Sermon From the Third Sunday in Lent

March 20, 2022
Isaiah 55:1-9 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Luke 13:1-9

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are in the season of spring. For many this is a time to rest. A time for travel. A time to clean. For my family, it is a time to sort and reorganize through my library of books to make room for new books to read for the upcoming year.

As I was doing my spring cleaning I came across a book by psychologist Dr. Carl Menninger entitled Whatever Became of Sin for my senior theology class at Wartburg Theological

Seminary. Dr. Menninger’s examination on human morality and the existence and consequences of sin gives us insight into what we can consider right and wrong. His point was that certain behavior is still wrong, regardless of understanding the motivations of the behavior, and may be destructive to society. The problem is, according to Dr. Menninger, is that with understanding motivation, our society has come to accept behaviors that may be deemed as sinful. Thus, the title, Whatever Became of Sin.

Perhaps our society does have difficulty embracing the reality of sin. I can remember my grandfather’s stories to me growing up about his experiences that have changed over time. I can still remember him sharing, “I was born before frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees, video games, etc. I called every man older than me, ‘Sir’… In my day, ‘grass’ was mowed, ‘coke’ was the only soft drink, ‘pot’ was something your mother cooked in…”

Well, can you imagine the changes in society that have happened over the past 2,000 years? The world is certainly not the same place as it was back in the first century – except for one thing. The society in that day didn’t have a good understanding of sin either.

Consider our second lesson for this morning, which was written by Paul in the middle of the first century. He is writing to this early church to remind these new Christians that even though they were baptized into Christ’s death and

resurrection, even though they shared in Holy Communion, they still were sinners in need of repentance.

He begins his argument by asking the Christians in Corinth to recall the story of Israel’s wanderings in the desert, after God had acted to free them from bondage in Egypt, and to find an analogy in that story to their own situation. He reminds them that Israel was ‘baptized’ in the Red Sea. He reminds them that Israel ate and drank the miraculous, God-given food and drink, to sustain them on their journey to the Promised Land.

But still, none of this kept Israel from sinning. And so, to those who might think that since they are baptized and partake of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper that they are immune from sin, Paul reminds them that God was not pleased with most of those making the Exodus. And with the stark reminder that many of those freed were struck down in the wilderness, Paul issues a call for repentance.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we find Jesus issuing an urgent call to acknowledge our sin and repent. Some people come to Jesus and tell him of how Pilate had slaughtered Galileans who were in the act of worshiping and offering sacrifices to God. It was as if they want Jesus to explain the reason for this tragedy, to offer some justification as to why God would allow such a thing to happen. Was it because these Galileans’ sins were offensive to God?

Jesus does not discuss Pilate in his response; he instead talks about his fellow Galileans. He asks if those who were slaughtered were worse sinners than other Galileans because of how they suffered. The logic of his question is supported by the Torah (Deuteronomy 28). Popular understandings of divine retribution at this time presumed that punishments, especially catastrophes, were proportional to the sin. Jesus refuses to have any part of that line of thought. Instead, he moves us to a discussion about our sin and our need to repent. He refutes that logic so people will not make decisions of Pilate and Rome as synonymous with God’s justice.

Jesus is suggesting that we don’t really know how to interpret such events. He gives another example, where a tower collapsed and killed some workers, saying, “Surely you don’t think those workers were worse offenders against God than

others living in Jerusalem.” And today we might add, “What about those suffering now? Are they worse offenders against God than the others? To this line of thought, Jesus says “No. Such events should be seen as pointers to the destruction that threatens all people, unless we repent.”

To illustrate the need of repentance, Jesus uses the parable of a fig tree. The point of the parable is this: fig trees are grown for one thing, produce figs. And in the parable, the tree was given an amount of time to be cared for, but there would come a day of reckoning where either the fig tree produced fruit, or it was going to be cut down because it wasn’t producing fruit in this vineyard. In the parable, the unproductive tree represented those who were not producing the fruit of faith and repentance. They had been given time to produce, and they didn’t, refusing to confess their sin and amend their sinful lives. They kept on doing what they were doing, all the while pointing out things that were happening to others, thinking that they were just fine with God because horrible things didn’t happen to them. The owner of the vineyard is God, the one who is looking for the fruit, in this case, the fruit of repentance. He was giving time for the fertilizer, that is, His Word, to be showered upon the tree, but there would come a day where fruit would be expected, or it faces judgment.

Jesus’ message is clear: do not be like the fruitless fig tree. Rather than focus on the sins of others, we are to make sure that we are producing good fruit. Instead of assigning blame to others, ensure that you are not ignoring your own missing fruit. Jesus’ words suggest that tending to one’s own life and positively changing one’s own mind is the best strategy to prevent or even persevere through unexpected calamity.

This is a timely parable for this season of Lent because it is a time of fasting, prayer, and repentance as we ponder what our Savior, Jesus Christ, has done for us at the cross. In fact, for centuries, the season of Lent was and is a time of Catechesis, or instruction, for converts into the Christian faith. They would spend this time in heavy study of the Scriptures, with the goal at the end of that period of confess their sinfulness, and their need of a Savior. Then on the eve of Easter at the Easter Vigil, these converts would make a public confession of their faith and be baptized. The timing symbolized the fact that their sins had been atoned for by Christ’s death and that they were now being raised to new life with Christ as Christ was raised to life again on Easter morning.

And that is the life of the Christian, a life of repentance. And our liturgical practice on Sunday morning helps to keep that right in front of us. We come here on Sunday morning, and we confess our sins. In doing so, we recognize that our sin will cut us off from God and the life we must give if we remain in it. We then hear about what our Savior has done for us through His life, death, and resurrection. Leaving here as His forgiven people, we want to live our lives in repentance by avoiding the sin in our lives.

But for today, you and I have been given time, just as the fig tree was given time in the Gospel reading, to repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ for our forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. For us today, our Lord gives us time. Time to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those in our community. Time for us to reach out, serve, and care for all those in need. Time to show through our faith what Christ has done for us, the difference He makes in our lives, and the reason that we’re here in community.

The call to repentance is laid before us. But thankfully God does not leave us to accomplish the task. God has given us the power of his Spirit to cling to the grace of God, poured out for us through Christ’s death and resurrection, that we might know forgiveness. He has given us his Spirit, to walk with us through the wilderness of this world, and the strength to witness to others that we all together we may know the grace of God. So friends do not despair, for God is with us as we fast on fear, and feast on faith during this Lenten season.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, as we move through this season of Lent, help us to grasp and embrace the true meaning of what it means to walk in relationship with you. Open our hearts to the fact that we need to turn to you daily in humility and repent of our sins. And through the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the strength to accept the truth of your forgiveness. This we ask in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.