Sermon from Sunday March 3rd 2013 / 3rd Sunday in the Season of Lent
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / March 3rd / 3rd Sunday in the Season of Lent, Luke 13:1-9.
There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
And [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
(Luke 13:1-9 ESV)
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. When things are going well we are often tempted to take for granted all the good things God gives us and if we give in to this temptation we fail in thanking Him for these good gifts. When things are going badly we are often tempted to blame God and if we give in to this temptation we disregard the influence of Sin on the tragedy at hand or we end up blaming the wrong person or people for the trouble and we fail in looking to God for His mercy. Today’s Gospel says that, “There were some present ... who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And [Jesus] answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” or what about, “those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”
In preparation for this morning I ended up reading a document called “Canadian Standard Contract Terms and Conditions for Merchandise Warehousemen” this document is a current document used by a company called Logikor. In it they have this clause under the heading “Liability of Warehouseman – Section 9,” and it states this, “(d) Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, it is specifically declared that: i) All goods are stored at the owner’s risk of loss, damage or delay in the delivery caused by or through inaccuracies, obliteration or absence of marks, numbers, address or description, act of God, irresistible force, enemies of the Queen, civil or military authorities, insurrection, riot, strikes, picketing or any other labour trouble, water, steam, sprinkler leakage, floods, rain, wind, storm, fire, frost, vermin ...” etcetera, etcetera, ... well you get the picture: People are very aware that bad things may, and will happen in the word they live in. Interesting to today’s Gospel Reading from the Gospel of St. Luke is the little term used in this document, (Did you catch it?), that little phrase that says “Act of God” In 1864 the British House of Lord’s (which is similar to our Canadian Senate) accepted a definition of what an Act of God is in connection to a legal case under their review. The definition of an Act of God was this: An Act of God is an event which arises from and consists of, "Circumstances which no human foresight can provide against, and of which human prudence is not bound to recognize the possibility, and which when they do occur, therefore, are calamities that do not involve the obligation of paying for the consequences that may result from them." Interestingly the Cooperators Insurance group says that currently, “Insurance companies in Canada do not use the term “Act of God” when talking about insurance products, either as a legal term or in any marketing materials. Perils refer to what types of losses are covered and exclusions state what is not covered. Exclusions are very specific, such as flood or earthquake.”
So here we have it. Even today we are concerned with the ambiguity between random events and planned events! Which is it! Can there even be random events? Is everything all planned out? Did the bad thing happen because of some cause, if so what was the cause? Can someone be blamed for it? If so who is liable to pay for it? Who is obligated to pay for the consequences of the event? Today’s Gospel reading is all the more pointed because the question asked of Jesus is one in which Sin is discussed. How does sin fit into why bad things happen? And more importantly do the specific sins of the individual factor into events? Another question swirling around in all of this is ‘who is the ultimate author of a tragic event?’ Is something like the collapse of the tower of Siloam connected to individual sin? Is it, what insurance carriers used to call an “Act of God?” Is it an Act of God? Most importantly what about Jesus in all of this?
Jesus has an answer to the question of whether personal sin is connected to a tragic event, and His answer is an unpopular one. Jesus’ answer is No. Why would this answer be unpopular? People do currently like the general notion that “what goes around comes around” so Jesus’ answer of No, people aren’t going to like this answer much, people want swift and specific cosmic retribution for bad behavior as long as it’s swift and specific cosmic retribution for the bad behavior of others and not them personally. This is why Jesus’ answer of No is unpopular to some. The flip side to this is the other common idea about tragedy: Some might initially like the answer No from Jesus because the world and our society loves to paint the victims of tragedies as innocent bystanders, so on the surface Jesus seems to be supporting this idea of innocence, however this also is not what Jesus is saying as He answers this question. What is Jesus saying? If we look to other areas of Scripture we’ll find Jesus telling Peter, for instance, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Meaning if you live by the sword you’ll die by the sword. St Paul tells us that “whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” So by passages like this and others in Scripture you can see that it is possible for a person to be victimized by the sins they are personally guilty for and yet Jesus says that the Galileans and the men for whom the tower collapse on were not being punished for specific sin. So which is it? It is very possible to be innocent of the tragedy that befalls you, think of the book of Job as an example, or even our Lord Jesus and His crucifixion. If a tower falls on someone it wont happen because they lied to their boss or because they stole money from a relative: However, being innocent in the face of a particular tragedy doesn’t mean that the victim of some tragedy is entirely innocent in their whole life: And this is what Jesus is getting at, He’s pointing out the reality of the nature of sin, and just how far reaching it is. Jesus is also pointing out our desperate need to be rescued from it.
Scripture teaches that no one outside of Christ Jesus Himself is innocent, every person is guilty of sin, they are guilty of their own sin and they have had the guilt of the original sin of Adam and Eve transferred to them from their conception. Jesus therefore answers this question of personal sin in relation to tragic events by saying that the men, who were murdered by Pontius Pilates enforcers, as they prepared the lamb for the Passover feast in the courts of the Temple were just as sinful as the ones who (in a freak occurrence) died in the perilous collapse of the tower of Siloam. One group of men were not more innocent than the other, and extrapolated from that “no one does good (not one is righteous, not one is without sin), not even one,” as Saint Paul says in Romans 3:12 where he’s quoting from Psalm 53.
In this passage today, Jesus, teaches that while someone may not be specifically punished by tragedy, tragedy befalls its victims because the world is broken and sin permeates everything and everyone.
Does God punish sin? Yes God does. This is terrifying, because in our daily lives the justice of God’s wrath towards sin is hidden and the reasons and purposes are regularly beyond our comprehension. In Lamentations, the writer says that, “[God] bent His bow and set me as a target for His arrow.” By this we see that God takes aim at Sin, death, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh and He lets loose His arrow at them. We are the bull’s eye of this aiming. But is God aiming at your personal greed or is He aiming at the Greed of the word? Is He aiming at both? And Who is it who takes the arrow when it hits its target? The men who came to Jesus with this story ripped from the equivalent of the headline of a news paper wanted a simple answer, and they didn’t receive the answer they wanted, Jesus’ answer is clearly complex. Jesus instead ends up talking about Mercy. Jesus switches gears and gives the parable of the fig tree.
In the midst of tragedy and the brokenness of the world be comforted by the fact that God desires to show you mercy, like the vinedresser from the parable about the fig tree, God shows His Mercy by the work He does for you in the person of Jesus Christ His Son.And what are the works of God? God’s works of Love are works of Mercy. This is what Christ Jesus is about, He is pressing towards the cross to provide mercy for everyone. He does this because Jesus is both God’s Arrow of justice aimed at sin and because in God’s Mercy Jesus is your substitution, Jesus ends up being the target of the same Arrow which was aimed at you because of sin.
In our initial questions we asked: “Do bad thing happen because of some cause, if so what was the cause?” I think we’ve established the answer to this question and the answer is: Yes bad things happen because of a cause, that cause is sin. “Can someone be blamed for it?” The answer is: Yes, someone can be blamed for it; the one who sins and Sin its self which is an enemy of all people from the time of the first sin. Our Next question is: “If so who is liable to pay for it? Who is obligated to pay for the consequences of the event?” or more accurately who is liable to pay for the consequences of sin? The answer is: “The soul who sins shall die,” This is what Ezekiel 18:20 says; meaning you and I are each personally accountable for our sin, even for the sin that was given to us in our conception. The rub then is that we are not able to make the payment for this sin, because God demands perfection as the fulfillment of the law, and we are not perfect. There is an unplayable deductible, out of pocket you must pay for your sin with perfection, and that’s a cheque you can’t personally cash. Jesus in Matthews Gospel says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In the Epistle of James we hear that, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” What then shall we do?
This is where mercy comes in: We are obligated to pay for the consequences of sin and yet God in His mercy intervenes. Colossians chapter 2 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses ... God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Jesus in your baptism, in God’s gift of faith becomes the rider on your insurance policy; God waves the deductible in Christ and saves you.
How is this possible? God doesn’t cancel all tragedies; God redeems them at the cross. Now the tragedy of the cross is that an innocent man died when He was not guilty of the charges against Him and was not even guilty of the sin that infects everything. He dies for you. Jesus, God’s Son, was innocent in thought, word, and deed; He was innocent from the beginning, from His incarnation, from His immaculate conception. “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” People looked upon the dead Jesus nailed to the tree of the cross and they see one who was “despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows, [a Man] acquainted with grief;” people therefore hide “their faces” from Him. People hide their face from Jesus, because at the cross He took on everyone’s guilt, everyone’s sin, He became the face of tragic suffering “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. At the beginning we heard that bit from the British House of Lords who said that in the face of unforeseen tragedy an insurer has no obligation of paying for the consequences that may result from such a tragedy. In our case it’s different, while we are personally responsible for our sin, God foreseeing the tragedy that sin would inflict upon the word and us decided to pay for the consequences of that sin, He took on you liability providing you a perfect Rider in Christ Jesus and paid the cost for all the lose and damage and suffering and despair. He takes you out of the cross hairs of eternal calamity and Jesus steps into your place upon the cross. For this reason God, in His Love, is patient with you and desires you to ask for forgiveness and forgives you when you ask for it.
If you watch the news every day you’ll see some sort of suffering, some sort of tragedy, when you do remember: Sin is the root cause of these things, and it’s the brokenness of the world that Jesus comes to address, Jesus is the perfect payment, Jesus is the warning cry calling you back to God, Jesus is your only hope in the face of suffering and eternal death, Jesus is the forgiveness of your sins, He is your Life and your Salvation. The true Act of God is not some random freak occurrence; the true Act of God (in the midst of tragedy) is God’s gift of Mercy to You in Jesus and Jesus’ willingness to “lay down His life for [you] His friends.”
At the end of the first service I had a member come out saying, “well I sure am aware that I’m a sinner today!” I said to them “Yes we are all sinners, but you are also a forgiven sinner in the Blood of Jesus, who loves you!” He’s the one who cuts through the red tape and fulfils all the small print in the contract, covers all you owe and gives you the gift of eternal life, and His blessed perfection. Amen.
Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy, Lord Have Mercy, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
Tennant v. Earl of Glasgow, (House of Lords, 1864), British Law.
 Basically if, for instance you are a member of a gang your odds of being killed in gang related violence increase exponentially, and your participation is part of this, however someone could still be killed by gang violence as a bystander where a stray built hits them and they would be innocent of gang activity yet still dead due to the tragedy of sin in the world.
1 John 1:18
 1 Peter 2:23-25
 Isaiah 53:3
 Isaiah 53:5
 John 15:13