Sermon for March 20

May God’s grace, mercy, and peace be with you, through God the Father, and the Son Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Recently, I heard a story about three men back in the 30’s who went to town with a load of watermelons in a horse-drawn wagon. They drove the wagon all over town had had pretty good luck at selling them. They sold their last one just before dark. They figured it was too late to head back home in the dark with wagon. So, with a few dollars in their pockets, they decided to buy a jug of corn squeezing’s and commenced to have a good old time. A good time consisted of drinking, card-playing, and visiting the local dance hall. It ended up with them sleeping it off in the back of the wagon under the stars. They made it back the next morning with a lame story about having a busted-up wagon wheel.

They pretty much got away with it until in the middle of the winter, Dave got sick, and everybody thought he was going to die. The got the doctor in, but they could get hold of the preacher at the Baptist church down the road. So, the brought in Roscoe’s wife, Irene, Roscoe was one of the three and Irene was a powerful Pentecostal Holiness minister. She came in and dropped one of those sixteen-pound pulpit Bibles on his chest and started to pray. After a while she stopped and asked Dave if he had any unconfessed sins what was making him sick. He said no and she continued to pray some more. She asked him about the sins again, warning him that if he died with unconfessed sins he would go to hell. Dave coughed a bit and said, “Well there was this one time me and your husband and Bubba Smith went to town to sell watermelons, got a little drunk and gambled some and went to the dance hall for a while.” The Rev. Irene quit praying, jumped up, and popped her right fist into her left palm and yelled, “Why, that bald-headed old fool, I’ll kill him!” She rushed out, leaving Fred wallowing in his sickness and his sins. Dave finally recovered and over in the spring was sitting out on his front porch when suddenly a rifle shot rang out, and the bullet thudded into the wall beside his head. Dave jumped off the porch and into the bushes. Then a voice yelled out from the woods, “Dang you Dave. Next time you think you’re dying, confess your own sins and leave me and Bubba out of it!”

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus says pretty much the same thing as Roscoe did. They had come to Jesus to talk about sin, not theirs, but of others. And Jesus tells them that they should confess their sins and leave others out of it unlike Dave.
Jesus had just finished talking about signs of the last days. So, the people were wondering, “Hey Jesus, did you hear about how Pilate marched into the Temple and killed those worshippers from Galilee? Said he thought they were going to cause a riot. Why did that happen? Was it because those people were sinful and were being punished?”

We’ve all heard the question. Maybe we’ve asked it ourselves. As a minister, I’ve heard it in hospitals after someone has a heart attack or in an automobile accident, or gotten a cancer diagnosis. “What have I done to deserve this?”

It seems that any time there’s a natural disaster, some TV preacher will decide they have to figure out what sins the people had committed that caused God to punish them. And twice Jesus responds to that kind of thinking with, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Those “buts” are the most important words in this text. They signal a turn, a turn away from worrying about the sins and the fate of others; and a turn to thinking about our sins and our own fate in life. “Unless you repent, you will all also perish!” Jesus turned the crowd away from discussing other people’s sins and turned it to focus on their own need for change and repentance.

In the early 1900’s The Times of London, a world-renowned newspaper of the time invited certain popular writers to answer the question: “What is wrong with the world?” They received many long essays about who was to blame. God, Satan, the Church, the Communists, the Fascists, White people, Black people, Asians, Hispanics, the Jews, the Germans, the Italians, the Chinese, the Moslems, the Americans. It was women, men, “the older generation”, “These young people today.” There was a famous Christian writer by the name of GK Chesterton who was also invited to write a piece. He wrote in answer to the question: Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely, GK Chesterton.

Jesus is calling us today to turn away from blaming God, the world, or others for what’s wrong with the world. He invites us to look at ourselves instead. He invites us to turn and look to God for help and salvation. This is what repent means; it means to turn, to turn from one way of thinking to another, to turn from going one direction in life to going in a new and different direction.

The life of a Christian is a life of daily repentance, a life of turning from the world to God and then turning back again from God to go into the world. The result of this turning is the fruit we bear, the acts of love and kindness to others that our lives produce. Jesus’ parable of the fig tree reminds us that a life of turning to God and then back into the world will produce fruitful lives of generosity and love. The reprieve given to the unfruitful tree reminds us that God is a God of grace, and forbearance, and steadfast love; God is a God of the second chance.

Lent is a time to repent of our own sins, not the sins of others. Lent is a time to plow up the ground, prepare the soil, heap fertilizer onto our souls; seek the Lord’s will and way, and trust in the Lord’s love and forgiveness, of us and of everybody.