“If Not Now ….”

“If Not Now ….”

Luke 13:1-9, 31-35

Jesus was holding his weekly press conference when the reporter for the Jerusalem Times put up her hand: “Jesus, did you hear about the Slaughter at the Synagogue? Some worshippers were offering sacrifices when Pilate’s troops came in and killed them for no reason. My question to you Jesus is simply this: “Why were those particular people killed? What did they do?”
Reporters for the Galilee Times also chimed in: “Yes, Jesus, why were these people killed? Was their time up? What had they done?”
Jesus was not totally taken aback by these questions. He’d heard similar sentiments before. When they were standing by the pool at Siloam, one of his own disciples pointed to the blind man who was approaching them and asked: “Is it is his fault or his parents’ fault that he is blind?”
People today have thoughts like these as well. “It had to be her fault that she was raped. With that skimpy outfit she was wearing that day, she was asking for it.”
“Serves them right for buying a house right on the fault line.”
So, Jesus, unfazed by the questions, says: “Did you guys hear about the tower that toppled and killed 18 construction workers the other day?”
He goes on: “Are you trying to make a correlation between sin and tragedy? Are you implying that the victims were worse sinners than everyone around them? Are you trying to prove that God has this computer that matches every sinner with the appropriate tragedy and then zaps them?”
“Have I got news for you! Those of you who believe that they had it coming, that they deserved their fate, are dead wrong. You are not looking at these stories from the right angle. Your perspective is all off. Tell you what, rather than focus on the victims and speculate on why their lives ended the way they did, here is what you really need to do. You ought to take a good hard look at yourselves and where you’re at. Because, if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did.”
Jesus’ response was met with icy stares and dead silence. There was no comeback, no follow-up question. They’d asked him a question. He’d given them a straight answer -- not the answer they wanted to hear, mind you. They would’ve preferred him to prove that every one of the victims deserved to die the way they did, that if you went back and analyzed their lives, their lifestyle, their parents’ lives and lifestyles, or even their grandparents and great grandparents, you would find that God was punishing them or repaying them for their misdeeds. That’s what they wanted to hear.
But he told them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. He helped them see that there was no rhyme or reason for those people to die at that time under those circumstances. It could’ve happened to anyone that was standing there. Some of them could’ve been at the temple offering sacrifices when Pilate’s troops came through. Some of them could’ve been at the construction site when the tower toppled. It had nothing to do with their spiritual standing, or their moral make-up, nor did it have anything to do with their exemplary behavior.
Jesus tells them and us: “When you read or hear or see these events happening, stop looking for reasons why something happened to others. Stop being a coroner performing moral post-mortems on every victim you can find.” As he would say elsewhere: “Before you point out to your neighbor that she has a speck in her eye, make sure you don’t have a two-by-four attached to your own!”
In other words, Jesus is saying: “Don’t put yourself up on a pedestal and put down “those poor people down there.” It could’ve been you that was caught up in the tragedy. It could have been me. When we hear news such as this, we need to do something else instead. We need to look at ourselves and notice where we have gone astray. We need to look at ourselves and know that we stand in need of God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness, and God’s grace.
Jesus goes on to tell them a story, a parable, to illustrate this point. Bear in mind that this story takes place in the barren, rocky, terrain of Palestine, where arable land is at a premium, which means that if you plant a fig tree and it is not producing figs it is taking up precious space that could be filled with a productive tree, maybe another fig tree or a tree of a different variety. The landlord is all set to chop down the tree, but the gardener intervenes: “Please sir, can I have one more year to do something to make this tree productive? I’ll dig around its roots, aerate it better, and put in some fertilizer. Would you please give this tree a SECOND CHANCE? If at the end of the year it still doesn’t show any improvement, I’ll gladly chop it down for you myself.”

Jesus leaves the parable open-ended. He does not indicate whether the landowner gave in to the request...and if he did, whether the fig tree was fruitful and was spared, or whether it failed to produce and was cut down, or whether it failed to produce and the gardener pleaded once more and got an extension on his project. Jesus does this purposely, I believe, to let us know that God keeps on giving us these extra opportunities to make our lives fruitful, but what we do with those chances is up to us. Like the tree, which always faces the danger of being destroyed, either by being cut down or by rotting at the roots or by being uprooted when the next tornado blows through town, so we never know when our life will end. So, the best we can do is to be thankful that we have a chance to go on living, a chance to become more and more fruitful.
I would suspect that virtually everyone here can give at least one example from your life that illustrates a SECOND CHANCE that God has given you. Perhaps, you came close to being killed in an accident.
Perhaps, your previous relationship ended in failure, but you’ve found yourself a soul-mate now.
Perhaps, you were headed down a destructive path with an addiction, when God stopped you in your tracks and helped you get sober and onto a better path.
I am sure you are grateful for these opportunities. But, I believe that the reason you are in church today is because you needed to hear this message again. Because you and I both know that there are still more changes we need to make that we’ve been putting off. How many more SECOND CHANCES do we have left? When are we going to do something about it?
We live in a world where death is all around us, a world where people seem to die for no reason. We live in a world where vicious people strike out at random. We live in a world where storms sweep in from nowhere, where towers fall down on the innocent as well as the guilty, where earthquakes strike without warning and shadows appear on X-rays. Life is a gift, and can end at any time. Tomorrow is not promised to us. We have today.
You and I have been given a SECOND CHANCE...
A chance to slow down the pace, to stop and smell the roses while we are still able;
A chance to work on that communication problem with our kids, to shorten that distance that’s been growing in some vital relationship,
A chance to give up the habit that’s robbing us of our health, to repent and get back into a right relationship with God.
Friends, the time to repent, the time to turn our life around, the time to do what we know we need to do, is now.
The time to say “I love you” is now.
The time to say “I’m sorry,” is now.
The time to say “I forgive you” is now.
The time to say “I need you” is now.
The time to do that thing you have always wanted to do, have always meant to do, is now.
Jesus reminds his followers that those who have been struck down are no worse sinners than they themselves are. Jesus calls on them, and on us, to repent, to turn anew toward God, and to seek and do His will.

In this season of Lent, as we look into our own hearts and repent of the sin we find there, and as we follow Jesus to Jerusalem and to that hill, Golgotha, let us praise God for His lovingkindness and mercy in sending us Jesus to die for us. And let us open ourselves to the Spirit’s leading… let us open ourselves to the Spirit’s leading right out into the world to share with others the gracious and merciful love of God.

“If Not Now …..” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with our online worship offering for February 28, 2021  The text upon which it is based is Luke 13:1-9 and 13:31-35.