Sunday Sermon 20th March
Call to Worship
Come, all you who are struggling.
Come, all you who are worried or anxious or bewildered.
Come to worship a God who heals your hurts.
Come to worship a God who gives forgiveness.
Let us worship God, who sets us free and gives us new life!
Reading: Luke 13: 1-9 (NRSV translation)
Repent or Perish
13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
2 He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
4 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?
5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
7 So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?”
8 He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it.
9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’
Do bad things happen to good people?
Well, yes – yes they do.
It would be really nice if us being good gave us immunity from the world and all the bad things in it, but that doesn’t happen.
It is perfectly natural for us to ask why something happens to us – what have we done to deserve this?
And it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of asking why God allows such suffering and is it some sort of divine punishment?
And when we look at our world today, it is very easy to cry out to God and shout why?
Why this war? Why coronavirus? Why high prices? Why famine? Why such dishonesty and corruption? Why Lord, why?
From the beginning of our Gospel passage, we have the age old question. Why did these people die?
The context of the passage is this: Word reaches Jesus that Pilate has made a religious sacrifice to the Emperor—who was often considered a kind of demigod in those days—and as a part of that burnt sacrifice, he slaughtered a gathering of Galilean Jews and placed their remains on the sacrificial pyre.
And as if that is not horrifying enough, at the same time that Jesus hears of Pilate’s treachery, news arrives that a tower in Siloam has fallen, crushing eighteen people.
The crowd who relayed this horrible news to Jesus was burning with the same question that has echoed throughout Christendom for 2,000 years: “Why did this tragedy happen to these people?”
We’ve heard this question asked before elsewhere in Scripture: The Gospel of John asks the same question in a different way, as Jesus is asked about a man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?”
In other passages, well-intentioned but inadequate answers to the problem of suffering are suggested.
Take, for example, the Book of Job, as Job’s so-called friends gather in the wake of Job’s terrible string of suffering and say well-meaning but dumb things like, “You need to seek God,” or “It could be worse,” or “God’s punishment is less than you deserve.”
It is a natural part of our human-ness to ask why me? What did I do to deserve this?
Why did the people in the tower at Siloam Die?
Whatever the reason they were not struck down by a vengeful God or abandoned by a loving one!
If the world were so micro-managed then we would live in fear of lightning, all of us every day.
Our mortality is part of being human and we are all at the mercy of a natural world and the actions of people good and bad, who make mistakes and take decisions that have effects that they could not predict or we could not stop.
Nevertheless, Jesus is telling us something important in this passage.
Despite the imperfections of the world and our own mortality, we can make a difference and we are given a chance to make that difference.
We all have the ability to make that difference – to bring goodness and kindness to the people we meet and the situations we encounter.
We all have the ability to let light shine in the dark places.
More than that, it is our responsibility to do it. We are commanded to love our neighbours.
We cannot be apathetic.
We cannot walk on the other side of the road.
God calls us to action.
If all people waited for God to start there would be no beginning, if we tried to do everything ourselves, we would falter and get exhausted.
For grace to grow and for graciousness to grow two things have to happen.
We need to be inspired.
We need to be inspired by the very source of goodness - by God - to be the people that want to change things and are prepared to change things.
We need to visit those who are lonely and feeling on the margins. We need to speak up when something is not fair.
We need to listen when people talk and respond with kindness.
We also need to be a good example to others, to inspire and enthuse those who may follow us.
All of us have that responsibility – each and every one of us can do that.
We need to place a seed of love, of hope of open-minded questioning that gives the generations that follow a better chance to follow the God of love that has inspired our journey.
Yes, God is able to work without us, but I believe God expects to work with us and by our own free will.
We live in a world of aggression and confrontation, where politics, and even our religious bodies have polarised ideas that are blind to the merits of difference.
We live in a world where there are a few wealthy nations and indescribable poverty outside the wealthy west and sometimes within its borders.
We live in a world where powerful people make decisions that are planned to hurt and discriminate against others and we live in a world where it is all right to say “I will never Forgive”.
That world, our world needs us, you and me, to speak words of tolerance, forgiveness and understanding and love.
Our world needs us, you and me, to take a step forward and bring inspiration to those who follow.
If you have travelled the road and are weary pass the baton on and tell a wonderful story.
If you are scared the task is too big and you are not good enough? Know that no one is good enough, but the God of love is with us and will not leave us.
Ordinary people do great things. Look at this church full of people who have done ordinary things extraordinarily well.
Look at what you do already – the quiet watching out for the neighbour around you.
The support for the hungry by giving to the foodbank.
The fellowship you give. The time taken to listen to a lonely person.
Contributing to the refugee crisis in Europe.
Speaking out about poverty.
And much, much more.
The quiet, everyday things. Done out of love.
Today’s passage gives us a word of hope.
God is still tending the garden.
Even in this time of crisis, God is still working – look at the response to the refugees coming from Ukraine.
God is still working in and through God’s people to bring light and life, love and peace to a broken and sinful world.
And in that, there is indeed hope for us all. Amen.
It’s not wrong to ask where you are, God,
when innocent children go hungry,
or are abducted as sexual slaves
or die of curable diseases,
or are forced to fight in adult wars;
It’s not wrong to question and doubt,
to shake our fists and cry in grief and anger;
No, what would be wrong would be to just accept this
as somehow “your will”,
it would be wrong to justify it
to explain it,
to be unmoved by it,
to deny it;
But it would be equally wrong to use this as evidence
that you don’t exist or don’t care,
to leave ourselves and our vulnerable ones
at the mercy of our cynicism,
And so we come, and we offer our worship,
through our tears;
We choose to praise you as a gracious and merciful God
through our tears;
through our tears;
And as we do, we choose to believe that
wherever there is suffering and injustice,
your tears flow and your heart is broken,
you cry in grief and shake in anger;
And it is your mercy and compassion that drives us,
and others like us
to work for healing and justice
through the pain and burden of our tears.