Saturday, March 23, 2019

Year C, Lent 3, 1 Corinthians 10.1-13, Luke 13.1-9, The Time of Trial

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Life can be difficult at times,
tragic in fact.
Some people have the privilege of skating through life with nary a challenge.  Everything just seems to go well for them.  They prosper and flourish in every way.  Life for them is good.
For other people, life just seems to be one challenge after another.  These are the ones who hear Paul’s words that God “will not let you be tested beyond your strength” and wonder if this could possibly be true, because they are at the breaking point and there doesn’t seem to be anyway out at all.  Still others are struck down and die without ever having even a chance to do anything about it.
When we look at those two groups of people it is very tempting to conclude that they are each getting what they deserve. 
People who have enjoyed the good life tend to think that they have made all the right choices.
And those who suffer one tragedy after another wonder what in the world they did wrong to deserve all this.
In the “Sound of Music” this sentiment is expressed in the song “Something Good”.
“Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
But somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good.”

There is a reason why we often love the sentiments expressed in this song.
If nothing comes from nothing, if there is always a reason for good or evil, and if it can all be traced back to our actions, one way or another, then life is manageable.  We are in control.  And there is comfort and security in that.
Make good choices and live the good life.
Make bad choices and beware of what is to come.
Only one problem.
Life doesn’t work that way all the time.
Sometimes something does come from nothing.
There is innocent suffering and tragedy. 
And there are people who experience a life of privilege for no other reason than where and when to whom they were born.
There is good and evil in the world, and sometimes good people suffer and evil people prosper.
Life simply isn’t always fair.
Just because someone experiences evil does not mean they have sinned and deserve it.
In our Gospel lesson we read:
“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. [Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.””
In this passage Jesus is telling us two things.
First, that the people in question, those who were slaughtered by Pilate while they worshipped and those who died when the tower collapsed, had done nothing to deserve this fate.  They were innocent of any wrongdoing.   Their suffering and death made no sense, it just happened.
But then Jesus goes on to say “repent, (or) you will all perish just as they did.”
In the first breath Jesus says they have done nothing to deserve this suffering.  In the second breath he says repent or you will suffer as they did.
Those two statements seem contradictory.
But they are not.  The important thing, though, is how we hold them together.
First of all, the truth is that life is fragile, and because of that, sometimes tragic.
Death can strike at any moment.
Babies die in the womb.
Children die of disease and accident.
Young people die.
Middle aged people die.
Old people die.
And the where and the when and the how of these deaths are so often inexplicable.
This is simply the truth of life.
People don’t deserve losing a baby to miscarriage. 
Nor did Karla and I somehow deserve having four healthy babies in four pregnancies.
I’ve buried a lot of children and young people in my years of ministry.
Neither they or their families did anything that deserved such a fate.
Accidents happen.
Disease happens.
And sometimes pure evil happens to people who are innocent of wrong doing.
I mean, isn’t this what we witness again and again in all the mass shootings that occur, most recently in New Zealand???  People just going about their business, in this case gathering for worship, when a deranged gunman opens fire and kills fifty innocent people.
Evil happens.
It doesn’t mean that those who suffer because of it did anything to deserve it.
But then why does Jesus say, “repent, or you will all perish just as they did.”
I’m going to try and answer that.
When I look back at my life there are numerous experiences and situations that stand out to me that could easily have resulted in my death.
I remember a drunk driver nearly killing me when I was in first or second grade.  My older brother pulled me out of the way of the crashing car.
I remember falling asleep while driving only to be awakened by the air horn of a passing truck whose driver had seen me sleeping and sounded his horn to wake me up.  He might have saved my life, that moment.
My mitral valve failed.  That I’m alive today is a credit to the advancement of modern day medicine and the skill of my surgeon, Dr. Sewick. 
That I didn’t die that last night of my drinking is largely the result of Karla staying by my side and caring for me.
And most recently, I had a bowel obstruction this last year.  Even today, with all the advancements of modern medicine that can result in the death of one’s intestines, and could have killed me.
What these experiences have taught me is how fragile life actually is, and how in the blinking of an eye it could be over.
When that happens, what is lost is the opportunity that each new day offers to us.
For example, had I died that last night of drinking I would have been deprived of the opportunity to experience sobriety once again, the new life.
“Repent!”  Jesus says.
“Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near.”
The repentance Jesus preaches is not just a turning away from evil, but also a turning toward God.
In fact there are many people who are not evil in any sense of the word, but who do not as yet have any significant relationship with God.
The world is not divided between the non-religious people who are all bad, and the religious people who are all good.
It’s much more of a mixed bag than all of that.
There are some incredibly good people who are not people of faith, and there are some incredibly faithful people who are guilty of all sorts of evil. 
But all of us, whether people of faith, or people without faith. . .
All of us, whether we are by nature good, or struggle with our evil impulses,
All of us have the opportunity to repent.
To turn our hearts and our lives toward God and to experience the grace, love, and faith that God offers.
All of us, through repentance, have the opportunity to experience the Kingdom of God, and his reign of love and peace.
But this is the thing.
We have the opportunity to repent and grow closer to God today, but there is no guarantee that we will have that opportunity tomorrow.
What if tomorrow never comes?
One of the saddest days I’ve experienced was when my first child, Katie, left home for college.
What overwhelmed me was that my opportunity to be her dad on a day to day basis was over.  All those things that I had been putting of ‘til tomorrow’ were not going to happen now.  The opportunity had passed.
Now is the time.
I think that is what I’ve learned.
Now is the time because tomorrow never comes.
The only thing we have is the present moment.
We can choose to love, or hate.
We can choose to have faith, or not.
We can choose to walk with God, or not.
We can turn our lives around through repentance, or not.
This we can do today, but not tomorrow, for tomorrow never comes. 
What Jesus is telling us is that you never know when or how life will end, so make the most of this moment, and the opportunity to repent and believe in the Kingdom of God.
I’m left with a question that this text raises for me.
If today were the last day of my life, would I be at peace with the way I lived this day as being the final and defining moment in my life?
Or to put it differently, if you knew this was your last day, how would you live?

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