Sunday’s Sermon: If Not Now, When?

We live in an instant analysis society.

Our current culture is such that we are in a hurry to determine the meaning of certain events. When something happens, we dispatch experts from various fields and charge them with the task to determine why something happened and what it will mean for our future. Much of journalism today, especially on cable news networks, is built around this model.

Think about some of the analysis surrounding several events from just this week. What will be the impact of Pope Benedict XVII’s resignation? What will it mean for the Catholic Church? Why did he resign? Who will be the next pope? How will the sequester affect the stock markets by the end of the year? What does it mean for consumers? Will our taxes go up? Why did Kentucky lose to Arkansas? What does this mean for its NCAA chances? What does this mean for John Calipari’s future?

Forget trying to understand the details that make up each of these events. We are more interested in what these events mean and how they will affect us.

Of course, the same can be true of how we try to understand things from the perspective of our faith in Christ. Just as our friends in the media seek to analyze events for future significance, we seek to understand events that happen in our world, communities, and personal lives and try to discern what they mean for our faith in God and for what God might be saying to us.

Trying to understand the world and the communities we live in is important to our witness of Christ’s love. This type of analysis helps us to discern what it means to live out our mission of sharing the truth of the Christian message with others. For instance, we can all see how our culture is changing. This ranges from postmodernism’s tendency to not accept basic truths, while also a move to a more wired and connected world. The church has to ask itself how it can faithfully share the message of Christ in this culture. This is a question the church must always be willing to answer, and we have great examples to guide us. For instance, St. Patrick improvised his evangelistic practices to better reach the Celtics in Ireland.

There is also another way we seek to understand current events. That is by determining whether a certain event brings about God’s judgment. Sometimes we have the tendency to look at an event and wonder if it means God has shown favor or disfavor to a person or group of individuals.

It is this type of cultural analysis that we see in our passage from Luke 13:1-9. Here, Luke tells us of  how Jesus was informed about a horrible act of violence committed by Pontius Pilate against a group of Galileans. Luke reports that they were murdered at the Temple and their blood was mixed with the sacrificial blood. This is the only recorded instance of this event in Scripture and historical references do not give us many clues in understanding when this event took place. From what we know of Pilate, this event fits with his demeanor as a ruthless and violent leader. Jewish first-century historian Josephus tells us of an instance where Pilate’s ruthlessness was on display. Pilate, Josephus wrote, sought to use the Temple’s money to pay for the Roman Aqueducts. This caused an uproar amongst the people. To quell the rebellion, Pilate ordered his soldiers to dress in the people’s clothing and then beat them when ordered. This lead to multiple deaths and injuries and ultimately ended the revolt.

The way Jesus is presented with this interaction makes it seem that he is being asked to comment on it. He is perhaps being asked by Galileans, who were journeying with Jesus on his trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, if there was any reason that would have led to their untimely death. Was God trying to punish them? Jesus does offer an analysis of what happened, but not in the way the people then, or us today, expected. What he says, however, might inspire us as we seek to grow closer to Christ.

Jesus says there was nothing about the Galileans that made them more sinful than others. He is responding to perhaps the people’s questions that wondered if these Galileans were sinful and, thus, recipients of God’s judgment. Jesus says this is not the case. He says their sin was not the reason for this violence. The same is true for another event Jesus references, when 18 people died when the Tower of Siolam fell. Such as the incident with Pilate, we do not have much to go on with this accident. Jesus connects it to the Galileans and says they too did not deserve this death based on their sinfulness.

In speaking about both events, Jesus takes the opportunity to speak to a greater and more important truth. He says, “unless you repent or your sins and turn to God” you will perish. The death Jesus speaks of is not a death similar to the ones he has discussed. Instead, it is a spiritual death – a death of everlasting separation from the Father’s love. Jesus says what is most important is not trying to figure out whether their sinfulness had anything to do with these events – they did not – but rather to turn away from our own desires and trust in God’s desires for us.

What do we mean by repentance? It is the act of turning away from our own self, ideas, wants, and desires, and placing our trust in the Lord. Repentance is the act of recognizing where we have disappointed God and to turn toward a life lived in a relationship with the Father, through faith in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is both a one-time and daily act of recognizing that Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is the one-time act of giving our lives to Christ in recognition that on the cross, our Lord paid the price for our sin. It is a daily act, as well, of continually turning away from our self and learning to trust Christ with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

For Jesus, there is a sense of urgency in his words. That is because we never known when we will take our last breath. We do not have tomorrow as a guaranteed opportunity to accept Christ’s love and grace. All we have is today, this moment, this hour, to turn from the world and trust in the Lord. The fact we face each day as it potentially being our last day presents us with the question of if not now, when will we turn and accept Christ as our Lord and Savior? If not today, when will we recognize that on the cross Jesus died for you and for me? If not today, when will we find ourselves at the cross and say the words, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you?”

The time will come when we are faced with the question of how we responded to the message of Jesus Christ. Each of us will be held accountable to the message of Christ. Did we accept God’s grace and allow the truth of Christ to be true in our hearts? This is not merely the acceptance of the free gift of God’s grace, but something much deeper than that. We are reminded of Christ’s words from Matthew 7 where he says that saying we accept the Lord is not enough. The Father’s love and desires for us must be at the center of our hearts as we seek to respond to our faith in Jesus Christ. God’s desire is for all people to come to know the Lord and enter a relationship with God through faith.

This is why God’s judgments are withheld until the last moment. Jesus ends his cultural analysis with a parable of a farmer who owned a fig tree that would not produce fruit. The tree had been planted in good soil and, thus, the farmer expected better results. Frustrated, the farmer tells the gardner to cut the tree down, perhaps so another fig tree could be planted. However, the gardner pleads for more time. Perhaps if more fertilizer was placed around the tree it will produce fruit in a year. If not, then the farmer could cut it down.

Jesus gives us this parable as an expression of the Lord’s patient desire to not want anyone to experience the second spiritual death. This patience isn’t the liberty to live our lives how we want and to use our last moments to “get right.” Instead, it is the expression of the depths of God’s love. A love that says that as we are working out what it means to be a follower of Christ, God is with us and desires that we will see “how wide, how long, how high, and how deep” God’s love for us is that the Lord sent us the Son, to take our sin, and die our death on the cross.

The season of Lent is a time for renewal. We are all in need of renewal when it comes to our faith in the Lord. Perhaps we have struggled with our faith and questioned what it is that we believe. Perhaps we have lived as if the words of Christ mean nothing to how we live today. Perhaps we have wanted to take the next step in our walk with Christ, but have been reluctant. Perhaps, we simply want to accept the grace God offers us, maybe for the first time or the hundredth. Wherever we are in our walk with Christ, one thing is for and that is the offer of grace is there for us all.

Today is a great opportunity to experience renewal, to repent, and to experience God’s grace in a deep way. In a moment, we will celebrate communion together. As we enter into the time of Great Thanksgiving and communion, you are invited to allow the Spirit to examine your heart and see where you might need to repent from a life that is counter to God’s desires and to embrace God’s love in a new way. You are invited to experience the Living Presence of our Lord and the grace freely available to you. A grace that calls us to be reunited with the Father, by our faith of the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are all faced with the question of repentance and our need to turn from a life counter to God’s desires and to take on a life of obedience to God’s love. If not today, when will accept it? If not today, when will we experience God’s love for us?

If not today, when?

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