourselves.
This reminds me of the picture of heaven and hell that someone once painted. In hell there were people sitting at a table filled with sumptuous food – but they were given long forks and were miserable because they could not feed themselves. In heaven there were people sitting at a table filled with sumptuous food – and they were given the same long forks. But they were having a delightful time feeding one another. Jesus has given us one another – to care for the other, to dig around the soil, to put Miracle Grow on the roots – and to encourage one another.
Jesus invites you and me to live a life worth living NOW. To do this Jesus has given us a community of faith. In this community of faith we are called to do our part to care for one another, to feed the neighbor, so that we – and our neighbor may bear fruit and live a life worth living. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
February 28, 2016
Jesus invites us to live a life worth living NOW – and to do this as a community of faith, doing our part to care for one another so that we – and our neighbor may bear fruit
1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8 He replied, "Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' "