Our Praises Grow from Living Roots

Text: Luke 13:1-9
Date: Lent III + 3/7/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

In many ways the theme of the scripture readings for this Sunday takes us all the way back to the beginning—the beginning of the Gospel and of the church year with the call of John the Baptist, “repent and be baptized;” and our beginnings of the life of faith in our Holy Baptism. Like the roots of a tree that grow deep into the soil for nourishment to grow and live, God’s gift of faith must stay connected to its source of nourishment in order to grow and stay alive. That Source is nothing and no one else than Jesus Christ where he has promised to be, namely, where his Word preached and his holy sacraments are administered. The life of faith is characterized by daily repentance, bearing the fruits of repentance. In other words, it is the daily struggle against sin relying on the grace of God to continually receive forgiveness of sin, life and salvation.

Today’s Gospel speaks of how we are to read the signs of the times and remember that the primary concern of the Christian Life is fighting the good fight of the faith, bearing the fruit of repentance in our struggle to remain faithful.

Just before our text, Jesus spoke about the necessity and importance of properly interpreting the present critical time. “He said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, “A shower is coming.” And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat,” and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’” (Luke 12:54-56). Some of his hearers, therefore, brought up the latest news item of Pontius Pilate’s sending his troops into the very temple precincts where they murdered some Galileans while they were making their offerings, thus mingling their own blood with the blood of their sacrifices. Now certainly this only added to the Jews’ rage and hatred of the Romans. As with any tragedy, in their anger and grief, people, trying to make some sense out of it all, ask the question, “Why?” Why did this happen? But in seeking some purpose in evil or suffering, people fall into the trap of blaming God.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day commonly held that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between sin and suffering. It is almost natural to the fallen, blind sinful nature to think that, when evil happens (especially to “good” people) it must be because they have done something to deserve suffering. Jesus, however, does not speak of the sin of Pilate or the Roman government. Disasters are not signs of God’s judgment on individuals, but they are signs of his wrath against all sinful humankind. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The correct interpretation of the signs of the times is that all suffering, sin and disaster points to the truth that you and we all are on the way to appear before the judge. But present on that journey is Jesus and his messianic ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God. And it is only through personal repentance and faith that you can be included in the deliverance of that kingdom.

Jesus adds another incident well known to his hearers, the accident at the tower of Siloam. Here there was no apparent human cause, like the bloody attack of Pilate’s henchmen. So, what about so-called “natural” disasters? Do you think that the people of Haiti or Chile were worse sinners than everyone else that so many have suffered or died in the recent earthquakes? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Insurance companies call earthquakes, tornados and floods “acts of God” laying the blame somewhere else than where it actually is, and that is that we live in a fallen world unhinged and dying because of sin. The proper (Christian) conclusion of suffering is the realization that all suffering is but the common experience of all in this fallen world, but thanks be to God, Jesus perished on behalf of all that we might not perish eternally.

Because our habit of trying to find some purpose or meaning in suffering always leads away from the most important issue, namely, my own need for repentance and deliverance, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree. The point of the parable is, of course, that God will be patient for a little while longer in hopes that people will see their need, repent and turn to him, and yet this “little while” is limited as the day of final judgment is closer than ever.

It is a parable especially for people who consider themselves to be God’s people. People become believers because God has planted his gift of faith in their heart through the Word. That gift of faith produces the fruit of repentance, the daily sorrow over sin which still so easily besets us, and a daily turning to God to receive his gift of forgiveness, life and salvation. When these fruits are absent, like the tree in the parable, it deserves only to be cut down and thrown into the fire. In an interesting way the “three years” the owner had been seeking fruit on the fig tree mirrors our Lord’s three-year earthly ministry since His baptism by John in the Jordan River. The point of the parable is that it is still not too late to repent and believe and receive spiritual nourishment and life from the Vinedresser. Nevertheless, there is coming a time when it will be too late.

Today we are called to a right interpretation of the present critical times, that is, to see everything through theological eyes. Whether the issue is the recent seeming multitude of earthquakes or the more personal issues of illness, disease, accidents, or the death of a loved one, the only “sense” that can be made is when it is all viewed from the perspective of the cross of Jesus Christ. The only cure for the root cause of sin is the forgiveness of sins that is present in Jesus Christ crucified and risen again, who remains present in his church through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. It is here that the suffering Christian meets the suffering Christ and sees in Christ’s sufferings his own comfort, peace, redemption, and life everlasting through the release and healing that is by repentance and faith in Christ alone. We have come here today to confess our sin and need of release from death. For it is only here that we find the gracious deliverance of Christ as the Word declares, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”

May the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, bringing forth the fruits of repentance and faith and so preserve you in his grace to everlasting life.