Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 8, 2015)

LUKE 13:1-9

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus’ parable about a fig tree in a vineyard would have struck a chord with the Jews.  They knew well Isaiah’s song about the Lord’s vineyard.  It was the Lord’s work.  He prepared the soil.  He planted the vines and tended them.  He put a wall around the vineyard to protect it from any who would trample on it or steal from it.  He even built a watchtower so that the trumpet could signal against anything that might threaten the vineyard.  Finally, he even had built a wine press, anticipating good results from all his faithful work.
     Then the master came to look for fruit.  Isaiah’s vineyard produced bad fruit.  Jesus’ fig tree brought forth no fruit at all.  The Lord had done everything he could have done.  Everything came from his hand.  Everything was cared for rightly.  It was grace upon grace.  When the Lord sought fruit, he found nothing.  The Lord is slow to anger, but he does indeed get angry.  The master of the vineyard told his vinedresser to wield his ax and to cut down the fig tree.  It was a waste, and it should not waste the land any longer.
     The Lord looks for fruit from his vineyard.  He seeks it from you, too.  He has grafted you as branches into his sacred vine, which is Jesus.  You receive your life, your ambitions, and all that is good through Jesus.  He is the one who protects you from enemies which would trample upon you or snatch you from the kingdom of God.  He places his ministers on the watchtower to sound the trumpet and to warn you of dangers which would threaten your salvation.  He pours love and grace upon you so that you can have true life and will produce fruits of faith.  Those fruits are the good works which love God and serve your neighbor.  The Lord looks to see if we flee exalting our opinions and interests above his word.  The Lord looks to see if we flee from sexual immorality and strive for chastity and purity.  The Lord looks to see if we humbly serve him, or if we grumble against him, especially when has us bear a cross.  The Israelites did not produce the fruit God desired to see.  The Lord’s patience ran out, and the ax fell upon the tree.  They were destroyed.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
     The Lord looks for fruit from his vineyard.  The master 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 13:7-9)  This parable foretold imminent judgment upon Israel.  For three years, the Son of God preached to the Israelites.  By and large, they did not turn to him and repent.  They continued in their unbelief.  That does not mean they were all murderous thugs or rapists.  It doesn’t even mean they stopped being religious.  It does mean that they turned a deaf ear to God’s word.  They did not care about Jesus, but were devoted to their self-interests.  Nevertheless, Jesus pleaded for mercy for just a while longer yet.  God’s word would be preached.  God’s mercy would be revealed.  Perhaps another year would produce fruit.
     History has told us that it did not end well for Israel.  They did not heed God’s word.  Though God is patient, he is not patient forever.  40 years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Jews saw their temple destroyed never to be rebuilt again.  Judgment finally did come.  The ax has swung.
     The Lord still looks for fruit from his vineyard.  The Lord wants to see that the good he has poured upon you also comes forth from you.  But this is where we often deceive ourselves.  We think that it is a matter of being better than others.  And if that is the case, we end up comparing ourselves with others so that we can boast that we are better.
     The Jews came to Jesus to speak about some Galileans who were slain when they had come to the temple to sacrifice.  They seemed to expect Jesus to draw some conclusion about God’s justice, as if these Galileans got what they deserved.  Jesus would have none of it.  Instead, he redirected their attention.  “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.” (Luke 13:2-3)  Then Jesus brought up the death of 18 men who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell upon them.  This was not death by the sword, but by tragedy.  Still, Jesus’ response was the same.  Were these men worse?  Did they have it coming to them?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)
     In fact, no one is better or worse.  All are the same.  All are sinners, and no one is righteous.  Do not make it more complicated than it is by trying to figure out who deserves to die or who is better than someone else.  Accidents happen.  Tragedies occur.  Violent acts claim their victims.  These prove nothing except that the world is sinful.  How and when people die may comes as a shock, but that all people die should surprise no one.  And all are going to die.  That is the reality of life.  That is the wages of sin.  
     But Jesus did not warn you, “Be careful or you will die.”  He said, No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)  That has to do with judgment.  Whether you die peaceably for violently, you will face judgment.  The manner of your death is not your judgment either.  No sword can send anyone to hell.  No collapsing building can damn.  Only sin does that.
     Jesus, however, delivers you from the judgment to come.  He does not leave you guessing what your fate might be.  Jesus has taken your iniquity from you.  And if your iniquity is removed from you, then it can no longer condemn you.  In your place, Jesus was condemned.  Jesus was nailed to a dead tree, a cross.  There were no leaves, no signs of life.  Yet, Jesus was the fruit which hung from the cross.  From that fruit came the juices which give you life and which sustain your life.  When Jesus’ body was pierced with a spear, a sudden flow of water and blood came forth.  It is that water which cleanses you of all your sin and guilt.  Through your baptism, Jesus’ sufferings and death were applied to you to deliver you from sin and death.  And Jesus’ blood is given to you in the holy supper to strengthen and preserve you in the true Christian faith unto to live everlasting. 
     Apart from Jesus, you are no better than anyone else.  But by faith in Jesus, it can’t get any better.  You are saints, marked for eternal life.  Therefore, Jesus has already rendered your verdict to you.  You are acquitted of your guilt and pardoned for your sins.  Since your sins are taken away, there is no condemnation for you.  You certainly don’t have to fear death.  Whether it comes peacefully or tragically, your place in God’s kingdom is secure.  Death cannot steal you away from Jesus.  You shall not perish; you have a resurrection to everlasting life. 
     You have not only been given eternal life, you have new life now!  You have been planted in the Lord’s vineyard now, and the Lord looks for fruit in his vineyard.  This fruit is not some grand scheme or newsworthy act of charity that you need to perform.  It is merely a faithful heart gladly serving where God has put you.  It is being honest, being helpful, being generous, being merciful, and being content.  It is shunning everything God calls impure and striving for everything God calls good.  And it is serving God faithfully whether other people commend you or condemn you for doing God’s will.
     The Lord looks for fruit in his vineyard, and you need not fear his inspection.  For the Lord also gives you this promise:    Just as Jesus worked for you to give you the righteousness God demands, so also Jesus works in you to produce the good God seeks.  It is not that you are superior, it is that you are saved. 

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

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