I spent the week imagining how a sermon might be preached this Sunday, around the world. on this passage. I am late with this post because it is, truth be told, a difficult passage. Follow:
Some might take a very pastoral approach and speak of death: we do not know when or where so we must be prepared and do what we can while we can.
A mainstream pastor might speak of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who are sick or in prison.
A more evangelical pastor might speak of getting right with God and confessing Christ while there is time.
It is all good stuff, but it is not what this passage is about.
Some might prefer to preach the parable to remind people what God wants or intends for our lives.
The mainstream preacher might focus on the fruit that we are supposed to bear, like the Good Works mentioned above or like Paul’s list: Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. Such a preacher might encourage a congregation to find the good in life and focus on what is really important: relationships and a consideration of others, the poor and the homeless.
The evangelical preacher might focus more on the cutting down and suggest that there is a judgment coming. Such a preacher might say that God, thanks to Jesus, will give plenty of chances and do everything necessary for us so there is no excuse: even spreading the manure thick around our lives (and some of our lives need a lot of manure, if you know what I mean).
All of this is true as well, but this also is not what this passage is about.
To be sure, the sudden death of those people was an entry to say what Jesus wanted to express, and the parable was told to say, God will do his part—you will have plenty of chances, so:
REPENT. That is what this passage is about…
We live in a world and culture where we believe no one should see us sweat. And when was the last time you heard, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” Oh, we say that when there is an accident, like when we spill the milk, but not with regard to ourselves, our lives, our actions, our thoughts and beliefs, our very being.
Understand: people were not made for the Sabbath (Church) as if God needs our worship. Don’t be ridiculous! The Sabbath (Church) was made for us so we could willingly give God at least one hour a week where we focus on him and (God willing) allow him to touch our days, straighten our paths, make a way in the wilderness of our lives. Lord knows during the other 167 hours of the week we hardly give God a second thought.
In This Passage: Jesus said REPENT, and he meant down to the root. We all think of ourselves as good Christians and basically good people. We do our share of good works and know something about love, joy and peace. This is how we think of ourselves all over the world. The proper response to that thinking is HA! You know nothing.
Don’t you know that your very being and every good thing you have ever done is no more than filthy rags? We are broken in ways we cannot imagine and would not believe. Cleanse me from secret sins, David said, meaning even those about which I have no clue; and most of us honestly have no clue. We all ought to be on our knees in sackcloth and ashes with our faces turned to the wall. We deserve no better than to sit with Job in the dust, scraping our boils with broken bits of pottery. We are broken, sin-filled, rebellious, and hopeless apart from Christ. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ who doesn’t give us what we deserve.
This passage is a call to REPENT. It is nothing less. Sure, our end may come as sudden, unexpected destruction so we need to do it now. Sure, God will not be slow to give us plenty of chances and insure that we have all we need to bear fruit worthy of repentance, but don’t let those ideas distract you.
Preach and tell your charges that they need to get on their knees, daily and say, not only “I am sorry, I was wrong” but deep down in my soul, in the very essence of my being, “I am wrong. My very existence is sin-filled, broken, wrong.” It should not just be “God forgive me.” It must be “God help me.” (It is God who grants repentance). But we do not know how sin-bound we are, how full of rebellion, how anti-God our essence has become, daily, in our daily lives. And many of us are offended by the suggestion. God help us all!
This is Lent. Preach REPENT. Preach what this passage is really about, and see how long it takes for your congregation to start a crucifixion committee…