Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sermon; Lent 3; Luke 13:1-9

Bad stuff happens.

A quick Google search last week told me that, at that time, there were 216 auto-related deaths so far this year in the U.S.  Add to that any number of house fires, structural failures, gun violence, wars, natural disasters, and many other accidents and tragedies, and it's pretty easy to see that bad stuff happens.

And add to THAT people who are diagnosed with cancer, kidney failure, liver disease, or any number of life-threatening illnesses and it's easy to see that bad stuff happens.

There was a thought, and I hope it's died down by now, but it probably hasn't, that says, “What did I/they do to deserve this?  What sin did I/thy commit to be afflicted with this?”  For too long people have ascribed bad things happening to people as a direct result of sin in a person's life.

So when Pilate massacred a group of Galileans while they worshiped, or when the tower of Siloam fell over and killed 18 people, Jesus asks the crowd, “Do you think those people were worse sinners?  Do you think God was punishing them for their sins?”

The answer, of course, is No, they were not being punished for their sins.  They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  With Pilate, that could be almost anywhere and anytime (he was ruthless that way).  And with the tower – that was no different than that crane in NYC that fell last month, killing one person.  Sometimes bad stuff happens.

We get it – our sins are not correlated to our suffering.  But what is going on, then, when Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”  If our sins do not cause our suffering, then how can our refusal to repent be tied to a death similar to those killed by Pilate and the tower?

It can because “tied to” is not equivalent to “the cause of.”  The point Jesus is making is that our lack of repentance isn't the cause of our perishing, but that we will perish AS THEY DID.

First we need to talk about sin.  Sin is often defined in a variety of ways, but the definition I prefer is those actions or non-actions that separate us from the will of God.  Sin is sin, in that when we sin we voluntarily remove ourselves from following God's will.  A perennial question has been whether some sins are worse than others.  Is theft worse than murder?  Is neglecting the poor worse than failing to be regular in worship?  These questions led to the Church developing the idea of venial and mortal sins.

Second we need to talk about repentance.  Repentance is that act by which you recognize those sins that have separated you from God and your desire to lead a new life free from that particular sin.  Repentance should include evidence of contrition, and often includes an act of penance.

Everybody sins, that's part of our human nature.  We sin in big ways and small ways, by things done and things left undone.  Those sins only very rarely are the cause of our death.  And when bad stuff does happen, it is not a result of punishment from God.

Those killed by Pilate sinned.  Those killed by the tower of Siloam sinned.  We all sin.  We all perish.  But again, it's not the perishing that is the issue – it's the perishing AS THEY DID.

As I understand it, the “as they did” aspect means without repentance, without asking for forgiveness.

We all have a way of putting off until later what should be done today.  For some things, that can be tolerated, as long as it doesn't go on too long.  For others, it is less acceptable.  Committing an act of repentance, asking for forgiveness, is one of those things on the more urgent side of the equation.

Too many times I hear people say, “I wish I had said I'm sorry . . . I wish I had said I love you . . . I wish I had told him I forgive him.”  And we've all seen those posts and sayings that go something like, “When we reach the end of our lives, nobody ever wishes they had cleaned house more often, worked more overtime, or took fewer chances.”

We all sin.  We all fall short.  We all stray from doing God's will.  We all die.  And sometimes bad stuff happens.  But when we die, don't die as those people in today's gospel did.

We are in the midst of Lent – a season of fasting, discipline, and repentance.  This is the season of forgiveness, pardon, and absolution.  This is the season dedicated to amending our lives.

Today's gospel reminds us that we are not punished because we sin; today's gospel reminds us that missing our opportunity to get right with God and our neighbor is a tragedy.

Bad stuff happens – take the opportunity this season to get right with God and neighbor before missing that chance.



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