Scripture: Luke 13:1-9, 31-35
Last summer on vacation we left the cottage and we spent a day on the South Shore. We visited Lunenburg, we drove through some of the old neighbourhoods I used to frequent as I grew up down there. We also thought we’d go to the beach, so I took Bev and the kids to a favourite beach near where I grew up.
It was a nice day for the most part, but when we got to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean… well, it was foggy of course. We couldn’t see from one of the beach to the other.
Now, one thing I know about beaches on the South Shore is that even if it’s foggy at one beach, it may not be foggy at all of them. So we had a decision to make. Do we stay and make the best of the fog and cool air, or do we load back in to the car and see if there’s better weather somewhere else?
We decided to stay. We could still dig in the sand. We could still throw around a ball. We decided we could still have fun, even if it wasn’t what we had ultimately planned. Eventually, since we were on a beach, the kids decided they still wanted to brave the cold water and try out their new boogie board.
Then… finally, the fog receded back into the Atlantic and the sun even came out.
In the end, we were very glad we stayed. We had a great day playing on the beach. Much better than driving from beach to beach to see if any of them had what we were looking for, wasting what could have been hours in our day. Because we were patient, and willing to compromise, it actually turned out we made a pretty good choice!
As the fog rolled back, we were treated to the beauty of the beach I remembered from my youth. Surrounded by rolling hills. Long stretches of sand. It was like a great curtain came up and showed us all we were missing.
And for me, as the fog lifted and familiar scenery came into view, fond memories of my childhood came back to me as I remembered school trips, family days, and times spent with friends, all on this small piece of coastline. To be honest, I felt like I was home, even though I haven’t lived in the area for 25 years, over half my lifetime ago… As hard as that is for me to believe most days. It felt like I was truly home. It’s a feeling I don’t get very often.
It was a good day to make some new family memories together.
We’re two weeks into Lent right now. There’s still another 4 more Sunday’s until we get to Good Friday. What is Lent? What is this journey about? What makes it any different than any other Sunday where we come to church?
In some ways, there is no difference. Liturgically, our services take on the same shape. We still sing hymns we love. We still read scripture. We still pray. I still preach. And every Sunday we are still challenged to reflect upon what our relationship with God ultimately looks like. We think about what it means to call Jesus our Lord and Saviour, and how does this Lordship impact our lives.
But, it’s still different. I feel it, do you feel it? There’s a sense of something different.
Lent is different because of what it draws our attention to. Ever since we read about Jesus coming down that mountain a few weeks ago, he has been intently focused on Jerusalem. And we know what that means. He’s heading to Jerusalem knowing full well it will be where his earthly life, his mortal life ends.
Jesus will be killed. His connection with the earth, with our humanity, it will be split apart, it will be severed. And he’s going to do it willingly. He knows it, and we know it.
As we walk with Jesus to the cross, we follow him along this journey by recounting stories and events recorded in the Bible as he heads to Jerusalem. These stories, the teachings of Jesus become more direct, more challenging. Which also marks a change for us as worshippers. Some of the happy celebrations we’re used to reading on a lot of Sundays turn a little darker. They speak more directly to what is going to happen to Jesus, and also a bit toward us in regards to what happens to those who follow Jesus or, more importantly, those who choose not to.
Today is certainly no exception. Today Jesus teaches pretty directly about the importance of knowing him, but more than that, he teaches the importance of repentance and knowing God.
Jesus is told of an instance in which Jews lost their lives. It seems Pilate has slaughtered, at what appears to be a Jewish festival or at least a ritual of giving sacrifices, the people of God. We don’t know any of the details, this is the only mention of it anywhere. Regardless, it appears to be state sanctioned murder of innocent people trying to worship their God.
In his response, Jesus also mentions some who were killed when a tower fell. This appears to be an accident. A more natural means, I suppose. Yet still tragic as 18 people died.
Jesus poses a question to those he is talking to. He asks if it was the sin of these people which caused their death. Is it because these people were sinners that they died?
It kind of makes you think of the age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people?”
Unfortunately Jesus doesn’t answer that ancient question for us.
What does he say? Well, it’s a little cryptic really. He says, and he says it twice, once for each instance… “unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Wow, that’s a little harsh there now isn’t it Jesus?
If we don’t repent, we too will die tragically.
So, let’s get this straight. Those people didn’t die because they were sinners. It wasn’t because of their lifestyle or their beliefs or anything, they just died at the hands of the government and, the others, by accident. These deaths were not forms of punishment.
Also though, unless we repent, we will receive the same fate.
And then Jesus tells a parable.
It seems a man planted a fig tree. But after three years it was showing no signs of ever producing fruit. So he wanted it cut down. But his gardener requested one more year to do all he could for this tree in hopes he could make it produce some fruit. And if it doesn’t, then it will be cut down.
Well, what does this parable mean to us when we’re faced with the question “repent or die?”
I guess we can look at it and say, “Don’t give up.”
There are different angles we can take, but it boils down to “Don’t give up.”
Are we struggling with our own faith? Are you wondering why all the bad stuff happens to you all the time? Does God not love me? Is he punishing me?
“Don’t give up.”
Do you have a friend you are trying to help but they keep doing the same stupid thing over and over again, no matter how much you pray… no matter how much you try to tell them differently… no matter how much you want them to realize life has more to offer… God has so much more to offer?
“Don’t give up.”
It’s easy for us to look at things happening and just throw in the towel and walk away. There’s stuff we wish we could do for people, but just know, deep in our hearts it will never happen.
“Don’t give up.”
Jesus is the one who is willing to go to bat for you. He is the one who will pour his life into you so that you will produce good fruit. You, or anyone else.
That’s what we’re learning here in Lent. That’s what makes it different.
Jesus is showing us just how far he will go for you.
Do you understand this? God’s Son, Jesus Christ, poured his life into those who followed him. He poured his life into this world so that we will not perish.
And all we need to do is repent.
As Jesus looks ahead to that city just past the horizon, Jerusalem… he laments, not for himself, but for the people who live there.
He is pouring out his life.
He longs to gather the people just as a mother hen cares for her chicks, he wants to protect them and keep the safe, but they refuse. They keep turning away from him. They don’t produce any fruit. They continue as they always have.
Let’s think about timelines for a moment.
How long, although it’s not really mentioned in Luke, but how long was his ministry? From his baptism to his death. It was about 3 years.
How long did the fig tree, from the time is was planted to when the owner evaluated it’s future, how long had it been growing? 3 years.
It needs a little more time to produce the fruit. Just let the gardener take care of it. Let him nurture it, fertilize it, give it all the love he can offer, and see what happens next.
In these final footsteps heading for his death, Jesus is giving all the love he can to those who follow him.
But they need to repent.
They need to give up those earthly beliefs, those wrong traditions, those misinterpreted understandings of God’s love for the world…
They need to turn back to God.
This is what Jesus is trying to convey in these final days of his life. He has spent 3 years pouring out the love of God for the world, trying to teach people what they have been doing wrong and how to come back into relationship with God.
Yet they still don’t seem to get it. They love him for sure. They are following him. They are a huge mob that just wants to be near him…
But they don’t quite understand.
They will soon enough, but for now, it’s just not getting through.
So the mother hen struggles to care for her chicks.
So people are dying without knowing the deep love of God in their lives.
All because they can’t see the need to repent and come back to God.
But the gardener won’t give up. He’s going to fight for that fig tree. He’s going to do everything he can to make it right. He’s not going to let it be destroyed, cut down… he’s not going to let it die.
He loves that tree.
Jesus loves you.
Whether you produce good fruit or not, he will fight for you. He is willing to do anything to make you understand how much he loves you.
He will die for you.
This is what Lent is about.
It’s about understanding Jesus is fighting for you. It’s about realizing that after 3 years of doing God’s amazing work in the world, it’s not over. He’s not done. He’s still working.
He wants you to know there is a home waiting for those who repent and receive the love of God in their lives.
He wants you to know there’s a home for you.
You may feel like you’re standing on a beach covered in fog. You can’t see very far. You don’t know what’s out there, you can’t see it.
As we grow in our understanding, as we feel the love of God in our lives, in our hearts…
As we repent, as we turn away from the ways of this broken world, and turn to the healing love of God…
The fog will lift.
As it lifts, we will see the beauty he has for us. We will see the rolling hills, the miles of sand, and the sun will shine down on us.
And we will know we are home.
Maybe for the first time in our life, we will know we’re home.
He won’t give up. He never gave up. He kept fighting, he kept loving, he kept walking to that cross.
And he did all of it so we would know we have a home.
So don’t give up.
He didn’t give up. He didn’t stop, because he love you.
Would you join me in prayer,
We can hardly muster the words to say “thank you.” They seem so simple, so meaningless compared to what you have done for us.
For years we have struggled to produce any fruit, but yet you say give it more time. Why? Because you aren’t willing to give up on us.
Help us to see, Lord Jesus, this home you have for us. Help us to see the beauty of all you have prepared for us, so we ask you to help us open our hearts. We ask you to lift that fog and show us the majesty you want to show us when we repent and follow you with all our hearts, all our souls, all our mind and all our strength. That is, when we give all our life to you.
What a gift that you will keep fighting for us, even if we may feel we don’t deserve it. Yet, you just keep fighting. You won’t give up on us.
And so we give you thanks. Because it’s all we know to say, until we are ready to give our lives.
We praise you Jesus, we love you, and we thank you.
Amen and amen.