Sermons That Work

Perhaps In A Reaction…, Lent 3 (C) – 2007

March 11, 2007

Perhaps in a reaction to a period of history in which it was thought good not to over-praise each other, we’ve spent a generation “affirming” each other. It can be difficult, particularly when we are asked to affirm someone who has just bored us to death with the most awful twaddle.

Lent is a difficult time for those of us who are not used to being told we are wrong. As we follow Jesus to the cross, we notice that everyone seems to be judging him. He doesn’t seem to be cut much slack. There doesn’t seem to be much affirmation, save that of the fickle crowd that easily changes its tune from “King” to “Crucify.”

Moses was being very practical in his argument with God at the burning bush. God was telling Moses to go back to the place where he was wanted for murder and tell the tyrant to let God’s people go. Moses wanted to know by what authority he was being sent.

“My authority,” says God.

Moses then asks the crunch question. “Who are you?”

God answers: “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

The whole theme of today’s prayer and readings is about the special relationship between God and God’s chosen people, and the responsibility the chosen people have toward God. Perhaps we have too easily said that God is love, and gives love to everyone, and forgives everyone — what was once called “cheap grace.” It is not that God isn’t all these things. It is that we are called to be more than all these things.

The first thing for us to note today is that we are the baptized members of the Kingdom. God has chosen us. God is with us and nothing can separate us from God’s love.

In the Gospel today, Jesus’ is being asked about justice. He is being asked about the sort of justice in which we are interested: the justice that affects us. “Why me?” we all cry. “Why do innocent people get hurt in an accident?” “Why do little children get killed in war?” “Why do I get cancer?” Were innocent people among those killed by the Governor Pilate? Were some of those killed when that tower fell down in Siloam good people?”

Jesus doesn’t give them an easy answer. That’s the problem.

We want a God who loves us unconditionally — and that really means we want a God who wants us in our own image. We want a God who lets us be unforgiving. We want a God who lets us write those dreadful e-mail messages we’re sometimes tempted to write. We want a God who lets us be dishonest at work. We want a God who lets us be disruptive at church. We want a God who lets us abuse our families. We want a God who lets us scream for our rights while denying others the same. We want a God who lets us judge, and divide, and moan, and behave as if we were spoiled children.

We don’t want St. Paul, miserable old man that he was. We want Jesus

And Jesus says: Repent.

That’s his answer to those who asked about Pilate’s massacre and the tower of Siloam. There’s no explanation; instead Jesus tells a story. He tells of a gardener who plants a fig tree that grows, is loved and cared for, but produces no figs. The gardeners suggest it should be pulled up. Some might have suggested that as it looked nice it should be left alone. But the owner gives it a year. After that permission is given to weed it.

Now that doesn’t sound very “unconditional.” God’s extraordinary love for us was bought at an unconditional price. Jesus responded to the Father’s unconditional love by abandoning everything. Jesus tells us elsewhere that if we are to follow him, we must be cross-bearers. Our response to God’s love must be to learn to be self-sacrificial, “to give and not to count the cost,” as the old prayer puts it.

All too often we grasp a “users’ faith”: “God loves me unconditionally, therefore in justice I should get …” Or “I got saved, therefore I should have money.” We want a God who takes us as we are, lets us become even worse that we are now, and loves us despite who we have become.

We want a God who gives. Do we want a God who dies?

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Christopher Sikkema