Tag: repent

The Gracious Gardener

SermonLent cross, Lent 3C

Sunday March 3, 2013, St Petri

Believing is Seeing….

The Gracious Gardener

Living Water for our Idolatry

             Luke 13:1-9

 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

 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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

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. 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?’

 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

I was talking with a young couple with young kids a once. They told me a story about how things had been for them. They had lost a child before birth. The young mum said that in this loss she has wondered if God was punishing them. She had wondered why this had happened and if God was supposed to be so good, then how come this was so bad. Fair enough!

This particular couple are in some ways “close to the kingdom”, and somewhat open to the good news that God is at least meant to be gracious and good. But they were and probably still are struggling to believe this. Aren’t we all.

Many in our community, really do wonder if people who suffer tragedy or great loss are really being punished for some known or unknown sin. People harbour a vindictive God who is into payback. If you are not good enough, then you better watch out. Because if your naughty and not nice, then there will be no good gifts for you.

This view of vengeful divine judge who is only concerned with whether you are good or bad and who has little trouble inflicting punishment on you in the form of mishap, tragedy and pain is not only a modern belief. It was obviously one that many people in Jesus’ time held. It was big enough for them to ask Jesus what he thought about these two tragedies…..

No one really knows much about this event of the tower of Siloam in the Jerusalem falling in and killing eighteen people. But it obviously happened and had become a real sign that God was indeed present in the city – but not in goodness and grace – but pay-back and vengeance.

Same goes for this other deeply distasteful episode that seems to have been carried out by Pontius Pilate, the governor of the city and surrounding region of Judea. It seems that some rebellious Galileans from up in the North had made their presence felt to the local government ruler and he had dealt with them not only by imprisonment, torture and death penalty, but then to really make the point that disorder and wrong belief will not be tolerated, he took some of their human blood and mixed it in with the blood from goats, and sheep sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple for the worship services there. This would have completely defiled the temple and deeply insulted and offended the people.

Both events are tragic but different. One is an unforseen mishap causing death and its sorrow and grief. The other is pure vengeance. It is a overly harsh and very cruel punishment.

So the people of old and us now struggle to deal with life, especially when tragedy and/or injustice and cruelty are our experience. Is God uncaring, incapable or cruel?

When it is hard, when I am down, when tragedy comes my way, I catch myself also wondering “what have I done to deserve this?”

Have you uttered these words in prayer or to another?

God, have I not prayed enough? Have I made too many mistakes? Are you paying me back for THAT mistake, that sin? Am I cursed because of my troubled family? Have my ancestors sins comes to revisit me? Are young punishing me? Are you paying me back and teaching me a lesson I will not forget?

God, are those kind of people really bad – so much so that this has happened to them? Is this tragedy your work, God?

In response to these questions, this pain, this search for good, Jesus is quite direct, as he often is!

This talk of mishap and injustice as “Judgement on sin – especially other people’s sin is something to handle very carefully!  “No-one is better or worse than anyone else in my view”, Jesus plainly says. Those sufferers of mishap even though guilty of sin are no worse than you and you are no worse than them. Those people and their families and a whole nation who were treated so harshly and unfairly did not deserve that any more than you.

What’s the message here for us? Avoid comparison to others at all costs. Comparison only gets you two places. “Woe is me for I am worse then he”, – Despair, or, “Woe is them for I am better than them” – arrogant superiority. Neither are true. We are not left in despair and we are not superior to anyone else in God’s eyes. Just loved! Comparison of being good or bad, better or worse than others will never bring life to our souls and to our church.

Friends, as we believe that we are no better or no worse, no more blessed or no more cursed than any other sinner, we can see that we truly live by the grace of God.

So, if comparing sins and suffering as punishment is not Jesus’ way, then what is? What is the better way – the Jesus way in our experience of random tragedy and unfair evil treatment? “Repent”, says Jesus. Turn and face God. Turn away from casting judgement on others with their sin that you think are worse than yours. They are not. Deal with Jesus one-on-one, never in comparison to others.

Repent. Turn toward the Lord in all humility and honesty about our mistakes and our brokenness and throw ourselves on his mercy.

Mercy? Is that how God receives all of us broken sinners? Really?

The young couple I listened to can’t quite believe this is possible. That is why they are close o the kingdom but not in it – not yet anyway – but there is time …….The hearers of Jesus probably struggled with this too. Is mercy really the response we get from God, the divine judge of all people?

 Jesus is saying that humble and honest one-to-one and person to person repentance and trust in his goodness is truly Jesus’ prescription for despair, arrogance and warped belief.

He tells a little parable about a person who planted a fig tree in another man’s garden. The tree did not bear good fruit. So the guy who planted the tree comes to the owner and tells him the tale of woe.

“I have been coming here for three season looking for fruit from this tree and has not found one fig”, he says. He makes a judgement. He wants the owner to get rid of it. “Cut it down!. It is taking up valuable water and resources that other trees would use to bear fruit”.

The owner says. “Leave it one more season, mate. Give it some grace. Give it more time to bear the fruit you are looking for. If it does not show healthy fruit in that season, then, we will carry out your judgement on the tree”. Your judgement is right, but let it wait a little longer.”

With a useless tree that is bearing no fruit whatsoever and taking up valuable resources in God’s garden there is grace! Sure, there is truth. The tree is not bearing fruit. But there is grace that wins the day for another season.

The Gardener commits to giving me, the often fruitless tree, more time with him in the garden. He offers me more time to tend me, care for me, pour on the living water into my soul and help me sink deep roots into good soil – the soils of the gospel – Jesus – the face of God, the name of God, the presence of God.

He could just cut me down as God’s right judgement rightly determines. But he does not. In fact he promises that as a baptised child of God, I have already passed from the death of judgement to life in the garden with Jesus and his people forever!

Friends, can you believe? Will you believe that God is not that random and vindictive judge toward you or any other sinner? Can you believe that you and I are both planted in God’s good garden, the garden of life and love in Jesus and that he treats us equally, fairly, lovingly.

Can we truly believe that people like my couple who are on the edge of the garden?

And can we then see – because from belief in the god news comes new sight; can we see that they just need a tree in the God’s garden to bear the Spirit’s fruit with them – the fruit of acts and words of love, sharing of joy in being God’s, peace-making, forbearance of their story and their weakness, acts of kindness and goodness, and faithfulness to God’s Word (Galatians 5:22).

Friends, God is no unjust or vindictive judge paying us back for our wrongs. He is Father, Son, Spirit, the gracious Gardener working to tend us with his living word, his living water, so that we find our voice, our purpose our mission – to be bearers and bringers of good fruit in our places. Yes, the gardener needs to prune us back to keep us on track toward bearing good fruit – but not from a vengeful heart – only Jesus’ heart of love.

So, with Isaiah we gladly cry out to the people we know in and outside the garden of Godly delights –

“everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love…                                                                          (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Way to God

Advent 2012

Sermon: Advent 2C,Dec 9th, 2012.

St Petri


Luke 3:1-6

A way to God

Spirit of God, make the way straight for us to hear and believe your word, for your word is truth and life. Amen

Friends, we hear of the way to God this Advent morning. “The Way to God”?

If there was ever a quest that would mark our age it would be the quest to find a way to the divine

Of course, in our climate, any way to find God – without Christianity is all the rage. Any other way is OK. If we Christians ever comment or criticise another way to God being offered, then we are bigoted and narrow. If other ways to God on offer criticise Christianity they are applauded! Nothing new here – we are used to it now.

Regardless of this, there are many ways to God, or fulfilment, of life, or the divine on offer daily for us and our young people and children.

Here’s a few ways on offer – ways to God.

The way to god is:

  • Being good  – doing what the bible says to keep God happy with me
  • Pretending to be good – keeping up appearances out of loyalty to church or family or self expectations
  • Not bothering to be good at all. Finding God in not seeing the world in “good and bad” terms but just as it is terms – of course though, then we have the problem of meaninglessness. If nothing is good and noting is bad and all of this good and bad stuff is just a human construction – then all is nothing.
  • Not bothering to be good at all – searching for meaning in anything and everything – no limits of sex, relationship boundaries, and moral code in behaviour…..
  • Concentrating on self – rejecting God and religion and becoming myself through various experiences – chasing the bucket list, attending events, courses, groups to fulfil myself – because no one can or will – including God…..
  • Concentrating on others – doing good things for others regardless of God – just because it is better to live that way.
  • Emptying one’s self and finding the great unknown – the great spiritual existence that exists somewhere – finding the secret way, the hidden way, the way to peace and contentment
  • Collecting gods and keeping them happy – a good luck charm for travel, for sport, for study, for peace in the home….

How shall we find a way to God? How shall we help people find a way to God?

But maybe this is the wrong question?   It seems that God is finding us!

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation

God is the one making finding him possible. God is the one making a way for us to see his freedom and love for us – our “salvation”.

So, because God is finding us and making the way to him possible for us, John can then cry out how we receive God’s new way.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”

We don’t find God. We receive what God is already doing for us.

And the way receive God’s new way?

 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”.

The way to receive God? “Repent” cries John. Turning toward God, laying down self, sorrowing for wrong done to and against; an act of humility, an act of faith in God’s goodness….

The way to God; the way to fulfillment, purpose, and meaning is repentance? The way to receive God’s life is a turning away from self and sin and darkness and evil and a turning toward truth and light and life – in the Advent king Jesus? Not what people are hearing or want to hear….. Well maybe…..

I heard this story once.

A number of years ago a couple travelled to the offices of an Adoption Society in England to receive a baby. They had been on the waiting list a long time. They had been interviewed and carefully scrutinized. Now at last, their dreams were to be fulfilled. But their day of happiness was another’s pain.

Arriving at the offices of the Society they were led up a flight of stairs to a waiting room. After a few minutes they heard someone else climbing the stairs. It was the young student mother whose baby was to be adopted. She was met by the lady responsible for the adoption arrangements and taken into another room. Our friends heard a muffled conversation and a few minutes later, footsteps on the stairs as the young mother left. They heard her deep sobbing until the front door of the office was closed. Then, there was silence.

The lady in charge then ushered them next door. In a little cot was a six week old baby boy. On a chair beside it was a brown paper bag containing a change of clothes and two letters. One of these, addressed to the new parents, thanked them for providing a home for her baby and acknowledged that under the terms of the adoption each would never know the other’s identity. Then the young mother added one request. Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his eighteenth birthday? She assured them that she had not included any information about her identity. The couple entrusted that letter to a lawyer and one day the young man will read the message which his mother wrote on the day when with breaking heart, she parted from him.

I wonder what she wrote? If I had to condense all I feel about life and love into a few precious words what would I say? I would have no time for trivia. I would not be concerned about economics, politics, the weather, clothes, even future job prospects of career really. I would not be at all concerned the size of house or the type of car. At such a time I would want to dwell on the life-giving things of life, on what life was all about and what things were absolutely essential. I might find myself outlining the way to God.

John was doing just that. Time was short. Like this couple in a big moment, John had to get to the core quickly. Soon the sword of Herod’s guard would flash and his tongue would lie silent in the grave. Soon the way to God would be here – the messiah, the new road, the new way, the new holy highway to peace and joy and life and people had to get ready for this massive change and huge shift in destiny.

One word; Repent. Metanoia. Turn around. Turn back toward God for he is meeting you now where you are at, and calling you to a totally new way to deal with your sin, your idolatry, your brokenness, your weakness. A tsunami of change is coming and complete peace with your Creator is on offer.

Repent of your self-aggrandisement, your chasing for the way to God in the things you think you know. Turn away from triviality, mere surface level observance – religious or otherwise. Repent of reliance on family tradition and custom. God can make church members out of rocks on the ground, says the fiery man in the desert.

Repent of your comfortableness with unforgiveness and grudges. Turn away from judgemental heart – keeping all the “bad” people at bay and all the “good” people free.

Give up you your distraction, your indifference and seek the new man, the new way to God and his peace, his life, his calling

“Repent” – Short and simple – the only way to be known by God.

Repenting for John is more than having a change of heart or a feeling of regret. It is more than a New Year’s Eve resolution. Repentance is a turning away from ourselves, and in simple trust and faith in God’s grace, turning back to him.

Each of us is invited to come to Jesus one-on-one. At least that’s what John says.

He says prepare for the advent; the coming of Jesus. There is no room for relying on your pedigree as a dyed in the wool Lutheran or an extra special member of this parish. There is no room for pleading ignorance concerning God’s call to come clean with him and repent. No, there is only room in your heart for the grace of Jesus – your heart filled with his peace so you can live in his peace and get on with his mission to bring peace to all those you know who know no peace with Jesus.

Turn to him this Advent so that your peace may be full this Christmas.