Third Sunday in Lent March 19-20, 2022
“A Demanding Word” Luke 13:1-9
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I’ve been thinking. Why did all those people in Superior and Louisville and Boulder County have their homes and their belongings burn up a few months ago in the Marshall fire? Just think of that. You go to work in the morning, just as you always do, or you head to school, or go to do your shopping, and when you plan to come home that evening you have nothing to come home to. It is gone, and so are your most important documents, your memories and keepsakes. Gone.
Why did it happen to them and not to us on the south side of town? They must have been bad people. They must have done something pretty crummy to have that happen to them. Right? Bad people have bad stuff come back to them, right? Bad karma.
Sometimes we think that way. Something bad happens to someone and we say, “I told you so.” “You reap what you sow.” “Life is out of control? You should have listened to my advice.” We can be quick to find fault or to point fingers. Sometimes we can be just plain spiritually arrogant and pompous. In John’s account of the life of Jesus we have this account, “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (John 9:1-2) Someone had to do something wrong, these things don’t happen for no reason.
The first demanding word that I mention today is the word, “Why”. Why do good people suffer? Why do a thousand homes burn to the ground? Why do parents who have tried, struggle with those they love the most? Why do people suffer blindness or any other kind of physical ailment? Why do millions of people in a friendly nation have to run away from their homes, just to seek safety? “Why” is quite a demanding word. In our reading this was put to Jesus, “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!’” “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!’” (Luke 13:1-3a, 4-5a)
It is just awful that the Galileans who were only doing what God wanted them to do, bringing their sacrifices to Him, were slaughtered by Pilate and they had their own blood mixed with the blood of the animals they offered. It is sad that 18 people who left home one morning did not return, a tower fell on them, and they died. “Why?” is quite a demanding word, isn’t it?
But Jesus doesn’t answer the question. He doesn’t say anything about the brutality of Pilate (who by a number of other accounts outside the Bible was shown to be brutal to many people). Jesus doesn’t mention the blame about the tower falling and maybe the engineers who didn’t do it right. He uses these events to give another demanding word. Repent!!
After telling the crowd that the Galileans weren’t worse sinners than anyone else, Jesus goes on, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:3b) After telling the crowd that the 18 who had the tower fall on them were not worse sinners than others, Jesus says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:5b) As Jesus said to the men who wanted to stone to death the woman caught in adultery, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
Repent is a demanding word. God isn’t looking to patch up a few holes in our life, or a problem here or there. This isn’t about a few minor repairs. He is looking to take our lives over, He wants everything. WOW!! Repent. Give up control. Give it over. “Thy will be done.”
Isn’t that something – Jesus uses some terrible tragedies to tell us that it is time for us to turn to Him.
There isn’t much gospel in any of our readings for today. Gospel – the good news that Jesus has paid for our sins on the cross, that He defeated the enemies that face our soul and gives us eternal life. Gospel – the news that God is on our side and dearly loves us. But I found a word of hope in the second part of our reading from Luke 13. “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?” (Luke 13:6-7)
That is reasonable, right? Fig trees should make figs. If it hasn’t done what it is supposed to do, start over with a new tree. In the use of this parable Jesus has continued to talk about that demanding word – repentance. It is just like John the Baptist said when he preached, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) If our lives do not produce the good that God is desiring, or if we only produce that which is bad, He may have enough of our useless or evil life. “Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?” is God’s demanding word about our life.
We have a demanding, questioning word about the pains of life. That word is “Why?” God has a demanding word for us – the word of “Repent” – do life differently. The final demanding word that I have for you today is a word of patience and forgiveness. It is the demand that we make of God. “Sir”, the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year.” (Luke 13:8a) One more year. One more chance. One more opportunity to repent, receive grace, and show the fruit of faith.
There was a youth group that was on a retreat. The theme of the retreat that year was about the relationship that existed between the teenager and their parent or parents. They were to take a piece of clay that was in a container and make something that symbolizes how things were in that relationship. One of the young ladies made a heart out of the clay and said that their relationship was one of love. Another of the youth made a flower, a symbol that their life together is a growing thing that is exciting and beautiful. But another teenager took some clay and made it into a casket and declared that his relationship with his mom and dad was dead. Another made a garbage can and truthfully said their relationship was in the trash.
When the youth were all done with this discussion starter, they were to put the clay back in the container. Now a sign was displayed on the clay container. It read: “Reusable”. The leaders of this retreat wanted the youth to know that the clay can be re-formed. It can be made into a different form, and it can have a different outcome. It didn’t have to stay as a casket or a trash can. Can’t you hear the words, “Let it alone for one more year. I’ll dig around it and I will fertilize it.”
God has a demanding word – Repent. Produce good fruit. And we make a demanding word – allow us one more year. Give us another chance. Don’t give up on us.
That is a good word for all of us. Though we don’t deserve to make such a request I find evidence that God desires us to make such a demand. When Jonah went to Nineveh (eventually), the people of that city listened to what he said, repented, and responded, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:9) Listen to the heart of God when God says, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
Our demand is for “one more year” for patience on us or for those who we know who don’t have Jesus as their Savior. You know the account of Abraham as he pleads for the evil towns of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament. God had said that His patience with those towns was over and that their end was coming. Abraham asked the Lord, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if fifty righteous in those towns could be found? Would God, for the sake of the fifty, spare all the people?” God said He would. And then Abraham began his bargaining skills with God. How about for 45? 40? 30? 20? One last leap – 10? God says, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (See Genesis 18:22-33) It was like the demand in the New Testament, “Sir, leave it alone for [just] one more year.”
God has a demand of us. Repent. Turn. Seek God with all your heart. And we have a demand of Him. Forgive. Wash. Cleanse. Be patient. Our demand of God is not just for us but for our entire world. Or, for our family who doesn’t follow Him. Or, for those who are so far from a saving faith in Jesus and the reception of grace. For the sake of the work of Jesus, Lord, be patient. Lord, one more year, please. Amen.