Monday, March 8, 2010

Think again!

Luke 13:1-9

I wish insurance companies would change the language in their contracts. They often exclude payouts for natural disasters, calling them “Acts of God.” Earthquakes and hurricanes and so forth are not Acts of God; they are just natural events of the planet we live on. I want them to “Think again.”
People are always looking for reasons for natural and medical disasters. The belief that disasters and epidemics are the result of God’s anger is based on ancient beliefs. It’s the flip side of the coin which says, if you are right with God, you will be wealthy and healthy.
After the Earthquake in Haiti, Pat Robertson made the comment that Haiti is cursed, and the earthquake is just one sign of the pact leaders made with Satan in 1791. After hurricanes Rita and Katrina, people like Robertson said the damage was God’s punishment for sinful sexual behavior. The press and many other commentators quickly responded, “Think again.”
Some people said the AIDS epidemic is God’s punishment for what they consider “deviant sexual behavior.”  You may remember the early days when if a person had AIDS, the question was asked, “How did he or she get it?” If it was from a blood transfusion, the sick person deserved treatment, but if they got the disease from intercourse or sharing drug needles, then they deserved what happened. God was punishing them and was ridding the planet of such people. Over time, most of us learned to, “Think again.”
… Some people have noticed the frequency of earthquakes and anticipate the end of the age, predicting Jesus’ return. But scientists note that the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Taiwan are not connected, they involve different tectonic plates, and they fit within centuries-long patterns. For example, on average, there is 1 earthquake of magnitude 8 and higher each year; there are 17 magnitude 7 quakes each year; 134 magnitude 6 quakes each year; and 1,300,000 magnitude 2 quakes each year. ( Many of these occur in the oceans, so we are unaware of them – but the scientists are. We have been aware of these three recently because they occurred where lots of people live. So, if you have been looking at the earthquakes as a sign of the end times, you probably need to “Think again.”
… In our gospel reading, people reported to Jesus that some Galilean pilgrims to the temple had been killed by Pilate. We don’t have the specifics, but apparently they came to sacrifice their animals and something angered the Romans. Pilate ordered them killed along with their sacrificial animals. Since they were killed in the temple area, the blood of the pilgrims and the blood of the animals mingled together as it ran into the drainage channels.
Galileans were considered country bumpkins. They spoke with an accent – a country twang, perhaps. It seems the folks gathered around Jesus wondered if the Galileans were worse sinners than the people who lived closer to Jerusalem. Jesus shook his head and scoffed. To make his point even more, he said, “And I suppose next you’ll say that the eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell were also big-time sinners. You folks need to change the way you think about such happenings. Stuff happens. It’s not the fault of the people, not the fault of God. It just happens.”
Our English text uses the word “repent.” But the Greek has also the sense of changing how one sees things, a reorienting of one’s thinking. So, Jesus could be saying, “Think again!” In other words, “You need to change the way you think about natural disasters.” But there’s more to Jesus’ words than that, because then he tells a parable about a fig tree.
Fig trees were and are common in Israel; most people knew they used up a lot of nutrients in the ground, so this fig tree was competing with the grape vines for food and space. If the owner of the vineyard was more interested in grapes than figs, he was looking for a reason to cut it down. But the gardener said, I’ll give it some extra care and see what happens. If it still fails to produce, then I agree it needs to be cut down.”
In other words, with proper care and attention, the non-productive tree may become very productive. In the Greek, Jesus uses a play on words. The phrase “let it alone” can also be translated “forgive.” So, the gardener says, “Sir, forgive the tree for one more year…”
This parable is another way of saying, “Think again.” In this case, Jesus is speaking about those we consider sinners. If we think someone is more sinful than we are, we need to “Think again.” In the same way that the gardener worked with the fig tree and gave it another chance, so God works with us to give us another chance.
… Sinning and repenting is an on-going process in our lives. We are always sinning, and God is always forgiving. In our confession each week, we say, “we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed.” In ways we can’t even imagine, we sin. We don’t trust God with our lives. We hurt other people with our words and deeds. We don’t do some kindnesses we should have and easily could have done. We think about some people in less than loving ways. In other words, we love God with all our heart, strength, and mind. And we don’t love our neighbors as well as God wants us to.  
But each week we also hear these words. “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Each week, we hear God promise to forgive us, to work in the soil of our hearts and bring us to repentance. When we allow God to dig around in our hearts, we have the opportunity to recognize and remember our sins and to give thanks for God’s loving forgiveness.
God actually helps us to “Think again” about our own sinfulness, as well as the sinfulness of others. Since we all sin, and we all are in need of repentance and forgiveness, we cannot sinfulness with that of others.
… Mike and I were watching Survivor the other night on TV. The Heroes had once again lost the immunity challenge, so someone had to be voted off. As the camera showed the various conversations around camp, and Tom heard some of what was going on, he suspected he was going to be voted off. After the voting, but before the tallying of votes, Tom pulled out the immunity idol he had discovered. By presenting it, he gave himself one more chance, a few more days to be on the show.
As I watched, I thought, “Hmm. In God’s frequent forgiveness, we receive lots of immunity idols, lots of second chances, third chances, tenth chances, hundredth chances.” My thought was not that we have an unlimited supply of immunity idols, no matter what we do, but that when we make an effort to have a loving, trusting relationship with God, God has compassion and forgiveness for us. And through realizing we have God’s forgiveness, we have the opportunity to “Think again” about what we do, think, and say.

Please pray with me. Forgiving God, we don’t always, or even often, know when we have sinned. Forgive us. We do sometimes know just what our sin is. Forgive us. Help us to “Think again” about our lives, our attitudes, our speaking, so that we may become more loving and forgiving. Amen