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SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT
March 13, 2021
Luke 13: 31-35
Jerusalem has always been the center of the world for the people of God. It was the place of the Temple, the city of the prophets, and the place where Jesus went to be crucified. Today's Gospel, found also in Matthew, is Luke's version of Jesus speaking of his love for Jerusalem and its people. Our Lord would go there only at the proper time, according to God's plan, in obedience to God's will. Hear the Holy Gospel from the 13th chapter of St. Luke, beginning at the 31st verse:
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
This is the Gospel for today.
The story of God choosing Abraham and Sarah is such key to our Hebrew faith-ancestors that the story is presented three times in the Old Testament.
Three of the four sources to Genesis (each using a different name for God), record God coming to Abram and Sarai (their names changed by God only after announcing that God wanted them to move) to chose him and his wife to be the beginning of a new generation. Today’s Old Testament Lesson is one of these stories about God’s Calling people “out of the blue”.
This Old Testament story is a wonderful illustration of the Grace of God - they are chosen by God even though they had done nothing special: they were not kings or generals, nor a wealthy family with lots of land - they were an elderly childless, landless, couple, given a child (Isaac), land (Israel), and descendants (all the Jewish people) by the Grace of God..
When we look for “The Good News” - Grace - in our study of the New Testament, we are not discovering something new. God acting graciously, forgiving, renewing, reconciling us to himself choosing us, is a theme of both Old and New Testaments.
When we were Baptized WE did nothing - we were dragged, sometimes licking and screaming, to the font as infants to be welcomed to God’s family and given the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, without our doing anything, we were made children of God. Just like Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David and Jesus, God works through us to shine a light on God’s love, to bring an example of God’s power to the world.
Our gospel for today may not sound like Good News - Jesus being warned, long before he travelled South to Jerusalem that King Herod was out to get him, and Jesus almost defiantly remembering that Jerusalem is where many prophets have died. Yet Jesus shows great tenderness toward the city that so often defied God’s will, seeing it like a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings.
With the recent Covid pandemic (hopefully almost gone) we too, felt like tender babies gathered under the wings of mother-God’s wings. We did not know where to turn for help. We clung to the words Jesus expressed that came from God - Do not be afraid. Jesus had experienced great angst, anxiety, sorrow in his own brief life, yet he spoke comfort to us all these two years.
With the current crisis coming from the Demonic invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin, we see nightly on TV, poor, frightened, hungry, injured Ukrainians running for their lives, crowding on trains, busses and cars to leave, with tears, their homeland to escape the Devil’s wrath. We pray for them. We wish them well. We hope, like Covid, it will soon be over.
Remember all these things are not from God - they are from the Fallen, Demonic, Evil world we live in. God weeps with us. God gives us the intelligence to fight evil - but we need to provide the will to reject evil.
Rejecting evil began last week when we read how Jesus, tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, affirmed that we do not live by bread alone, that we should not serve the things of this world, and that we should not test God. During this Lenten journey we pray for the gift of Repentance, for the power to be mended and repaired in our souls, and for the strength that came to Jesus and comes to us through the Holy Spirit to withstand this world until we are brought, by God, to the next.
In the meantime, we stand with each other, we stand with the people of Ukraine, and we stand with all people hungry and in need, and hear God’s words: “Do not be afraid.”
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
March 20, 2022
Luke 13: 1-9
Jesus, in the Synoptic Gospel of Luke, presents an urgent call for change, a change that eventually he would effect for us in his death and resurrection. In today's Gospel, two recent calamities make the urgency of the time more real - as they raise the age-old question of whether people deserve the bad things that happen to them. Repentance is called for, none-the-less. In the story of the fig tree, the slightness of the reprieve is emphasized - only one more season. Hear the Holy Gospel from the 13th chapter of St. Luke, beginning at the 1st verse:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He 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.'" This is the Gospel for today.
One of the themes of our Gospels, that is mostly lost today in our understanding of Jesus, it that of the immediacy of God’s return, the urgency of the need to be repentant, the shortness of time between now and “the end”. Today’s Gospel focuses in two ways on this message of Jesus.
First, the question of who sinned in recently tragic deaths of local people is brought to Jesus’ attention The question is who sinned that these terrible things happened to them. Jesus does not address that issue, but sees the stories as a time to warn people that there isn’t much time left - for what he doesn’t say - the end of the world? The destruction of Jerusalem? When the Romans invaded, around 68-70 A.D., Luke was in the process of assembling his collections of stories. The entire region was worried about what the Romans would do. The urgency of this was felt through the land. This story reflects that urgency. Jesus doesn’t answer the question of who sinned; but took the opportunity to say that this could happen to you if you don’t change your ways - and do that soon. So in a sense, Jesus was answering their question - if their repentance would make these things go away, then somebody’s sin must have caused them to happen in the first place.
Particularly in our Lutheran Church we reject the idea that misfortune comes from sin. A child born blind, an accident causing paralysis, a birth defect - these things are not willfully done to us by God as punishments! They happen to us because we live in a fallen world. By the choices, thousands of years ago, we disobeyed God and sought to be God ourselves. When we follow the Devil today (as in the recent reading of the story of the Temptation) in effect, we chose to live in a fallen world, too. The violence, selfishness, disregard for other humans who are suffering, makes “the Fall” a reoccurring event. God went with Adam and Eve when they were expelled from the perfect world of Eden, but God didn’t change the nature of the world the first people chose - the world of selfishness and greed.
God’s love is with us. God sent Jesus to be in this fallen world, too, to experience all its evil. In the Temptation, Jesus rejected the Devil’s offer of bread, power and kingdoms if he worshipped the Devil. God exercises subtle power of love in our world, but doesn’t cause some people to suffer and others to prosper.
Back to the second paragraph of our story. It is a parable which tells us further of the urgency of the life they lived in. The fig tree has no figs after three years so the owner decides the dig it up. But, the gardener says to give it one more season and put some fertilizer on it. We never learn what happened to the fig tree - because this is a parable, not a story about real events. The message of the story is “there isn’t much time left!”
So there isn’t much time for repentance. But we Lutherans believe that repentance is not something we muster up, it is a gift from the Holy Spirit. None-the-less even a gift has to be received and opened. This Lent as we pray for the gift of Repentance from God. A gift that has been given to us over and over for two thousand years; but which we do not accept often enough, and some never receive it.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic helped us adjust our values, and better to appreciate the sense of urgency Jesus felt in his day. We learned that heroes aren’t movie and baseball stars, nor millionaires and other famous people. But the real heroes are the doctors and nurses who risked contamination to help our sick, and the mailman and UPS driver, the supermarket check-out person and the gas station attendant who served us all throughout the pandemic. During the pandemic there was a real sense of anxiety, fear, wondering who would get it next. We dealt with a sense of urgency for over 2 years but, God was there all the time. God didn’t send Covid, but God was there with us through it all.
Now we are in the midst of what might, or might not, turn into World War III. Right now it is something far away - like the Roman Invasion of Jerusalem in 68, viewed from Luke’s community way in the north. But we fear, like they did in Jesus day, that it might get worse and come closer. There was a sense of urgency that it must go away. We must help all the refugees. We must help all in danger. But what can we do? How will God be with us? What new priorities and values will we develop in the next few months and years?
One problem after the other has beset our world (just to name a few in my lifetime: The Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the fear of nuclear war, the Viet Nam war, Various Mid-Eastern wars, Global Warming etc. etc.). Life isn’t much different than it was in Jesus’ day - only the cost and size of our violence and fear. We still hear the voice of Jesus saying “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
We will not perish eternally as they did, because Christ died for us. We who have been Baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Christ are free from the urgencies that fill our world. Jesus said “no” to the Devil at his Temptation, and so we cling to Jesus for salvation.
So during Lent we remember all the more our bpatisms.We are free from fear and anxiety, by the Grace of God.