St Chad’s Linwood Christchurch. Lent 3 24 March 2019
Isa 55:1-9, 1 Cor 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
Today’s Gospel gives a picture of Jerusalem as a very troubled place. The phrase about Galileans’ blood mingling with their sacrifices means that hey had been killed while worshipping. The Roman occupation raised the level of tension very high in the city. Pilate, the governor, was a cruel man with no feelings for the rights or customs of the people whose land he was occupying on behalf of Rome, and while we don’t hear very much about Pilate in the Bible, apart from Jesus’ trial, contemporary historians such as Josephus certainly gave a picture of a ruthless man.
The people were asking Jesus, what’s going on? Why were these people killed? Jesus refutes the idea that it was some fault of their own that had caused their fate. They were not responsible for the evil actions of another. The events of last week here in Christchurch were disturbingly similar – people gathering to worship were killed through no fault of their own, but because of the warped agenda of someone else.
These events disturbed the peace of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and it disturbs ours, to see armed police, and hear a helicopter overhead in the middle of the night. We know what has happened, but we start to ask, what’s going on? We feel unsafe, and cheated out of our life as we knew it.
Jesus also gave the example of 18 people who had been killed in central Jerusalem, when the tower in Siloam collapsed. Again, it has a Christchurch connection, where so many were killed in the earthquakes as buildings collapsed. Jesus was clear in telling the listeners that it was not the fault of the victims that they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and were killed.
Let’s have a look at a bit of context here. In the ancient world, where scientific explanations were not as well understood as they are today, people would tend to see a disaster as a punishment from God for something the victim or their family had done. We see an example in Job. Some lack of love for God, or lack of faith or works. It also served to distance everyone else from the disaster. People always look for who to blame when terrible things happen – that’s why there are still court cases going on about the CTV building, about Pike River mine, among others. But Jesus is quick to counteract the picture of a vindictive God who treats people who have gone ‘wrong’ in such a vengeful way. The thunder and brimstone God of parts of the Old Testament, and of some preaching in earlier centuries, and still in some churches today, is not the God Jesus talks about. He makes it quite clear that no one can get away with blaming the victims of someone else’s criminal action, or a disaster caused by a building failure. In light of this, it’s quite odd that ‘act of God’ is still a cause in insurance policies, though I suspect it’s a reason for them not to pay out.
Jesus tells the people that unless they repent they will die in the same way, by the enemy’s hand, or by accidents. What does he mean by repent? He means to turn away from the way they had been living, struggling against the Roman occupation, hoping for a warrior Messiah to come and save them all with a mighty army. He hints that his kingdom is a peaceable one, where everything will be in abundance.
Our Isaiah passage today is called ‘an invitation to an abundant life.’ It paints a picture of plenty, of enough water for the thirsty, enough food for the hungry, that all our needs will be met. Of course, being prophetic writing it is not just meant on a literal level, but on a spiritual one. Are you thirsty for more of God? Come to the fountain and drink of him. Are you hungry for his teaching? Devour
his word and be satisfied. Listen so you may live. This is eternal life the prophet is talking about. Our time on earth is short compared to our time in eternity with God. To really live, both in heaven later on, and also in the here-and-now, we need to listen to God’s word, to eat and drink from him. Abundant life is a giving life, one that doesn’t hesitate to let love flow out, never worrying about it drying up. It’s like a tap connected to the mains water supply, when there are no water restrictions. The more we turn on the tap, the more flows out. Love is like that. We will not run out. As we pour out love to those round us, God fills our tanks and our pipes, and it never runs out. We have seen an outpouring of this love over the last week, though many people wouldn’t voice the love as coming from God. However, we are all made in God’s image so it must be.
The prophet urges us to seek the Lord while he will be found, to call upon him while he is near. This seems to imply that there are times when God is not near, but I feel that this is a matter of our own perspective. If we feel that God is near, that God can be found, then we are encouraged to press in, to seek, to go deeper. It’s like a dance – as God takes a step towards us, we mirror it with a step towards God. But God will never be distant from us, however distant we feel.
Be encouraged then, even if God feels a long way away from you, God is as close as your next heartbeat, waiting for you to seek. God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours, God’s ways are not our ways, as we heard from our reading. If God were just like us, what would be the point of worshipping? Because God is so much greater, higher, mightier than we are, we can trust God. No matter how troubled are the times we live in, we can be reassured that ‘God’s got this’.
Our reading from Luke contains a parable about a barren fig tree. The owner wants to cut it down, – it’s just taking up space and using nutrients that maybe another tree would convert into something useful. Is that how you feel sometimes? That you are just using resources but not bearing fruit? Maybe you need the gardener, Jesus, to help you. The gardener pleaded with the owner for the tree to be allowed anther year of TLC, another chance.
I have a pear tree a bit like this one. We put it in a couple of years ago, and expected lovely dark red pears. But the few leaves it produced didn’t get large, and the few blossoms fell off before the fruit could form. The branches remained as twigs, and it was going to be consigned to the compost heap. A wise friend who knows about gardens talked to me about the surrounding soil and the competing weeds. When I took out the tree and pulled all the grass roots away from its roots, and replanted it in fresh clean compost, it started to grow and even now has a pear growing.
Maybe if you are not thriving your roots are being choked by weeds in your life. You might need to look at what is surrounding you – do you have habits that take you away from God and God’s word? Do you have toxic people in your life to take all your energy so you don’t even remember to pray? If you want to bear good fruit you need to be planted in good soil and fed and watered regularly. Planted in a loving church family is a good place to be. Surrounded by other Christians who can encourage you in your walk is helpful, and there are on-line resources that can help too. If you come to the abundance that is in Christ, you will bear much good fruit, and you will bless the community you live in, simply by being you.
So what can we take away from today’s readings? That bad things happen and it’s not our fault, it’s not God’s fault. It just happens. That God’s radical kingdom of abundance is there for us, if we seek him.
And that Jesus the gardener wants you to grow and flourish and bear good fruit.