This was the message on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. The scriptures used were: Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9.
“Suffering—Whose fault is it?”
Let me start today by telling you that I am as fiscally conservative as I am socially liberal. In other words I am very close with my finances, but pretty relaxed with my thoughts on other issues. I tell you this so you understand what it is like for me to go shopping on my own. Basically if I have to go alone, I come home with the absolute bare bones of what is on the list and sometimes, I don’t even get what I have written down because when I see the price, I decide that I can make do with something that I already have. And let me tell you now that I am on a kick of getting rid of the excess in our house, it is getting even worse.
I am telling you this so you can understand how strange it was the day I went to Bismarck late last spring and stopped at Running’s to pick up a couple of discount plants in their greenhouse and came home with a chainsaw. For some reason, as I passed that row of chain saws, I decided it was time we had one that worked, so I could quit trimming my mother’s apple tree by hand. I have no idea what possessed me that day, but I drove the shopping cart past that isle, looked over those saws a few times then picked them up to see which one I could lift on my own comfortably, and there it was in the cart. And after the clerk in that department began to help me, making sure I had the correct oil, and in fact he filled it and started it out back for me to make sure it worked properly, there I was on the way home with my very own chain saw.
Russian olive trees
When I called James I told him it was so we could take that dead branch out of our middle Russian olive tree. I planted those three trees in remembrance of the ones growing by my parent’s house when I was in high school. Besides that I like their color and the smell of them when they bloom, they are my favorite trees, though they are gnarly and don’t last very long. Somehow I thought of those trees and that chainsaw when I read that parable of the fig tree this week. The owner of the tree told the gardener to cut it down. I bought the chain saw to trim the middle tree, and then when my brother was in town to work at my mom’s house, he asked when we were going to cut down the dead Russian olive tree on the end. I argued that only the middle one was partially dead, and we will see what happens next spring before we start any cutting of the little tree on the end.
My expensive chainsaw, which I bought with every intention of using it on those trees, has not been started since the day I brought it home. I couldn’t make myself take down any part of those trees without giving them one more chance to bloom and come back in the spring. I even watered them last fall as I do all of our trees hoping that something inside them would come back to life that perhaps they had just faded early and were dormant before the other trees because it was so dry. We will see. I couldn’t bear to take down those trees that I had planted and nurtured for 15 years. So I guess it is understandable that the gardener in the parable wasn’t ready to take down the fig tree, and God doesn’t want to cut us off without just a little more time for us to turn away from the distractions we have in our lives. God wants us to have one more opportunity to look towards Jesus and salvation. This is the second part of the passage in Luke, but the real focus of what we read for today.
The first part of our gospel lesson was about suffering and how and why things happen to us as humans. I suppose we could say we started this message on Wednesday evening. One of the scripture lessons we read about healing, the one about when Jesus healed the man born blind, could fit into what we are discussing today. As that story opened, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to deserve the punishment of the man being born blind. They were asking if it was the man who was blind, or maybe his parents. I suspect it was probably the belief of the people at the time that the parents were being punished for something they had done.
Sadly there are cases even today of people who feel that when a child is born with certain handicaps people feel it is because of some sin they have committed. We all know that there are cases of natural results of things, such as the virus currently going around in the southern hemisphere with the mosquito born zika illness. People are being warned to take precautions not to contract the disease while pregnant, but the illness doesn’t occur because the parent has stolen or lied or committed some sin, you know what I mean.
In isolation we could look at these nine verses in Luke and say the message is just about how suffering just happens. Jesus says that the sin of those that were killed by Pilate was no worse than others of their area. He also says that the sins of those who died by the collapse of the tower were no worse than anyone else of their time and place, and in fact encourages all to repent because all have sinned and need forgiveness.
If we take the time to read some of the stories found right before and after these passages, we get the idea that faithful servants are rewarded and God wants us to be faithful in what we have been given to do. But Jesus also lets us know that his work on earth doesn’t always make things to peaceful. His work ruffles feathers. Jesus’ was about calling out and defeating the forces that work against the will of God.
Jesus came to earth to defeat the powers that caused sin in the world. And in order for us to reap the rewards of what he brings, we need to acknowledge and confess our sin. Repenting is what we all need to do in order to be accepted and welcomed by Christ. What he is trying to let us know in these stories is that it isn’t just those who suffer who have sinned. The amount of sin someone has can’t be seen on the outside of us based on things that happen to us, yes sometimes we get dirty when we fall into a mud puddle, and maybe we make some choices that put us in bad situations, but the bad things that happen to someone are not necessarily an indication that they are being punished by God because of their sins. Jesus is trying to let us know that we have ALL sinned, and we all need to repent and turn ourselves toward him for salvation.
I mentioned Job on Wednesday night, and this week, we will deal with a few more of the chapters in that book. Job was stripped of everything that he had, and through the majority of the book, he has no idea what happened, why he is in such a position. His friends all think he did something specific, but Job did not. It was Satan, who struck Job just to see how Job would react. There is a literature term—dramatic irony, for when the reader knows what is going on, but the character doesn’t. This is what is happening in the book of Job. We need to be aware that in some cases, this is part of what happens in our lives. It isn’t our neighbor or the person down the street who is causing problems for us and making our lives miserable, it is the power in the world that embodies sin and makes us to falter and to stumble and to turn away from a God centered, a Christ centered life. It is our job to resist that and to turn towards Christ.
The good news in this passage, the good news in this lesson today is that because of Christ, God allows us time to do that. As the gardener asked for just one more season to let the fig tree return to production, so Christ through his sacrifice on the cross gives us that ability to repent of our shot comings repent of our sins and turn toward following his teachings. We do that by following Christ’s great commandment to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that is more than just on Sunday’s in church or Wednesday’s during Lent or even in our offerings. We show Christ’s love in how we deal with others each and every day in all things we do. This is not easy, but through prayer and with Christ’s guidance it is possible.
Today’s message is about God’s love and compassion for us as sinners. Today we need to hear that suffering and ailments and death and sorrow are not only indications of evil and sin and punishment. God loves us. God does not want us to suffer. God wants us to rest in the shelter of his love. I can’t say this enough and if I try to come up with an ending, I will just keep talking in circles. What we need to take with us as we go today is two verses from our passage in Isaiah 55. Verses 6-7 (Read them)
- Seek the Lord which he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
- let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts, let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Let’s go this week out into our world sharing the joy of that abundant pardon with those around us. Amen!
Since I posted my message here today, I put the sunrise picture for March 1, on the lucindagardens site. I will likely keep those on that site for the rest of the year. Hope you have a great day.