Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 3, 2013)

LUKE 13:1-9

In the name + of Jesus.

     Back in my college days in studying for the ministry, we had chapel every morning and evening.  The attendance at evening chapel could be pretty poor.  Some absences were for valid reasons.  Many were not.  The Dean of our college was understandably concerned at the lack of attendance in chapel.  So from time to time, he would offer a fiery admonition about our poor chapel attendance.  Now, I always thought it was strange to unload on the people who are in chapel about not being in chapel.  It seemed to miss the mark.  And it probably inspired a few attendees to walk away from chapel thanking God that they were better than those phonies who did not come to chapel.
     Our Lord inspired the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures for the benefit of the whole world.  God so loved the world, and he wants all the world to know it.  But we still find ourselves applying it badly.  Sometimes we hear the word of the Lord and think, “That was something that THEY needed to hear.”  We believe that certain portions of God’s word are for me, but other parts are for those phonies who aren’t here.  Do not be misled.  Every word of Scripture is God’s truth.  Every word is for everyone—whether they want to hear it or not.
     In our Gospel today, Jesus is very clearly not targeting his sermon to “them.”  He is speaking to his disciples.  There were some present at that very time who told him 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.” (Luke 13:1-5)
     Jesus’ disciples seemed to have gotten the idea that those people who were killed had gotten what they deserved.  We still do.  We are not bothered by the death and demise of other people, because we believe that they have somehow deserved it.  We tend to pray for vengeance rather than mercy.  We pay good money to see movies where the bad guy gets his comeuppance.  We find ourselves cheering when the villain gets killed off.  We get angry when the man on trial gets acquitted.  We want blood.  We want vengeance, but we like to call it justice.  They were bad.  We are good, and that’s why we are spared such troubles.
     Jesus implores you to rethink these things.  He calls you to repent.  Those Galileans who came to the temple for sacrifice, only to be made sacrifices by Pilate’s soldiers?  Were they worse sinners?  Those killed when the Tower of Siloam fell?  Were they worse?  That man in Florida who was swallowed by a sink hole, was he worse than you?  Granted, each group may have been wicked.  Galileans had a reputation for revolting.  Perhaps Pilate had to squelch their rebellion.  Some people think the people in the Tower of Siloam were being held there as prisoners, perhaps held there for good reasons.  As for the man from Florida, I’m sure that some are crying at his death and a few are smiling because of it.  I have no idea if he was bad or good.  But God does not work by karma.  Rarely does God strike people down directly because of some sin they have committed.  If he did, we would all be in serious trouble.
     It is easy for you to think more highly of yourselves than you ought.  After all, you know God’s verdict upon you.  He calls you his saints.  You are his dearly beloved and his beloved redeemed.  But it is appealing to think that you have these titles because you deserve them.  You want to believe that others are not saved because they are more wicked, more perverted, or more hardened.  Jesus asks you: Do you think they are worse than you?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)  
     Jesus’ call is always to repent.  It is not a matter of who is more corrupt.  If that were the case, you would always judge the best of you versus the worst in them.  You will always win.  But it is a matter of who is corrupt, period.  The fact that you think you are better or more deserving shows that you are arrogant.  The fact that you delight in the demise of others shows that you are spiteful.  But your end is the same.  All have sinned.  The wages are death.  There is no one who is good, so do not call yourself better.  Repent.
     Jesus’ call is always to repent.  Your place in heaven not deserved or earned.  You are not chosen because you have proven yourself or performed better.  Jesus did not come to supplement deeds of people who have mostly done good.  Jesus came to save sinners, rebels, and wretched people.  Jesus’ call is always to repent—that you would forsake any credit you might claim, that you would abandon any contribution you would make, and that you would renounce any boast you may have.  Either Jesus saves you completely or he does not save you at all.  True repentance makes no claims or boasts.  True repentance simply throws you at the mercy of God and pleads that, for Jesus’ sake, he would not destroy you on account of your sins.
     Jesus Christ did not come to have mercy on the deserving.  The deserving don’t need it; and mercy is never deserved.  Jesus Christ has come to save sinners.  Therefore, that Galilean went to Jerusalem.  He went there for sacrifice and had his blood shed by Pilate.  Jesus of Nazareth made himself the sacrifice for your sin.  The holy blood was shed to atone for your sin.  His humility atones for your arrogance.  His mercy answers for your spite.  His willingness to suffer and die for his enemies covers your vengeful spirit.  His sacred flesh was pierced for your corrupt flesh—the death of God for the life of man; God enduring hell so that man can enter heaven.
     You see, dear Christians, it is not a matter of who is more or less corrupt than anyone else.  It is the fact that you are forgiven of all your sins, purified of all your corruption, and saved from all punishment.  You have the very righteousness God demands: It has been given to you by Jesus Christ.  It was poured upon you in Holy Baptism.  It is poured into your mouths in Holy Communion.  It is applied to you personally and privately in Holy Absolution.  So you do not need to worry about comparing yourself to anyone else—whether to your neighbor, or to the Christian who sits next to you, or to the Corinthians whom St. Paul instructed and admonished, or to the Israelites who complained and rebelled.  These things were written as warnings to us—not so that we could make comparisons and commend ourselves, but so that we would take heed, flee from our sins, and repent.  Your place in God’s kingdom is not based on who is better, but upon who is saved.  And Jesus Christ has saved you because he loves you, because he lived and bled and died for you.
     Even though you are declared holy and blameless, Jesus’ call is always to repentance.  For, you will always be tempted to judge based on what you see in others and in yourself.  You may see the best or the worst in others.  It doesn’t matter.  Repent.  Do not scrutinize others.  Forsake any opinion of yourself.  Whether you think you are the cream of the crop or the scum of the earth, Jesus Christ has the only judgment that matters.  Look to Jesus Christ, and you will see the righteousness God demands.  You will see the salvation that God supplies.  You will have the resurrection to eternal life.  And nothing can take that away from you—not the shedding of blood by a ruthless Pilate, not the sudden disaster of falling towers whether in Jerusalem or New York City, and neither the praise nor the insults of men.  For, you have the words and promise of Jesus.  He forgives your sins.  He declares you righteous and blameless.  Jesus is the only hope you have; and he pours out all the hope you need.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.