Repent (Video and Manuscript, Lent 3) of Sermon Based on Luke 13:1-9

The video below is the sermon for the third Sunday of Lent (March 3rd, 2013) based on Luke 13:1-9, preached at, in Richmond, Virginia.   Just below the video, you will also find the text for the sermon (and below that, a resource that might help you explore the sermon topic in greater depth and detail.

The sermon is titled is “Repent” – and after you read or watch it, please feel free to offer your feedback and comments.

Imagine for a moment that it is early Monday morning and you are sitting with your friends at Hardees.  It’s a good place to gather before your day’s activities – a place to grab a cup of coffee, eat a sausage biscuit, and talk about current events.  Several copies of the Richmond Times Dispatch are sitting on the tables around the dining area.

Typically the conversation might be about the political wrangling in Washington, or perhaps the start of March Madness and how local favorite VCU will fair in this year’s tournament.

On this day, however, everyone seems to be talking the dual headlines from the morning paper.  The first is of a new terror attack, the worst since 9-11.  So far the death toll has reached 187, but they fear there are more bodies in the rubble.  The other headlines references the massive earthquake out west.  The causalities, there, may well climb into the thousands.

Sitting quietly in the corner, drinking a cup of decaffeinated coffee and eating a bagel he’d brought from home, is none other than Jesus himself.

Somebody hollers:  “Hey, Jesus, did you read that story about the that horrible bombing that killed all those people?   And what about that terrible earthquake?  Do you think those people are suffering so badly because they are worse sinners than the rest?”

It was a popular question in Jesus’ day. It still is. If something bad happened to another person, there must have been for a reason for it. Somebody must have done something to raise the ire of God to allow such a tragedy.

Jesus scratches his beard for a moment. “No, they didn’t die because of anything they did. The suffering there is the result of the evil in the hearts of the terrorist, not the judgment of God against the people who were victimized.  About the earthquake…there is a fault under that part of the country that was bound to slip at one point or another.  Those people, sadly, were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Their suffering is not the result of God’s judgment.

Then Jesus is silent for a moment.  You know something is coming, you’re just not sure what.  Jesus picks up his cup of coffee, takes a sip, then look in your direction, saying, “Let me tell you something, fellows, unless you repent, something worse is going to happen to you!”

Sounds sort of like a threat.  “Repent, or else!”  “Get you act in order or there will be hell to pay!”  “Turn, or burn!”  Hardly the kind of think we want or expect to hear Jesus say.  What are we to make of this.

The last time I preached this text, the Westboro Baptist Church had made a visit to the fair city of Richmond, VA.

You have heard of this “church” (I use the word loosely when referring to these people).  Based in Topeka, Kansas, the folks at WBC follow the teaching of their pastor Fred Phelps, who proudly affirms God’s hatred – toward Catholics, Muslims, Eastern Orthodox, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and even fellow Baptists.  Their “ministry” is to travel the country “protesting” whomever they are mad at the most on that particular day.

In Richmond, they protested at the  Holocaust Museum.  There they affirmed a basic tenet of their “church” that God Hates Jews because the Jews killed Jesus. 

At the nearby the Jewish Community Center, just over on Monument Avenue, one person held a sign that said, Rabbis Rape Babies while their group chanted,  “You all going to hell!” to those visiting the center.   

Later that day they stopped by Hermitage High School as students were being dismissed at the end of the day.  I saw their protest first hand as I drove past the school.  Hermitage High School has a “gay student alliance.”  You need to know that WBC hates “gays” more than any other group.  I imagine they spend more time thinking about dudes having sex with other dudes then do most gay men themselves. God Hates Gays was the typical slogan on many of their posters.

They have taken their ministry of hate to several different venues.  They hate protest at the funerals of military killed in the line of duty in Iraq, saying that the death was God’s judgment on United States for all of its sins.  Thank God for Dead Soldiers some of their posters say.  Other declared:  God Hates The USA; God Is Your Terrorist, God Is Your Enemy, and  God Hates Your Dead Children.

Now at the root of all this are two concepts that are closely intertwined.

The first is this notion that GOD HATES __________.  You can fill in the blank with whatever noun you want.  GOD HATES the gays, the liberals, the Jews, the blacks, the Hispanics, the Tea-Partiers, the conservatives, the Democrats, the Republicans.  Of course it doesn’t take much in the way of biblical scholarship to dismiss the phrase GOD HATES from the Christian vocabulary.

I wonder if we might have some better posters to express God’s true feelings.

John 3:16-17:  “God so LOVED the world…”

I John 4:7: “Love is of God.”

I John 4:16: “God is love.”

Titus 3:4: speaks of “…the kindness of love of our Savior.”

Psalm 136 repeats over and over, “God’s love endures forever.”

Ephesians 2:4 refers to God “great love for us.”

Still, there are the words of Jesus in today’s text.  What are we to make of all this?

The issue that Jesus was dealing with in today’s scripture reading is about two terrible tragedies happened in Jerusalem.  The first was at the temple, where Pilate had killed some Galileans who were making sacrifices at the temple.  Then he mixed their blood with that of the sacrificial animals, a sign meant that meant to warn the other Jews that Rome was in charge. The other tragedy took place near the pool of Siloam. The cause for the catastrophe is not mentioned.  Could it have been an earthquake?  A storm?  A fire?  Faulty construction?  Nobody knows for sure.  All that is known is what the text says.  A tower fell and killed eighteen people.

In the text, Jesus poses a rhetorical question.  No doubt it was a question on the minds of many.  “Were the Galileans that Pilate killed and the eighteen who died at the tower worse sinners than others?”

Then Jesus answer his own question, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Notice that first thing Jesus makes clear is that there is no rational explanation for these tragic events.   Jesus does not say, “God Hates Galileans.”  Jesus does not say, “God Caused The Tower To Fall!”  Jesus dismisses the notion that these events were “the will of God.”  With a word Jesus dismisses the notion that God causes or even allows criminal acts, terrorism, accidents, earthquakes, storms, or any other natural or human-made disaster as a means of offering some sort of “divine retribution.”

Why did the Galileans die that day?  They died because they were at the temple when Pilate decided to exercise Rome’s power and control over Jerusalem.

Why were hundreds of thousands of Jews killed during the holocaust?  It was because of the evil machinations of a despot lunatic named Adolph Hitler and his Nazi empire.

Why were thousands of our citizens killed on 9-11?  It was because of the evil act of desperate men who engaged in an act of terrorism against our country and the world.

Why did all those children die at Sandy Hook Elementary?  It was because of a crazed lunatic with access to a semi-automatic weapon.

Why were those eighteen people killed when the tower near Siloam fell in Jerusalem?  It was because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jesus says that – as far as God’s involvement is concerned – there is no cause and effect kind of explanation.  So when the storm blows, or the earth quakes, or the doctor says cancer, don’t say: “That person must have done something wrong to bring that judgment upon them!”  Jesus says that this is not the way God operates.

About eighteen years ago I was sitting in my study in Kilmarnock, Virginia, where I was serving at a pastor.  Jeana and Michelle were in North Carolina visiting her mother and her sister, Gayle.  As I sat and studied, the phone rang.  It was Jeana.  Her voice was filled with panic and fear.

“There’s been an accident,” she said.  “She’s dead.  She’s dead!”

“Who’s dead?” I asked, panic in my own voice, now.

“Gayle is dead.  There was a car accident and Gayle died.”  The sobs and sorrow in Jeana’s voice were inconsolable.  Gayle and Jeana were not just sisters, they were best friends.

That morning Gayle and her husband were at an intersection, ready to turn into a lane of traffic.  As they did, the driver of a large truck – who had been drinking heavily – decided to pass a slowing car.  He entered Gayle’s lane of traffic.

At some point over the next several days, somebody with good intentions and bad theology said to Jeana, “We just don’t know why God does the things He does!”

“God didn’t do this,” Jeana said.  “Gayle died because of that dammed drunk driver!  Don’t you dare blame this on God!”

That’s sort of what Jesus was saying.  Jesus is saying that – as far as God’s is concerned – there is no cause and effect kind of explanation between people’s behavior and the bad things that befall them in life.  We can hurt ourselves.  We can be hurt by others.  We can hurt those around us.  Storm clouds can gather and blow down a house.  The earth can quake and bring down a city.  The doctor can call say we have cancer.  But we must never say:  “That person must have done something wrong to cause God to bring this sort of pain upon them!”

Jesus says that this is not the way God operates.

“Were those who died worse sinners?” that’s the kind of question we ask.  Jesus answers, “No!”

But there is still the rest of his statement to deal with.  “Were those who died worse sinners?” “No,” Jesus says.  Then comes that word of warning.  “Now repent or you, too, will perish!”

So what’s going on here?

To understand this admonition, we need to consider its context.  Just prior to today’s story, Jesus had been speaking to a very large crowd, numbering in the thousands.  As he speaks, he brings a word of warning:  “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy…”

This  warning about “hypocrisy” leads to a further word: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God”

So you have a simple dichotomy.

On one side of the coin is the way of the Pharisees – the way of those who think believe they do well, earn favor, achieve spiritual success, gain brownie points with God.  They think that salvation comes from self-effort, living and doing right.  They think it comes from having good morals, living by a set of precepts and standards, obeying the rules, following the rituals, adhering to the regulations, being religious.

“Do these sorts of things,” the Pharisees say, “And you will earn your way and your keep with God!”

That’s hypocrisy.  Why?  Because the Pharisees (like all self-effort people) are living for show.  Things might look fine-and-dandy in public, but behind closed door, deep down inside, in the dark corners of life – we are all broken.  That’s what prompts Jesus to say next, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”

In fact, these religious types are worse off than the rest.  They think that God needs them more than they need God.  They do what’s right in their own eyes and think it will be well for them.
On the other side of the coin are those who turned away from attempts to earn their way.  They simply acknowledge and trust Jesus.   They give up on the futility of self-effort and good deeds as a means to find favor with God.  They simply acknowledge that right there before them, in the person of Jesus, it God incarnate – the one who came to take away the sin of the world; the one who came to express the that God’s eternal plan has been to express to all that they are liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted by Papa.

Some poor soul in the crowd missed the point completely.  Maybe he just wasn’t listening, I don’t know.  But straight out, right after Jesus warning about the hypocrisy of earning your way and the call to simply accept grace, some dude shouted out:  Hey, Jesus, tell my brother to divide our Father’s estate with me!”

Jesus is amazed, “Who appointed me the judge or an arbiter between you?”

Then Jesus pulls the parable card.  Using the triviality of this man’s stinking thinking, Jesus continues his teaching:  “Watch out!  Be you guard against all kinds of greed!  Life is not about what you collect!”

Jesus tells about a man who has such a bumper year of crops that he builds a bigger barns, puts everything inside, saying, ” “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Jesus is hammers home the point.  It’s not what you gather.  It’s not what you accumulate.  It’s not what you have done.  “Life is more than food.  The body is more than clothing… seek first the Kingdom.”

Here’s the point:  Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, comes to bring life, love, mercy, and forgiveness.  He is “the way, the truth, and the life.”  He is “the resurrection and the life.”   He is God incarnate, and in the light of his presence, hypocrisy is revealed, and so is the GRACE of his Papa.

With Luke 12 as the backdrop, we come to the text for today.  Jesus is still dealing with the that stinking thinking that equates sin with the severity of punishment.  They think sin has a sliding scale and they want to make certain that they are on the safer end of the scale.

Those people in the Temple who suffered under Pilates abuse – it was because they were from Galilee – and we all know that God doesn’t like THOSE people as much as he loves us.

Remember when the earthquake hit Haiti?  A preacher in Virginia Beach said that it was God’s judgment because of witchcraft!

Remember when hurricanes Rite and Katrina blasted through the Gulf Coast?  A popular preacher in Texas blamed it on homosexuality.

Remember when the terrorist flew planes into the Twin Towers?  Two Virginia preachers took to the airwaves to say that God was judging the USA because of Ellen Degeneres.

It’s the same song, but a different verse.  It’s the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that Jesus was warning against.  It is the lie that says that only good things happen to good people, while only bad things happen to bad people.  It’s the myth that we can save ourselves if the scales shows more good than bad as we stand in God’s presence.

That’s where Jesus challenge comes in to view.  Jesus says, “Repent!”

The Greek word “Repent” is metanoia.  It is not as trivial as it is often made to seem in popular church culture. It doesn’t me that we feel real bad about our sinful behavior, promising to do better.  It doesn’t mean that we turn over a new leaf.  It doesn’t mean that we redouble our to put more good things on the scale of our lives to offset the bad.

Metanoia means having a change in our way of thinking that is so radical that it is like a blind man getting sight.  If you have ever been in a plane, imagine it like flying up-side-down.  What’s down is up, what’s up is down, and nothing looks the same anymore.

That’s how Jesus is challenging us to think – and when we do, it will change us to the core of our being.  If our thinking does not change – if we do not experience metanoia  – then we will be stuck in a hell of our own creation.

So what’s going on here?  Jesus is saying, “Repent!”   Repent of what?   As we consider Jesus words in their context, the message is clear.  “Repent of willful blindness that keeps choosing to stay focused on earthly things – when the glory of incarnate God of grace is being so fully revealed in the presence of Jesus, the Christ.

In the Near East, fig trees were often planted in gardens and vineyards.  Their produce is a treasured delicacy.

Jesus ends this teaching with a parable about a fig tree in a vineyard – a fig tree that was completely barren.

So, what’s a fellow to do?  “Chop it down!” the landowner says.  Who can blame him?  If the tree is not producing, it’s wasting good soil.

“There isn’t any fruit!” he says.  “I’ve been coming to this tree for three years without any produce.  As far as I am concerned, that’s enough time.  Chop the tree down and throw it away!”

If we stopped right there, we could read this as a parable of judgment.  “Chop It Down!”  “It’s All Going to Burn!”

But that wasn’t the end of the parable, was it?

“Chop it down!”  Sounds like a fair thing to say.  But that’s not what happens.  The gardener says, “Let me loosen the hard dirt around the tree.   Let me put some good fertilizer down.   Let me give the tree some tender loving care.  Let me show the tree some patience.  If it bears fruit next year, that will be great.  If not, you can cut it down then.”

Can you hear the passion and hope in the gardener’s words.  He doesn’t want to give up.  “Give me a year to turn things around.”

Who is the gardener?  It’s Jesus – who is revealing the heart of his Papa, as he always did!  The God revealed in Jesus Christ refuses to give up on the fig tree.  He refuses to give up on any of us.

The vineyard is the whole wide world.  And we are a part of that world as a congregation.

What’s Jesus saying?  He is saying that he is not giving up on us.

He’s also offering a challenge.  “Stop playing games!  Repent.  Turn yourself inside-out and upside-down with the awareness of God amazing grace.  Repent!  Let the Holy Spirit use you to produce the fruit of God’s love in the world.  Repent!  Reject the willful blindness that keeps you focused on earthly things – while the glory of the Incarnate God is being so fully revealed in the person of Jesus.”

Here is what Jesus is saying over your life today:  “I’m going to do everything I can to help this tree produce fruit.  I am going to do everything I can to break through the hard packed soil that surrounds its roots so that I can lay fertilizer.  I am not willing to give up on this tree!”

Jesus wants us to live – and to live abundantly.  Jesus told this parable so that we might repent – turning from a self-centered, self-consumed, self-righteous, selfish lifestyle.  He told this parable so that we might turn toward Jesus as our life and source.


Metanoia (Clarity)
by: Andre Rabe
published: 2012-01-25
ASIN: B007216I7E
sales rank: 195516

The good news of how God reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus Christ has always been radically and fundamentally different from the world’s way of thinking. In fact, measured by human standards of logic, it is pure foolishness. I mean, how wise is it to give abundant life to those who deserve death? How wise is it to forgive, even before a person realises how wrong they have been … even before forgiveness is sought … to love those who are at enmity against you?

It is in the light of this radical declaration of the gospel that questions are stirred. What does true repentance mean in the light of this gospel?


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