Posts Tagged ‘Luke 13:1-9’

Wrong Place Wrong Time 3-24-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:1-9, I explore Jesus brief but important teaching on the question of tragic deaths being the result of judgment on sin.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/wrong-place-wrong-time-3-24-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, today and forever. Amen

Out of curiosity…how many of you have had the unfortunate experience of hitting a deer with your car? (pause) Anyone out there had it happen more than once? (pause) In my immediate family, my older brother holds the record…you won’t believe this but its true…he’s made contact with not one…not two…not five…but…12…12 different deer.  Honestly makes my number of 4 seem almost quaint. But that’s my number. In the roughly 25 years that I’ve been driving, 4 times I’ve smacked a deer.

But in addition to the 4 deer that I have hit…I know there have been quite a few close calls…times when one ran across the road in front of me…or it was in the ditch and it stayed put…and in addition to that…I sometimes wonder how many close calls I had that I wasn’t even aware of…like the ones I don’t see, but unwittingly drive right past…or the ones that crossed the road a minute before I got there…and if I’d left a minute earlier, I’d have hit it. It’s probably a weird thing to consider, but sometimes I think like that…the what-ifs. The disasters that were averted or avoided out of dumb luck.

Lord knows I’ve had my share of close calls…you might have heard the story of the wreck I experienced with three of my friends the summer after I graduated high school…how we rolled a car down the middle of the highway, but beyond a few pretty superficial cuts and scrapes, we were all ok…but if something had gone even slightly different any of us or all four of us could have died…but we didn’t.

When I think about moments like that…I can’t help but think of the flip side…those times when it didn’t go okay…and I know many of you have seen this type of thing before. We can call it a lot of things…bad luck…being in the wrong place at the wrong time…tragedies of one kind or another…and when they happen we begin to ask the question of why? Or how…what does it mean…or what are we supposed to think?

I’ve had that conversation with many of you over the past few years when tragic events have happened…like the death of a high school student in a car wreck last fall.  Or countless others in surrounding communities in the last few years.

I’ve heard the questions around the diagnosis of cancer…and in the death of those we lost to it…I’ve heard it in conversation about the mental decline of loved ones…when we see their personality disappear and the person we knew isn’t there anymore.

We ask it when we hear news of children fighting diseases…knowing they might not beat it.  Or when natural disasters rip through an area leaving devastation…you name it…these tragic events and moments happen all the time and they take many forms.

And that’s nothing new…because the same sort of thing happened during Jesus’ time as well…and we hear about it in today’s gospel lesson.  Two different events that resulted in tragic death. Now we don’t really know the details of either one of these events that Jesus references…those details have been lost to history…but we can make some assumptions.

The tower of Siloam…likely some sort of a watch tower or observation point along the wall that surrounded the city of Jersualem…we don’t know quite what happened beyond the tower collapsing…probably some sort of freak accident…but due to a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, 18 people died…either crushed under the collapse or perhaps inside the tower when it fell. A tragic accident.

The other one…well that one seems a little more devious.  Jesus is told about a batch of Galileans whose blood was mixed with their sacrifice.  Again…we don’t know the details, but we can make assumptions.  There was only one place where they’d be making sacrifices…and that’s in the temple there in Jerusalem…we don’t know why Pilate targets them…perhaps thinking they were involved with a treasonous plot…but for whatever reason…Pilate decides to put his cruelty and absolute authority on display by having them killed…in the midst of their act of worship.

And that’s the thing that makes this one sting even more than the other…this was act of terrorism…designed to instill fear in a group of people…in a culture…done so in a place and time of worship…the one place where no one should feel unsafe.

And that one hits close to home…because how many times have we seen it in recent memory?  More than I can count…acts of terrorism, perpetrated on people because they are different…because they look different or act different…because of a different race or different faith. We saw it cross racial boundaries when 9 people were killed during a Bible Study 4 years ago in Charleston.

We saw it cross faith boundaries when 11 were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall…and we saw it when 50 people died in New Zealand, as they gathered to pray in 2 different mosques less than 10 days ago. (pause) I wish I could say these are the only examples…but we all know better…because evil has permeated our world with lies that say different is bad…or lies that say being a non-white non-Christian equals a death sentence…Now in hindsight, these lies are utterly absurd aren’t they? In fact they are stupid…and they are dangerous…and they result in tragedies like this.

But in the moment when these tragedies happen, there seems to be a question that surrounds these things…the question that begins “why?”  But then it seems that human nature tries to find a reason when there is none…and that question will usually find its way around to asking “Did they deserve it?” I believe its true now…and it was true in Jesus’ day…and we find that in his response.

Do you think that these Galileans suffered because they were worse sinners than all others?  Do you think that the 18 killed in the tower collapse were worse sinners than anyone else living there? Jesus offers a resounding No to both of these questions and I believe that he would offer the exact same response if he was here in the conversations that we’ve been having.

Did they deserve it?  Why would they? Because they look different?  Because they worship differently?  Because their understanding of that which is divine is expressed differently?  Or because they’re bad people?   Do we hear how ridiculous that sounds? (pause)

Whenever stuff like this happens…whenever there are questions that have no good answers…or we find ourselves just a little bit off because of the way things are going…what do we do with that?  I wish I had a good answer…some little nugget of wisdom that I could pull out like a magic pill that would just solve everything, or tie it all up in a neat little package.

But the world doesn’t work like that…and sometimes that only thing we can say in face of tragedies that lead to questions with no answers is to acknowledge that the world is a broken place and it is filled with broken people.  Did those people die because they were sinners? Jesus says no…and in doing so Jesus reminds us that if death was the result of a person’s sinfulness then we would all be dead already.

But that’s not what Jesus says…he tells us to repent…and maybe, just maybe what he’s saying is that those people are dead and that is a tragedy….but you are still alive to hear this news…so repent. (pause)

None are righteous, not one…but God loves us anyway…and God gives the opportunity to turn away from the brokenness that has permeated our world and our relationships and even ourselves…and to turn back to the good existence that God desires for all of humanity. That’s what repentance means…to quite literally turn away from…and to turn back to something else.

Now this is not to say that we will be perfect and will in some way earn salvation or righteousness or God’s favor…this is to say that we recognize the brokenness as it is…and we turn to the one who is able to do something about it. Because as much as we shake our heads and ask what’s wrong with this world…we have a God who seems to do the very same thing…but this God is also capable of more…and through whatever it was that God was accomplishing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…God is bringing this broken and flawed reality towards something new.

We are not there yet…and that is painfully obvious more often than not…but in the act of repentance, which we are called to every day…we are also accepting the invitation of our Lord to join together in the work of reconciling this broken world back to the one who made it Good in the first place.

And that one is the only one who is righteous enough to say whether or not “they deserved it.” That’s not our place to say…whether we like it or not…but we are honest with ourselves, we place ourselves in that judgement seat don’t we?  Maybe, just maybe, that’s why we’re being called to repentance on this day, and in this time. (pause)

This is pretty heavy stuff…but maybe its exactly what we all need to hear now during this season of Lent…as we continue to look towards the cross…the cost of what Jesus will endure to begin this work of reconciling this broken world back to God. We’re all a part of it…but God has offered the solution to the world…let’s all turn ourselves back to that…remembering that in the face of death, whether it is our own…or someone that we care about…or some faceless stranger on the other side of the world…that death has not come to spite us because of our sin…sometimes we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time…but the promise of the gospel…the promise that we cling to, is that God is bigger than death…and that no matter the circumstances, God will always get the last word. Amen.

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Lets Do Some Tending 2-28-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:1-9, I explore the odd parable of the fig tree. Jesus uses this parable to teach against the notion that tragic deaths are the result of sin, for we are all equally sinful.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-do-some-tending-2-28-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Growing up, I as quite the daredevil. I was constantly going too, jumping off things…swinging from trees…you name it I probably did it…and because of this, I have probably had way more “close calls” than I will ever realize.

But there are two instances in my life to this point that I certainly do recognize as being close calls. Many of you know about one, when I nearly drowned while swimming one summer day. The other one happened the summer after I graduated high school…as I, along with three of my friends were roadtripping from the Okoboji area up to Sioux Falls for the day, and due to a blown tire, we ended rolling our car a couple times down the middle of the high way.

Scary to be sure…but in hindsight the cost was pretty low. The car itself was totaled…no big surprise there…but in terms of injuries, one guy put his hand through a window needing some stiches…another guy ended up with a pretty good shiner from getting smacked in the face by something flying around in the car…the third guy got the back of his head scrapped up when the roof of the car caved in and hit him…and me…sitting in the passenger seat…well I suffered 2 small scratches on my knee…not even deep enough to draw blood.

All in all, we were really lucky…it could have been way worse…and many times in the years since, as I have talked about that day, I’ve often said “Somebody was watching over me that day.” (pause) But what if that wasn’t actually the case…what if it wasn’t some miracle of God’s hand protecting the 4 of us, and especially me, from all harm in that accident…what if it wasn’t the presence of anywhere from 1-4 guardian angels protecting us from danger…What if maybe…just maybe…we were simply…lucky? (pause) Any single change in circumstance could have made the outcome of that accident a whole lot worse…any us could have been drastically injured…or worse yet, any of us…or all of us could have been dead in an instant…no warning…alive and kicking one second, and gone in the next. (pause)

Last Thursday, it happened again…a troubled individual, for whatever reason, pulled out a gun and started shooting…4 people are dead…14 injured…countless more traumatized but physically unharmed…and there is no way to determine why each person received their personal outcome. Were some better people than the others…and so they were unharmed? Were others a little shady and so they were injured? And finally those who died? Did they deserve it? (pause)
This seems to be the question that Jesus faces in the opening portion of today’s gospel…when certain individuals bring up a recent tragedy from the local Jerusalem news…that a batch of Galileans were murdered by Herod while they were making sacrifices in the temple…and since this was such a horrific thing to happen…truly they must have deserved it right? Truly for God to allow this, they must have been sinners. (pause)
This is an old notion…that God will visit the sins of the ancestor upon the children of the 3rd and 4th generation…while turning his graciousness to the 1000th generation of those who love him. It was so culturally engrained into the Jewish people that Jesus has faced similar questions before…when faced with a man born blind, Jesus was asked “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born this way?”

This may have been a culturally acceptable way to think about things…but Jesus…isn’t…having it. Do you think that these men alone were sinners among all other Galileans? (pause) And then he throws out another one…when the tower of Siloam, an old landmark just outside of Jerusalem tumbled down unexpectedly, killing 18 people…do you think they were sinful and deserved more than anyone else who happened to come through that tragedy unscathed?

Jesus poses both of these questions…and answered it with a resounding NO. These poor souls were no more and no less sinful than anyone else…they simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…and for them…in that instant…life in this flawed twisted broken reality…ended. (pause) And then, Jesus hits those he’s talking to with another major blow…unless you repent you will die as they did…maybe in a tragic way…or maybe in some other way…but unless you repent, you too will die. (pause)

Now here’s a weird thing about this…no sooner does Jesus make this bold statement…but without any sort of explanation, he switches gears and tells a parable about a landowner who gets ticked off at a fig tree that has failed to produce any fruit for several years…and he orders it cut down…Why should we waste the soil on this useless tree?

But the gardener speaks up…My master…give it one more year…let us till the soil around it…and fertilize it…and let’s see what happens. If again it produces nothing, cut it down, but if it does, how good will that be? (pause)

My first thought upon reading this passage earlier this week was that this was two different situations that were stuck together for no good reason at all…because at first glance it really seems like the parable has nothing to do with what Jesus was previously talking about…but then I got to thinking about what happens to a tree when you cut it down…it dies…and even though this tree has yet to produce any fruit, its only three years old…this tree is still young…and to cut it down now would be very similar to any one of those people who were unexpectedly cut down in the midst of their lives. (pause)
And if that’s the case, well then we better start asking the normal question of just what is this parable trying to tell us? On one hand, perhaps that our lives can be snatched from us at any moment, regardless of if we are bearing fruit or not…regardless of if we are a good person or not…life ends.

Perhaps a different question to ask then, based on this parable, is what is the fruit that the master is looking for? And as I thought about that question I was reminded of another statement from John the Baptist…Bear fruit worthy of repentance…and funny, isn’t that sort of what Jesus was saying before…that unless you repent you will die as they did? (pause)
Here’s the thing…before we can repent…we need to recognize the problem…call it whatever you will…sin…harming others…selfishness…we can cover the gambit…but we need to recognize the flaws within us before we can repent of them…before we can turn away from them…before we can fix our eyes on the one who is able to overcome our failings and flaws. In short…this fruit that I’m talking about…its faith…our faith grows within us…but not by anything we are doing…it is a gift…a gift that needs to be tended.

That’s what the gardener is asking the Master for…give me a year to tend to this tree and let’s see what happens…It may work…it may not, but only time will tell. (pause) Now granted…if we’re talking about a fruit tree, its pretty easy to tell whether or not there is in fact, fruit there.

But when we are talking about the lives of an individual…well that can be a little harder to tell sometimes…because sometimes faith is a tiny voice inside their head that says “maybe Jesus is Lord, Lord save me.” And on the other end of the spectrum might be someone who wears their faith right out there for all to see…the fruit looks different, and sometimes we can’t even see it…but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

And so it begs the question…just what does tending to faith really mean? And perhaps another question to ask, who are we? Are we the gardener who needs to do some tending? Or are we the tree that needs to be tended…and truthfully…I’m pretty sure we’re both at the same time.

Sometimes we need to be tended…and that can be as simple as being honest with ourselves and repenting…of admitting that I can’t do this alone and I have failed and I need my savior.

But other times, we’re called to tend to others…and Jesus gave us a pretty clear command on this. Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit…and in a few minutes we’ll do just that…as Henry Sampson is brought up to this font by his parents and his godparents…and together we will ALL make promises to help him be raised in a life of faith…His parents will make promises…his godparents will make promises…and together we, will make promises to tend to him…because in this moment, he’s not able to do that for himself is he? But we can do it for him.

Now here’s the thing…Jesus promises us that the holy spirit comes upon us in the waters of our baptism…and that the Father claims us as his beloved child…and that one day, after we experience our own physical death, that we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his. This is a wonderful promise…one that we proclaim at every baptism…when we recognize that God is the one doing the work here…but that he also invites us to join in it.

Today, we will make a promise to tend to the life of faith of Henry Sampson…we don’t know if it will bear fruit or not…that isn’t for us to know at this point…but despite our inability to see the outcome in the long run…its still a blessing to invited by God…to tend to this life…and so now…together…let’s sing a song…and then we’ll get to the important work…Let’s do some tending. Amen.