Devotional Message: The 3rd Sunday in Lent (3/24/2019)

Lessons

Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8
1st Corinthians 10:1-13
St. Luke 13:1-9

Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or 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? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then 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. 7So 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?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

St. Luke 13:1-9, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Unless You Repent…

When I was being trained in how to craft sermons, my professors stressed that if an illustration is too disturbing, or too shocking, it shouldn’t be used — the listeners will be overly distracted by the strength of the story, and unable to follow your train of thought. It seems that nobody shared this principle with Jesus or Luke. Innocent Galileans who were gathered for worship being slaughtered by Pilate at the altar. Eighteen people minding their own business who were crushed by a falling tower. Too disturbing? Absolutely! Too shocking? Indeed!

And one way we over-react to these overly-powerful stories is to lose sight of what Jesus is saying here. We could spin off for a good long time considering whether the joy or the pain of this life is deserved (it isn’t) or is visited upon us by a God who is responding to the character of our lives with tangible, concrete blessings or curses (it isn’t). Faithful people were wrestling with this long before Rabbi Kushner wrote about it. In fact, it seems these followers of Jesus wondered if good fortune in life was a sign of God’s favor, and if pain or suffering in life was a sign of God’s displeasure.

But Jesus isn’t, here, attempting to resolve the issue of theodicy. He is trying to stress the importance of repentance, and the reality that we don’t have forever. to get around to it.

Thus the Parable of the Fig Tree. An underperforming tree has been under observation for three years. Every time the vineyard owner came around looking, it was found not to be producing fruit. Finally, the vineyard owner lost all patience whatsoever. The gardener comes up with a plan to give the tree one more year, but the message doesn’t change: trees are intended to bear fruit, and if one isn’t, “Why should it be wasting the soil?”

Surely, as St. Luke’s Gospel began to circulate, the people of his time wondered if Jesus’ promised return (which many thought would happen during their lifetimes) was being delayed so that more people would have the chance to become followers before it was too late. But even that misses the point. Repentance is the point. Being turned completely around by the message of Jesus is the point. Beginning to look at the world through the eyes of God instead of through the eyes of broken, sinful humans is the point.

You see, repentance has to do with more than feeling badly about something you shouldn’t have done. It has to do with embracing an entirely new way to look at life. It has to do with living into our call to be “a reflection of Christ” in the world that surrounds us. It has to do with giving our selves — our full selves — to God. This is what Jesus wants for his listeners: an entirely new mind with which to consider the world. He wants it for us as well. 

And Lent is a season that seeks to move us in this direction. How is your Lent going so far? 

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why does it seem that Jesus and his listeners are talking about the meaning behind these two disastrous events?

  2. What does Jesus mean, in this passage, by the words “unless you repent?”

  3. What other passages come to mind where Jesus presses for an entirely new way to understand life?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. How has my Christian faith reshaped my understanding of my God, myself and my world?

  2. When have I found myself being led to a new, more faithful way to live?

  3. What practices have I committed to follow in Lent that are helping me to experience transformation?