Monday, February 29, 2016

Sermon on Luke 13:1-9, for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, "Dismissing Danger or Finding Forgiveness?

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Welcome to our service on this Children’s Sunday! As parents, a special concern that we no doubt share, is the safety and well-being of our children, and setting appropriate boundaries for them. This echoes God’s parental concern for us, which shows up in all of our readings today.
All three readings echo a common theme—that sin is a serious danger, and that it’s predictable final outcome is death. The Old Testament reading from Ezekiel warns people to turn from their wicked ways, and names a couple of specific sins—robbery, injustice—but mainly says in general that if we continue in sin, we will die. The reading from Corinthians speaks of the bad example of the Israelites, from the beginning of the Bible, and how their worship of false gods, their sexual sins, and their grumbling and complaining against God, led to many of them dying. Then to round out the theme, Jesus answers questions about tragedies. He tells the people that tragedies don’t mean that those people were worse sinners than others—but He does say it reminds us all of the continual need to repent and turn away from our sins. So in each reading, the danger of sin is measured, and the conclusion is there is only one final outcome of sin—death. And that the only sensible course of action before God, is to follow God’s call to repentance—to turn away from our sins, and find forgiveness in Him.
Well what is sin, and is it really so dangerous? The Bible speaks of sin in a variety of ways, and of differing levels of severity. Sometimes sin is a deliberate, willful act of rebellion against God’s Law. When we know full well that something is wrong, but flaunt it and do it anyway. Sometimes sin is described in the Bible as wandering away from the correct path. Sometimes it’s committed out of weakness, ignorance, or thoughtlessness. Some sins are committed out of pride; other may be so horrendous, that the Bible says these sins “cry out to heaven”—like the shedding of innocent blood. Sometimes sin is simply described as the inborn tendency and determination to do what is wrong—what Christians often call “original sin.” But of all the different ways that sin can show up—from unintentional sins, to the sins and evils that are most atrocious—the Bible tells us that it all collectively places us in the pool of guilty humanity, rebels against God. Sin of all varieties boils down to every one of us here standing guilty before God, and facing the penalty of death.
Now the people who came to Jesus, in today’s reading, seemed to think that since some people die in ways that are particularly tragic, that must mean that they were worse sinners than others. Does the way you die automatically say something about whether you were more guilty or deserving of it, than someone who might go peacefully, for example? They were thinking of a particular atrocity committed by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, against some Galileans. Jesus immediately answers the people, No, these people were not worse sinners—and then He adds a second example, of a natural accident—a collapsing tower. In both cases, Jesus says, it wasn’t that these people were any more sinful than others. But, Jesus warns, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So don’t draw any conclusions about how sinful someone else was—instead be concerned that you yourself need to be made right with God, and repent or turn away from your sins. Life is precious and short, and tragedies are a painful reminder of the reality that we don’t know when we will die. But Jesus urges us to use that time wisely to make sure that we are right with God. It all comes back to not underestimating or ignoring the danger and power of sin, and taking action to turn away from that danger.
A person can certainly dismiss dangers, and take their chances. As a parent, you undoubtedly try your best to warn your children about real and potential dangers. The prophet Ezekiel, in our lesson today, was told by God that he had to be a watchman, to warn people that if they continued in the wickedness of sin, they would surely die. In many ways, the role of the prophet, the watchman, or the concerned parent, is not all that different from the role of a lifeguard. You’ve probably heard the news about the amazing 40 foot swells on North Shore Oahu this last week, and the Eddie Aikau competition. Eddie was born in Kahului, and was a famous big wave surfer and the first lifeguard at Waimea. His story is incredible. He saved over 500 people’s lives, at Waimea Bay, with its huge waves and hazardous surfing conditions. Then while sailing on the Hokuleia in 1978, he died while trying to paddle to Lanai, after the voyaging canoe capsized. A lifeguard like him, undoubtedly gave countless warnings to people, when ocean conditions were hazardous and extreme, that they shouldn’t enter the water. Warnings that no doubt often were ignored, and he had to go in and rescue the same people he had warned.  The phrase “Eddie would go”, apparently came from his willingness to go into the ocean and rescue people out of the waves, when no one else dared go in. His entire career as a lifeguard, he risked his life saving others, who either ignored the dangers, or were overpowered by the ocean.
When God warns us that sin is deadly, He knows the real danger, and we do well to listen. Since sin is ultimately choosing our way, over God’s way, it’s an error that’s bound to end up badly for ourselves. It’s not a matter of being big-enough, or adult-enough to “handle” sin—sin is overpowering and more dangerous than the oceans’ hidden currents and pounding waves. The Bible describes sin as sometimes beginning with something seemingly small and insignificant, but growing into full blown deadliness. And yet we ignore the warnings. We head into danger, against God’s Word, blindly, or sometimes, even open-eyed. And who went in to rescue us? God sent Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, and rescue us from that deadly danger. Jesus, watchman and shepherd for us, laid down His life on the cross, to set us free from the power of sin. So when Jesus tells us to repent, so that we not die in our sins, He’s calling us back to life in Him. There is a life to be lived and enjoyed, in goodness and safety. It’s the same motivation that you have as parents to set healthy boundaries for your children.
Raising children requires boundaries, and parents may set those boundaries differently, and according to the age and responsibility of their children. But God has some firm boundaries that apply to all people, universally. They are summed up in the 10 Commandments. God says, “You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, maidservant, his ox, or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
In ten words carved in stone, God etches the boundaries of our relationship to God Himself, and to our human neighbors. Boundaries that show God is the one and only God and Lawgiver, who is to be worshipped, honored, and obeyed. Boundaries that guard the respect for authority, for life, for the keeping of sexuality in the bounds of marriage, for protecting property, protecting reputations, and for protecting us against “coveting” which is the wrongful desire to have something that is not or can’t be ours, or to try to get something (even something good) in a dishonest way. The 10 Commandments stretch over every area of our life, and set down God-pleasing boundaries for life.
And inside those boundaries, God helps us to live a fruitful and significant life. He warns us against the dangers that threaten life, so that we can experience the goodness of life according to God’s design. It is not God’s design that we should die or suffer, but that we should live. This heart of God shows up in our Old Testament verse, Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Rather, God finds pleasure in us turning from sin, back to Him. God finds pleasure in us believing in Jesus Christ, and having eternal life!
Life lived in repentance brings us humbly to God. It makes us surrender before Him and admit that we are helpless before the powers of sin and death. It makes us surrender to His rescue. Like Eddie we dive into the water. God starts our new life with a drowning, in the waters of Holy Baptism. Our sinful nature dies in the waters of baptism, but Jesus makes us the rescued. In that lowly place of surrender, we find forgiveness. We find Jesus, our watchman, shepherd, our lifeguard, our Savior, rescuing us, pulling us up above the waves, and out to the safety of shore. We find Jesus breathing new life into us by His Holy Spirit. The Spirit and life that shows itself in good fruits—the outward evidence of a changed life. The Holy Spirit renews us to walk in Jesus’ ways, to learn forgiveness, to turn from evil thoughts, words, and deeds, into the way of righteousness and peace. Not just once, but daily as we walk in the new life of baptism.
Dear children—when we make ourselves strangers to God, or when we back ourselves away from Him into the dangers of sin—crossing those boundaries…we may run from God’s voice into even worse hurt and pain. But God surely wants us to live, and not die. He wants us to walk in the path of repentance and forgiveness, to find life with Him. He has sent His Son Jesus to our human race, who rejected Him and ignored His warnings about sin—but Jesus came to rescue us from pursuing our own destruction. We have a loving God and Savior, who desires that we worship and know Him, and that we receive His freely given gifts, of forgiveness, life, and salvation. When we come to know Him as our dear Heavenly Father, we begin to see His great heart of love for us, and to approach Him humbly, to have Him rescue us from all our sins. May His saving love open all of our hearts to humble ourselves before Him, and receive His love in faith, and thanksgiving, and praise to Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Luke 13:1-9, Jesus discusses two types of tragedies, and responds to the theories about why those people died in this way. What two types of tragedies were they, and how does that relate to our own modern experiences of tragedies? What did the people seem to think was the reason why people suffered these tragic deaths?

  1. How did Jesus respond to the idea that these people were worse sinners than others? How does this compare to what His disciples thought on another occasion, and how Jesus responded? John 9:2-3. Cf Job 4:7; 8:4; John 5:14. Jesus does not blame the victims for their tragic death, yet He leaves everyone with an important and difficult lesson to learn from these tragedies. What is the lesson? Luke 13:3, 5.

  1. What is repentance? Luke 3:8, 10-14. The word repentance means a change of heart, or change of mind, and a “turning away” from sin. Where is the sinner who repents turning to? Joel 2:12-13. What are we promised to find when we confess our sins to God? 1 John 1:8-9.

  1. Today’s readings from Ezekiel 33:7-20, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, and Luke 13:1-9, all echo the same thought—that sin leads to death, and that the only appropriate action on our part is to repent, or turn away from sin. What does God tell us about whether He wants people to die in their sins? Ezekiel 33:11; 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4.

  1. How are we tempted to underestimate the danger of sin? Why would we ignore or dismiss the danger? How does a watchman (Ezekiel 33:7-9), a lifeguard, or a shepherd have to respond to seeing others in danger? John 10:1-18. How did Jesus save us from the deadly danger of sin?

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