A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
(Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:1-9)
These readings take us on a journey through time: Abram’s call; David’s song of trust; Paul urging the people of Philippi to ‘stand firm in the Lord’. It amounts to a time-travelling testimony urging us to trust ever more deeply in God.
Each of these went through times of uncertainty and came out the other side urging others to trust increasingly in God as well. They had – in very human ways – discovered God to be good and faithful.
Yes, there are, in life, times when God is very difficult to see. None more so than when we are confronted with the fragility of life – both our lives and the lives of others.
And this is where our Gospel reading comes in.
Those approaching Jesus recount horror stories they have probably not witnessed. The events have, nonetheless, raised the age-old – and all too real – question of the apparent randomness of life and death. They are asking: Why?
The crowd wonders aloud if these apparently meaningless deaths are actually loaded with meaning: Do they reflect on the character of the people concerned? Were these acts of divine judgment? Surely these were worse than the rest of us?
Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus is not indecisive. His repeated: ‘No, I tell you’ is emphatic. There was nothing uniquely evil about these people.
But, alarmingly, Jesus sees parallels between these victims and those gathered before him. Each account of disaster and its accompanying query causes Jesus to issue his own warning: ‘…but unless you repent, you will perish as they did.’ They too are danger.
Jesus’ telling of our parable continues the exchange. It too is about repentance and judgment. In addition, however, it also argues for an extended period of grace.
The landowner’s call regarding his fruitless tree seems harsh: ‘Cut it down!’ He sees no future and is disappointed to – once again – find on it no olives. The one charged, however, with this tree’s care argues for more time and resources. Only then should a decision be made.
It is a challenging story: Who does this vineyard owner represent? Who is this gardener?
The most natural interpretation would, I suggest, have God as the landowner and Jesus as the gardener. Then, however, we have an unresolved argument within the Godhead: one having run out of patience and the other asking for more. It sits awkwardly.
But then again arguing with God is not without precedent.
Jacob was re-named Israel – meaning ‘strives or wrestles with God’ after his all-night fight with the one who dislodged his hip. It became this nation’s call. On a number of occasions the New Testament names Jesus as the ‘mediator between God and man’ (1 Timothy 2:5. See also Hebrews 9:15 and 12:24).
I am left wanting more – as with a number of Jesus’ parables. There is so much untold: What happens in the end? Does the owner allow the extra year? Does he commit the needed resources? Does the requested time and care produce the long-desired fruit? Is the axe simply brought out and room made for another?
We do not know – at least not yet.
But as we, this Lent, journey toward Jerusalem we – like Abram, David, and Paul – will discover more of the character of our creator. There the Messiah will hang between God and us – forfeiting his life to give you grace.
And immediately following will be mystery of Jesus’ resurrection. It is God’s great tick of approval next to Jesus, our patient, time-winning, grace-giving, gardener. The Godhead fully united in the desire to bring you home!
Based on our actions and fruitlessness, each of us would rightly be cut down. Based on the grace of God we are all given a second chance to turn to, trust in, and learn from, our creator.
It begs the question: Will you take God’s second chance?
If you have never embraced God’s second-chance offer before, can I urge you to do so now by making this simple turn-around prayer your own:
In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection,
you have loved me with an everlasting love.
Yet I have gone my own way.
I am sorry for this,
and today I turn back to you.
Forgive me, cleanse me, change me.
Tend to me that I may be fruitful for your kingdom.
By your grace,
Enable me to live for you.