LENT #3…Series C
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (February 27th&28th, 2016)
Text: Luke 13:1-9
Title: Severe Mercy!
The headlines in the evening newspapers where unusually grim-even by Jerusalem standards: Terrorism in the Temple (agents of Pontius Pilate…Roman Procurator of Judea… indiscrimately murder a few Galilean peasants while in the act of worshipping, and then mingling their blood with the sacrifices)…and in Siloam, a tower inexplicably collapses, instantly killing 18 innocent bystanders. And Jesus, sensing that this might be one of those rare teachable moments, asks the 64 thousand dollar question: “What do you think…do you think these poor folks were worse sinners than everybody else? An uneasy silence descends like a storm cloud…No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.
In Jesus’ day people (especially religious people) believed that most human suffering was a sign of divine judgment against sin. If you suffered you were being punished by a just and altogether holy God who would not/could not tolerate sin. It was as simple as that…no discussion…case closed! Standing behind Jesus’ question is the conviction that the unrighteous will suffer and the righteous will prosper. But Jesus challenges this whole way of thinking…this theology…this conventional wisdom. And what he seems to be saying is, “You are asking the wrong question…the question is not “what is the connection between sin and suffering”…that is an interesting theological question, but it isn’t the most important question…and it isn’t the question that Jesus wants to discuss with us this morning. The real burning question…the penetrating and disturbing question which Jesus wants to ask is the personal question…what about your life…what about your relationship with God…what about your eternal destiny!
Unless you repent you will all likewise perish!
The parable of the Fruitless Fig Tree is a parable about the SEVERE MERCY of God because it reveals something important about the God that Jesus invites us to turn to during this holy and blessed season of Lent. You see, the truth is that the God of the Bible…the God of the Christian vision is BOTH a God of judgment and a God of Mercy. And what the parable reveals is that God’s judgment is saturated with mercy and grace, and God’s mercy is severe and it is relentless! And the key to really understanding the message of the parable…the key which unlocks the deep spiritual meaning of the parable is to realize that God is BOTH the demanding owner of the vineyard who insists that unproductive trees be destroyed and he is also the patient gardener who pleads for just one more year for his beloved tree to bear fruit. The parable reveals the internal conversation in the heart of God between the necessity to judge sin and disobedience and the passionate desire to show mercy to his hard-hearted and recalcitrant children.
And the Good News that we celebrate this morning, as we approach the middle of out Lenten journey toward Easter is that the answer to the divine dilemma regarding judgment and mercy is none other than Jesus…the Carpenter from Nazareth. Jesus, who is God’s judgment against the sin and disobedience of his people…Jesus, the scapegoat…the innocent lamb who was wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquity and by whose stripes we are healed. But also Jesus who is the incarnation…the flesh and blood…living breathing MERCY of God for those in need of pardon, forgiveness and grace!
This evening/morning, thru the words of the Gospel, we are called to repent…to turn around…to change our hearts and minds and return to the Lord our God. This evening/morning the God of Severe Mercy invites us to come to the Table of Grace, where everyone is welcome…the Table of Grace-where the Plate is always full and the Cup is never empty…the Table of Grace-where it is never too late to come and be filled with love never-ending! So come…come NOW, and meet and fellowship with the one whose judgement is always merciful and whose mercy is fierce, relentless and severe…