Sermon: September 6, 2020 watch here.
“That’s Not Right” Luke 13:1-5 (and 12:54-56; 13:6-9)
My first two years of Secondary School were at a Boys Boarding School. It was also in the days when kids had milk at school. We had those 1/3 pint bottles. But sometimes the bottles arrived early and so were left outside. In the summer, this is not a good thing.
I remember, during a break time, we were rebelling: The milk had turned – lumpy! There was no way I was going to drink it. And as I stood right by the crate, in what we called the ‘Milk Rebellion’ of ‘82 The Headmaster appeared. Proper Old School. Made Genghis Khan look like a fairy! Hard as nails. Dipped in starch. Hair parted like the Red Sea and socks pulled tight up to his knees! We’ll call him Donald.
He heard our squeaking and wailing and said passive-aggressively: “Is there a problem?” He stood there, picked up a bottle, punched the foil away, and gulped down the milk. We all looked on in astonishment. He wiped the lumpy bits from around his mouth and chin. And said, “Delicious, nothing wrong with that!” And walked away, like a victorious king!
My thoughts were not quite suitable for a Sunday morning in church.
But I did think: “That’s not right!”
Looking around here now, we can also say, “That’s not right!”
We’ve had empty churches for months. That’s not right.
You’re wearing masks and socially distancing: That’s not right.
Some of you are still thinking about the lumpy manky milk: That’s not right.
There is so much we can say about what we see and hear and conclude: That’s not right.
I remember once when flying to Tel Aviv to work on a project in the West Bank with Amos Trust. The plane went through sustained, violent, unexpected turbulence.
I’ve flown many times and you get turbulence. But when the overhead lockers fly open, bags & food fill the aisles, the stewards sob in their seats, and atheists pray aloud… And the pilot is heard saying: “What does this light mean?”
Guess what I thought? That’s not right. It was the one flight I thought: “Crikey, we’re not going to make it!” (or words to that effect)!
Right in the middle of Luke’s Gospel, we have other “That’s not right” moments!
And I want to emphasise this because the Gospel addresses it.
And the reason the Gospel addresses it is to serve a greater purpose: That terrible or weird or bad or evil things happen. But the Gospel does not allow us to wallow in it; It doesn’t leave us there! But calls us up and out to consider the greater realities of life and God.
“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5
Religious sensitivities were grossly offended; but unrepentance is a greater offense.
The tower fell, but worse to fall is God’s judgment.
Look back in your Bible to just before this story: Luke 12:54-56 Interpret the Times.
This is what we must all do. A biblical framework for interpreting the times we live is essential. The Bible is not just for great stories and interesting ideas.
And when we’re tempted to say: That’s not right!
It may well not be right, but this is God’s world and we are His people – loved and saved by grace. But for a great and mighty purpose! Look straight after the story to Luke 13:6-9.
What is Luke doing?
Constructing a Gospel in such a way that helps us with our ‘That’s not right’ moments.
It comes straight after the blood and tower tragedies. Notice the repeated phrase:
“I tell you no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (vv3 & 5).
Then comes a parable about a barren tree given an opportunity to bear fruit. If it doesn’t – cut it down.
“And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9
Repentance is the doorway to forgiveness. It is the first step to the virtue of humility. And humility is the means by which God gives His grace.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that in His good time He will exalt you” (1 Pet. 5:5-6).
Pilate murdered Jews and mixed their blood with their sacrifices: That’s not right.
A tower fell and killed 18 innocent people: That’s not right.
The world endures another pandemic and churches close down: That’s not right.
But the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes to the rescue yet again and commands us:
- To interpret the times with a biblical worldview.
- To not remain in despair over terrible events.
- But to so live that our lives bear fruit and do not remain barren.
- God is giving us, as it were, another year to bear fruit.
It is precisely why John the Baptist thundered: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!” (Mat. 3:8) Beloved, listen: I am so thankful to God that you are here. Being a pastor in lockdown, no people, no church and an empty noisy building: That’s not right.
But thanks be to God – he is calling us again to his Divine vision/plan.
He’s inviting us to repentance that leads to salvation & life giving fruitfulness.
He’s inviting the world as he has always done to repentance.
1 Jn. 4:9 “God sent his Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”
And John 6:51
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh!”
Like Peter some say: “No, the Messiah doesn’t die like that – That’s not right!”
But from the perspective of the Kingdom: It’s the very thing that makes all things right.
“Behold, I am making all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) That’s right!
2 Chron 7:14-15
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Let us now come to Communion, hungry and thirsty and expectant.
Jesus is here.
Thank you, Richard. It’s so good to ‘hear your voice’ again through these words. And also the last Grailfrit on secular post-modern culture. Interpret the times, indeed. Missing your powerful teaching and finding the void a bit of a struggle at times. God bless you.
You’re a blessing. Thanks Jude. Miss you both!!