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Sermon for Lent III March 11th 2007 Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia

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Third Sunday in Lent March 11th 2007 Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia

Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63: 1-8 1 Cor. 10: 1-13 Luke 13: 1-9

Grace Gives Us Another Chance

As a human being, Jesus stands out in bold relief, when compared to his contemporaries and even unbelievers would have to try to explain why he is so far ahead of his time and why our time cannot even catch up with him. If you base your life on reason, if you are very rational, then this fact might persuade you to believe that he is the Christ sent by God to show us the way of life. But as Christians, we believe and accept Christ by faith as the one sent from the Father in heaven to save us. Also the very humanness of Jesus’ nature is a window that let’s us look upon the wonderfully loving heart of God. Through Jesus we see that God is so very patient, forgiving, and much more welcoming than we are. Yes, as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God’s ways over our ways and God’s thoughts over our thoughts!(Isaiah 55:8-9) But we can’t take advantage of God’s patience! In the words of Joel, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

But even today many of us draw an easy line between injustice or sin and God’s judgment and punishment, which Jesus refused to do. Just look at how crime in New Orleans was talked about in the face of the disastrous destruction of that city. Even while the disaster was going on, rumors circulated about crimes that were being committed by the victims and the 82nd Airborne division was sent in. Was it to help or to maintain order? It is an inborn but false way of thinking that connects suffering with a person’s sins. Some suffering is indeed the consequence of sins, but often not those of the victims but those of others, who knowingly or unknowingly inflicted the suffering.

Thus Jesus asks whether the people upon whom a tower fell were more sinful than those who were spared. No, they were not more sinful, he said. But unless we all repent, we will also meet such disastrous fates. This is a story of natural evil, except, who knows what kind of material the builders used. You see, however, if they used bad material, they did not suffer for it, but their victims did.

Look at the people who have cancer without health insurance. First we cannot say that we get cancer because of our individual sin. We most likely get it because of a bundle of causes, perhaps because of our biological situation, our life styles, or the conditions of our society. Then we certainly get the medical bills sent directly to our address. They do not go to our neighbors, even if we get leukemia from second hand smoke.

The other story that Jesus tells is more about human evil. When some Galileans were bringing sacrifices to the temple, Pilate killed them and mixed their blood with the blood of their sacrifices. Because Pilate happened to victimize them, were they worse sinners than all the other Galileans? Jesus says, “Not at all. But unless we all repent, we will all perish the way they did.” Someone like Pilate or Herod, the other tyrant, should not be the head of a government, but the people of that day did not have the benefit of a democracy in which a despotic government could be voted out of office. Herod was a brutal tyrant, if you read up on him. He could well be described as demon possessed, as I said last time. One account of his death reads:

[He] eventually came down with a debilitating illness. Before he died in his palace in Jericho, he feared that nobody would mourn his passing, so …[as] Josephus writes, “He got together the most illustrious men of the whole Jewish nation, out of every village, into a place called the Hippodrome, and there shut them in.” He then gave orders that upon his death, all the Jewish leaders [were to] be killed, so that there would be mourning upon his death instead of rejoicing.[1]

His illness was disgusting and we will not go into the list of all his crimes. But when reading the history of that time, we can be so glad that we have a democracy and Jesus stands out all the more as a light shining in thick darkness.

When Jesus uses the picture of the fig tree, it can mean Israel, Judah, or for us, America, our city, Philadelphia, or our Church Old Zion, or ourselves, myself your pastor, or you in the particular calling in which you are to bear fruit and flourish. Let’s apply it to ourselves. Again we see Jesus counseling patience and long-suffering with us. “That fig tree is not bearing fruit,” says the owner. “Cut it down. Why waste the soil?”

The gardener says, “Sir, let it alone one more year, until I dig around it and give it some manure. If it bears fruit next year well and good; if not, then you can cut it down.” Here again, Jesus can be seen in the gardener, the same way Mary Magdalene saw him as a gardener when she turned around from the empty tomb. And the fruitless person, church, or what have you, gets another chance purely out of the gracious nature of our merciful God. Now here is the crucial point: when we allow Jesus into our hearts, when we allow the power of God’s Holy Spirit to fill us, then we cannot help bearing fruit. It is through the grace of God, that is, through God’s strength that we bear fruit and it will remain and it will accomplish the things needful that God is calling us to do, the mission upon which God is sending us.

But we dare not presume on God’s mercy. If we are not bearing fruit, something is wrong. God intends that we flourish and when that does not happen at some point the cards are called in. If we stand, we have to be careful that we do not fall. God is merciful and slow to anger, but when the repentance never comes, when we never end up turning to the Lord our God, then like Jesus said in the last lesson, “Your house will be left to you” meaning without God’s help and left to catastrophe and destruction. Like a tree, you have to stand there and you watch yourself get chopped down. Jesus is like Julia Butterfly, who would not get down out of the old redwood tree to let them cut it down.

What does it mean for Christ the gardener to dig around us and to put manure around us so that we get a second chance to respond before it is too late? When we rely on ourselves, when we place the accent upon ourselves and our own strength, then we will fail. We are just up against way too much. If we place the accent upon God and we trust God to work through us, then we cannot help but come through. Faith is the power of God in us, to use Luther’s insight. We have to get down on our knees and pray, because God has to accomplish what we are to do in this place.

I’m not sure I know what digging around Old Zion Lutheran Church means, nor what food we could place around our roots so that we start growing and bearing fruit. Perhaps the first thing is praying together. We have no Lenten program in this church. Perhaps next year we could share a Wednesday evening Lenten program with other churches. I know it is hard for people to come from so many miles away once more a week. So what do we do to loosen our soil and give ourselves some more air of the Holy Spirit? Let’s think about that. Joan is calling for an outreach committee meeting. Our ability to respond makes us responsible.

What would give us the proper spiritual nourishment to help us grow and mature in the stature of Christ so that we bear fruit, whatever that fruit might be? I do not think we can interpret bearing fruit in a completely individual way. Bearing fruit and receiving nourishment and preparing the soil in which our roots are receiving that nourishment need not be completely individual. We have to think in terms of Old Zion Church and our relationship and participation in it. If people came every Sunday, that would not be enough. People do not even come every Sunday, but we have to turn that around. Not in terms of placing more obligations upon people or requiring church attendance. Not at all. What we need is something happening here wonderfully carrying out the mission of God in this place. Then you won’t be able to help coming and you won’t feel as if it is your effort, because it will not be. It will be Christ ministering through you and your heart and soul will be at rest as untold things get done for the kingdom of God. When you are carried by the Holy Spirit you love doing what you do and you’ll feel like you are doing nothing, but everything will be getting done.

Sometimes I would invite people to come to church. They would say: “Pastor Sunday is the only day in which I get some rest.” If you checked you would find they had Saturday as well. But no matter. The point is that if you do not have the peace that passes understanding and the grace that comes from on high, you will not be able to rest on a day of rest, nor will you be able to work when you are working to bear fruit. “Jesus says, “Without me. You can do nothing.” That means nothing. You cannot rest, you cannot work right, you are as dead as a TV that is not plugged into the electric socket. How is the TV going to work if you have not plugged it in? How are you going to bear fruit in your life, if you do not have the Holy Spirit giving you the strength, the insight, the motivation, the way to roll with the punches that the opposition throws against you, while you are coming through.

You have to expect opposition. When you’re a basket ball player going for the basket, there is always an opponent there waving his hand in your face, reaching in to try to block your shot. That is the way it is. But when you are not living, but Christ is living through you, you get one basket after another, because up against the feathery feet of Christ, the great adversary has sluggish feet made out of lead. The devil could not stop Jesus. And no matter the obstacles that stand in the way of Old Zion Lutheran Church, they will have to vanish, because

Christ is the champion, my friend.

He keeps on fighting to the end.

He is the champion, he is the champion

of the world.

We’ve got mud in our face, what a disgrace.

The devil’s knocking us all over the place!

But Christ is the champion, my friend, etc.

He’ll keep on loving us to the end, etc.

(To quote and sing from Queen)

A Song for Old Zion!

(The melody by Bizet from Carmen)

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

In German and English we love to sing.

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

We thank the Lord with our sweet off’ring.

 

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

We love and honor Jesus Christ the King.

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

Let the phrases of our praises begin.

 

Bridge: O God, our God,

            we love and worship you.

Oh! The church grows here

The church grows there.

Soon love and kindness

is growing everywhere.

My light shines here

Your light shines there.

The light of heaven

starts shining everywhere.

O God, our God, we worship you

And give you thanks for all you do.

O God, our God, we worship you

    And praise your name forever, too.

We do!

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

J.P. Meyers makes the organ ring.

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

We love to hear Jaye’s sweet voice sing.

 

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

Our angel choir sings to Christ our King.

Here in Philadelphia in Old Zion

There’s plenty of room so do come in!

 

Bridge: O God, our God,

             we love and worship you.

(Rewritten for Old Zion

              Lutheran Church 03/10/2007)


[1] Quoted from DashHouse, a website of the dash family, Toronto, Ontario, Canada http://www.dashhouse.com/sermons/2006/AM/061217.htm

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Written by peterkrey

March 12, 2007 at 3:45 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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