Year C LENT 3

 

Luke 13:1-9                                         (Sermon 1: (Repent or Perish)

                                                                                    (Sermon 2:  (Hope Remaisn Forever)

1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Isaiah 55: 1-9

Psalm 63: 1-8

 

PREPARATION

 

The saving mercy of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

Sometimes Christ’s love is assuring and comforting.

Sometimes it disrupts and challenges.

Sometimes we feel we really have something to offer the church.

Sometimes we wonder why Christ puts up with us.

 

But he is always here, calling us together, excluding no one,

leading us to worship in sincerity and truth.

Amen!

 

OR -

 

Let us prepare to worship God.

 

Hear this, every one who thirsts, come to the waters

and you who have no money, come, procure and eat!

 

Wonderful God, you are our God, early will we seek you.

Our spirits thirst for you, our minds long for you

Because your love is better than life itself,

our lips will sing your praise!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Holy Friend, lover of us all, assist us to worship you with unfeigned sincerity. Thrust aside anything counterfeit in us, and overcome any fears that we may inhibit us. Help us to trust your hospitality and to worship you as children who are warmly loved and treasured.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Seek the Lord while he may be found, Call upon him while he is near,

let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts

 

Let us put a pause in the midst of our errant thoughts and unruly emotions, and make time for the God who comes to forgive and uplift.

 

                        ----Silent prayer----

 

Most perceptive and loving God, you know what is really the matter with us; why we fall so far short or wide of the target set by Christ Jesus. Even when we are most willing, we seem incapable of outwitting evil through our own wisdom and strength.

Again and again old sins hassle and trip us, and our best intentions get run over in the thick traffic of daily affairs.

 

We ask you, as we have so often, for forgiveness and repair. Leave nothing in our being untouched by the healing fingers of our Saviour. We need your touch to mend our distracted nature and reinforce our good intentions.

Please be with us moment by moment, that silently yet irresistibly we may be carried forward in the current of your grace, mercy and peace. Let us begin again, ready to enact your will in all the events of this next week.

 

This we ask in the name of our Redeemer, Christ Jesus.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

Holy Scripture says:

“Return to the Lord, who will show you mercy,

come back to God who will abundantly pardon.”

 

In the name of Christ Jesus, Saviour of the world, I declare to all who turn to God

in repentance and faith:

Your sins are forgiven! Go in peace.

Thanks be to God!

 

Doxology         (Tune:  Doxology, by Jimmy Owens. See “Sing Alleluia” 72)

 

                        Praise God whose love fills time and space,

                        praise Christ whose grace redeems our race.

                        Praise Holy Spirit, Friend divine,

                        let heav’n and earth all praise combine!

                                                                                                                            B D Prewer Ó 2003

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            When Tempted

 

God, you know how sneaky

            temptation is,

especially when I am with

            other kids at school,

            and I want to show off.

 

Please keep near me, every minute,

            and help me to be true

            to your love and goodness

as you have shown it

            in the life of our big, loving brother,

            Jesus Christ.

Amen!

                        From¾“ Prayers For Aussie Kids”

                        Ó  B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers.

 

PSALM 63:1-8

 

Dear God, I long for more of you in my life;

my soul and body thirst for you

like weary travellers making their way

across the Tanami desert.

 

I long for you, even in church,

craving more of your power and beauty.

Your rugged love is better than life itself,

my lips search for words to praise you.

 

I want to make my whole life a celebration,

waving my hands and singing your name.

When I’m close to you it’s like a feast,

happiness fills my mouth and my lips sing.

 

I go to bed with you in my thoughts,

and if I can’t sleep, you fill my mind.

You have always been there for me,

under your care I sing my heart out.

 

My very being clings tightly to you,

and your right arm encircles me.

                         ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

 

TIME IS RUNNING OUT

 

                        Luke 13:1-9

 

When rulers kill

            the meek and poor

            it’s not the stars’ cruel fate;

when towers fall

            and people die

            it’s not some heavenly hate.

 

Yet no proud fool

            should dare presume

            the god’s are sleeping still;

the mills of God

            grind very slow

            but grind they surely will.

 

Now is the year

            to bear the fruit

            that love alone can give;

the axe is stayed

            that fools may gain

            another chance to live.

                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

Most holy God, merciful Friend, you never leave us to ‘stew in our own juice.’ Always you seek to reclaim and heal the lost. Please shatter our delusions and break the bonds of our egoism, that with an open mind and singular desire we may turn to you for that converting grace which never fails those who earnestly want it. Through Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: REPENT OR PERISH

 

Luke 13: 1-9

 

Do you think that those Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices were worse sinners than other Galileans?  I tell you, No! But unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

 

Or those eighteen men who were crushed when that tower in Siloam fell, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem.  I tell you, No!

 

But unless you repent you will likewise perish.

 

In all of us, hidden away in the murkier parts of our psyche, are numerous irrational fears and superstitions. These are a hangover from the not-so-ancient, primitive past of homo sapiens. One of these superstitions is that accidents and disease is our fault; punishment for our depraved lives. Hence the familiar cry: “What have I done to deserve this!”

 

A minister, let’s call him David, rushed around to the home of friends where a small child had suddenly died.  David was met on the door by the distraught father, a senior lecturer in mathematics who usually was most composed: “O David, thanks for coming. It’s a nightmare. You know, I have not been reading my Bible much these days.”

 

At first David was confused by his friend’s opening remark. What had reading the Bible to do with a little child’s death? Later, after the minister had thought the issue through, he was able to help untangle the poor father’s anguish.

 

The father’s first reaction had been to feel guilty. Years before, when he had been confirmed, that man had promised to “diligently study the Scriptures.” He had not kept that vow lately. Hence his sense of guilt.

 

In all of us, primitive stuff like that lies semi-hidden. It’s like the ghosts of old gods that refuse to completely go away.

 

A GOD OF ANGER AND RETRIBUTION ?

 

There are of course some religious people who are still committed to that concept of God.  Their God is one of anger and retribution for the unrighteous, and is the giver of good health and prosperity for the righteous.

 

One of the most recent statements of this unhappy dogma, was exhibited recently by an evangelist (so called!).  It was offering time at a big gathering and the announcement (spiel) was made before the offering: “We all know bad economic times are coming. There will be a major collapse of the markets and people will lose everything they own. But those who give well to God this day will be among the few who will do well and prosper through the bad times that must come.”

 

Yuk!

 

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day believed in such a punitive God. A deity who punished the bad people and rewarded the good.  They went so far as to say: If you live in poverty or have a bad accident or disease, you are revealed by God as a sinner.  On the other hand, if you are healthy and prosperous you are revealed by God as a righteous person.

 

You will find numerous traces of this way of thinking in the Old Testament. There are many snippets in the Psalms and Proverbs.  The Book of Job, all  42 chapters of it, is dedicated to the debunking of this false dogma.

 

JESUS KNEW BETTER

 

Jesus agreed with Job.  Happiness or misery could not be simply equated with goodness and badness.

 

In today’s Gospel lesson, we see Jesus taking up two tragic events; the  news head lines of his day. As usual with headlines, it was bad news.

 

1/  Do you think that those Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices were worse sinners than other Galileans? 

 

Pilate, an intemperate and arrogant ruler, ordered his soldiers to massacre some Galilean men  (suspected of espionage) as they were making sacrifices in the temple. Did that mean that those Galileans were worse sinners than other Galileans who stayed at home and minded their own business? Were they were being punished by God?

 

Jesus gave his verdict:  I tell you, NO!

 

2/  Or those eighteen men who were crushed when that tower in Siloam fell, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?

 

You can easily picture this construction site. Builders’ labourers toiling on the erection of a stone tower near the pool of Siloam. Something goes wrong; the tower collapses and eighteen men die. Were these builders’ labourers scum that deserved to die? Worse sinners than the other residents of Jerusalem?.

 

Again Jesus gives an emphatic verdict: I tell you, NO!

 

The old superstition is a lie. The old gods of retribution and reward who lurk in the dark corners of our minds, are false deities. Dismiss the superstition.  You have Jesus’ word on it.

 

UNLESS YOU REPENT

 

Ah! But I have not completed the statement of Jesus have I? So far I have left something out. I must not be allowed to get away with that, eh?

 

After describing each incident and giving a resounding NO! Jesus went on to say:

            But unless you repent you will likewise perish.

            But unless you repent you will likewise perish.

 

What was he on about?   You see, Jesus was not going to pretend that the good or evil that we do does not matter.  Of course accidents, massacres, disease, are not God’s punishments.

 

But if we don’t watch our steps we can all end up with another kind of disaster----you will likewise perish.  Not as bodies, but as persons we can decay and perish. The soul or personality can become diseased and disintegrate.

 

Goodness and evil are critical issues. Christ is quite clearly saying that without repentance we are certainly on a disaster course. 

 

We are not to play the righteous moralists and divide those around us into “goodies and baddies” according to the state of their health or the value of the financial assets. That is not on.

 

However, we must face up the fact that we have all fallen short of God’s intentions and are all headed for trouble. Dissolution; the dissolute life is a real danger.

 

Perish is a powerful word. Decay, disintegration. It expresses the grievous loss of all that the best that we might become.

 

TODAY: NATIONAL, INTERNATIONAL, INDIVIDUAL

 

For us today Christ warning  has a powerful relevance:

Corporately, unless you repent you will likewise perish.

Individually, unless you repent you will likewise perish.

 

We are in danger of mass suicide. It is an era of mass nuclear and biological weapons, and an awesome array of options available to terrorists. No city, no passenger plane, nor major sporting or cultural event, is safe from scheming destroyers.

 

The same applies to the way we are polluting the planet. Ecologically, we are also on a disaster course.

 

Repentance. That is a key message in Lent. Remember that repentance is not feeling sorry and saying sorry. That is the easier bit. Repentance is a radical shift, a drastic turning away from the negative to the positive, from evil to good, from your own face in the mirror to the face of Christ  It is a costly about turn. A change in the direction of one’s life.  Repentance is hard and painful. And remarkably liberating!

 

CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLES

 

Let me attempt to put Jesus’ words into some more recent situations.

 

Do you think that those young people in Norway who were massacred by a calculating Nazi-like racist, were worse sinners than those who survived? Do you think they some how deserved it while we in Australia survive because we are better than they?

            I tell you, NO!

But unless you all repent of your sins, you shall surely perish.

 

Do you think that those who suffer from Aids are worse sinners than the rest of us? That they are being punished for their worse sins, and that we are okay because we are good people?

            I tell you, NO!

But unless you all repent of your sins, you shall surely perish.

 

Do you think that those who died in that bombing of the night club in Bali, were worst sinners than folk who were at home watching TV?

            I tell you, NO!

But unless you all repent of your sins, you shall surely perish.

 

That is the crunch.

You have it from the mouth of the most gentle, merciful, strong human being who ever lived.

 

No one ever spoke of more joyful possibilities; no one ever warned us of such dire consequences of remaining unrepentant.

 

 

SERMON 2:  HOPE REMAINS FOREVER

 

Luke 13: 6-9

 

Does opportunity get closed off? Is the door of salvation closing?

 

This question is posed by the short parable of a vineyard ownerwho speaks with his vinedresser about an unproductive fig tree that has been planted near some of the vines.

 

The owner said to his gardener: “Look here, for the last three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, but I find none. Cut it down! It’s  a waste of space, using up good soil.”

 

The gardener answered: “Sir, please let us leave it for one more year. I will dig around it and add more fertiliser. If it comes good and next year bears fruit, we’ll all be happy. If it doesn’t, you can then cut it down.”

 

THE PARABLE IN THAT SITUATION

 

It is most likely that this parable was a dire warning to those religious folk of Christ’s day who were not bearing fruit. Although some Pharisees heard Jesus with open minds, and a few were secret admirers, the majority rejected him outright. In so doing, they were missing out on the very thing, the Gospel,  that would make their lives abundantly fruitful. Some of the most earnest, religious people of Israel were barren souls.

 

The owner of the vineyard represents  God. His vinedresser or head gardener is Jesus. God’s opportune time for Israel to be a light to the world is running out. If they do not change their ways and bear fruit they will be redundant.

 

Jesus, this skilled vinedresser or head gardener, knows what a disappointment these fig trees are. But he has a deep hope welling up in him for it, which refuses to lie down. “Give it one more chance” he says to the owner. If after that it still does not bear fruit, “you may cut it down.” Notice here that the gardener is not offering to cut it down even then; he puts the onus back on the owner.

 

From the view point of later Christian theology, this is a typical paradox. Here we have God pleading with God to be patient with stubborn humanity. God speaking to God?

 

Ridiculous? I think not. Don’t you sometimes talk to yourself when, in deep concern, you are trying to work your way through a difficult situation? Can’t God be allowed to share that kind of deep concern?

 

Of course, parables should not be pushed too hard. Please don’t slip into the error of thinking that the parable means God is the hard-hearted owner intent on destruction of the fruitless tree, while Jesus is the kind hearted gardener, intent on saving the tree.  This is not a good cop bad cop routine. Such would be a flawed idea of God and his truest Child, Jesus..

 

The compassion of Jesus is God’s compassion. The tough, realistic concern of God about what to do with fruitless lives, is also the toughness of Jesus.  Please don’t place a wedge between Jesus and God. It is not on!  The love of the patience and hope of the gardener in this parable, is the patience and hope of the owner.

 

IT IS A GRAVE WARNING

 

Nevertheless, there is a stern warning here.

 

Opportunity does not always knock on our door. A time limit is set for the fruitless tree. If it is so set in its fruitlessness that it will no longer respond to digging and fertilising, then it has doomed itself.

 

If we do not take the times of God’s grace when they present themselves, we can be left barren. There is a judgment factor built into life by which repeated refusals of God’s opportune times, leaves us fruitless and— let’s face it a waste of space!. In a profound way we judge and condemn ourselves. Doors do close, opportunities are lost.

 

In my second parish, in the beautiful island State of Tasmania, there was a hostel for retired folk attached to a nursing home. I visited that community often, and in time became trusted not just by folk of my denomination, but also by others.

 

Among these others there was a woman in her seventies who would sometimes taunt me. One day when I sat beside her, she changed tack and said:

“Please don’t be hurt by my bitterness, young man. I had my chances to make something of my life but did not take them. I am a hopeless case. God can’t do anything with me now.”

 

I responded by speaking of God’s love for all. Of Christ’s grace which was meant for the likes of her. I pleaded with her to give God a chance. I told her that God loved her no matter what.

 

She shook her head:

“No it’s too late. Something in me has dried up and hardened. I feel regret but have no passion for change. The soul has died in me. I’ve left it too late. I am locked in my own little hell.”

 

You know what? That experience was scary ?

 

And it still is. There are seasons for flowering and bearing fruit.  If we deny them, if we become set in barrenness, even the best heavenly fertiliser around our roots (the saving grace of Christ Jesus) might not be able to restore our hope.

 

I would like to be able to report a happy outcome for that aging woman. I would like to say  that with persistent, loving pastoral care, the woman had a break through. But I cannot say that. I spoke with her often, and she gave up taunting me, but nothing else changed.

 

ROOM FOR GRACE

 

Does that mean I saw her position as hopeless? 

 

I would never make that judgement. Maybe I was the wrong agent. Someone else may have opened up a breach in her defences.

 

You see,  I utterly believe in grace, not karma! I live in hope that the gardener was still able to dig around her roots and fertilise the soil (Now here’s thought! Maybe I was some of the manure!) and give her another opportunity. I moved on from that parish, Christ did not.

 

You may have noticed that the parable leaves us up in the air.

 

Nothing is decided. The gardener makes his plea for one more year, one more year for the fig tree to become fruitful. But there is no answer from the owner. Has the fig tree lost its opportunity or not? The question stays with us, down the centuries and hangs now over us all in this in this church today.

 

There is one powerful point from today’s parable as we move a step closer to the Easter season:

            The vinedresser, Jesus, knew he  would shortly be arrested, battered, tried and executed.

            Yet he expects to be around next year.

 

            What faith and hope this man from Nazareth has!

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Loving God, you do not need our thanks, but we need to give it or we remain poor indeed.

You have been so good to us, we rejoice in your love.

 

That we are alive, is a miracle in itself. That we live in such a colourful, complex world

                         is an extra bonus.

You have been so good to us, we rejoice in your love

 

That you have entrusted the care of this place to us, making us caretakers of the world

                        and its creatures, is a mighty honour.

You have been so good to us, we rejoice in your love

 

That we have been encouraged by noble trail blazers, visionaries, prophets, poets, composers,

                        and artists, gives us optimism

You have been so good to us, we rejoice in your love

 

That you dared to be Immingle, coming to us in your holy son Jesus, goes beyond our

              wildest expectations.

You have been so good to us, we rejoice in your love

 

That you are personally with us always; that your Holy Spirit communes with our small spirits,

            fills us with joy.

You have been so good to us, we rejoice in your love l

 

Thanks be to you, Holy God and most loving Friend. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Our God belongs to all people, and treasures each individual.

Let us pray for them.

 

Holy Friend, Healer and Liberator, we lift up before you those people who are at this very moment suffer from either accident, disease, their own folly, or the cruelty of others.

Please have mercy on our race, O God.

Forgive our human iniquities and heal our many diseases.

 

At this moment many fellow humans beings are crying out against the cruelty of captivity: Hostages and abducted children, prisoners of war and political detainees, and many mistakenly convicted. Please have mercy on our race, O God.

Forgive our human iniquities and heal our many diseases.

 

At this moment many of our fellows are suffering physical and mental abuse: Battered wives and children, others beaten up by robbers, tortured for information, verbally abused and denigrated, left with untended wounds, threatened with the injury of loved ones, sexually molested  or slowly killed.

Please have mercy on our race, O God.

Forgive our human iniquities and heal our many diseases.

 

At this moment there are people who are traumatised by sudden injury: Victims of industry or the highways, soldiers wounded in battle, civilians bombed or terrorised, those maimed by the carelessness of others, and some who for personal thrills have taken big risks and lost.

Please have mercy on our race, O God.

Forgive our human iniquities and heal our many diseases.

 

At this moment there are thousands who are in terror or despair because of natural disasters: Flood and house fire, cyclone and earthquake, avalanche or bushfire, drought or lightning strike, storm waves or volcanic eruption.

Please have mercy on our race, O God.

Forgive our human iniquities and heal our many diseases.

 

Holy Friend, help your church to do whatever we can to lesson the multiple sufferings of humanity. Encourage each of us to rest our own pain and grief in your infinite mercy, and to not cease from righteous anger, prayer and appropriate action while injustice and neglect exist anywhere on this planet.

Please have mercy on our church, O God.

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

My friends, we have been called to repent,

and to turn our faces to the first love of our life,

Jesus Christ our Lord.

            Your face, Lord, do we seek.

 

In his company there are resources which only true lovers discover.

            The love of Christ fulfils us.

 

Travel carefully but not anxiously, travel boldly but not proudly,

 travel happily but not flippantly,

and you will achieve more than you will ever understand on earth.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

The God of love be with you all.

The Christ of grace be for you all.

The Spirit of truth be among you all.

 

Amen!