Third Sunday in Lent, 2016, Luke 13:1-5
One of my favorite comedy routines is George Carlin’s comparison of football and baseball. He concludes comparing their goals. In football the Quarterback, “With short bullet passes and long bombs, marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”
Whereas, “In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”
To be safe at home, welcomed, loved and accepted is a great goal in our daily life. Each day, to come home and be welcomed in love and acceptance is something to which to look forward. Now in lent was talk about repentance. Repentance is like coming home. Repentance is to come home to Jesus where we will always be welcomed in love and acceptance. But for now let’s go back and take a second look at the gospel lesson.
Jesus has been talking to a gathering crowd of tens of thousands of people packed so closely they were trampling one another. Toward the end of his time of teaching, some of those present told him about the incident involving a group of Galileans who were making their sacrifices at the temple. Pontius Pilate’s soldiers entered the temple courts and massacred the Galileans. As the worshippers blood flowed it mixed with that of their sacrificed animals. A sacred moment became a sacrilege. We would call it state sponsored terrorism. Then Jesus mentions another tragedy. A disaster that occurred when a stone tower in Siloam, toppled over crushing eighteen unsuspecting people. Tragedies, and we’ve had plenty of them lately, raise questions about bad things happening to innocent people. But did you hear what Jesus said in regard to the two tragedies? He asked, were the Galileans slaughtered in the temple worse sinners than all other Galileans? No. Were the eighteen victims of the tower collapse worse sinners than all the other residents of Jerusalem? No. So in these cases the tragedies were not because of some great sin.
We have tragedies too. Mosquito born Zika virus threatens the health of unborn babies in Brazil and elsewhere. Are their mothers’ worse sinners than other pregnant women? Jesus says…No. We’ve had tornadoes this past week in the south and southeast. Tornadoes sometimes destroy one house but leave the one next door still standing. Were the occupants of the destroyed house worse sinners than those living in houses the tornado skipped? Jesus says…No. A child is lying on her mother’s bed doing homework in north St. Louis, when a bullet comes through the window and kills her. Was she a worse sinner than other children in the neighborhood? Jesus says…No.
So why did those tragedies happen? We’re waiting for Jesus to answer. But Jesus doesn’t give us a reason. He ignores questions like, “Why do bad things like this happen?” He goes straight into the lives of those thousands listening and into our lives. He turns and looks at us. He says, “Unless you repent, you too will perish.” But “Jesus, what kind of answer is that?” What does this have to do with us and repentance?” Jesus is talking about is eternal perishing. That’s even more catastrophic than tragedies that might take our life. Perishing eternally is forever being separated from God. Never being able to come home to his love. Jesus is moving us from questions of “Why?” such things happen, which we can talk about until the winter wheat ripens, to take a look at ourselves. To ask ourselves, “What?” What should I do?” He is calling us to repent, to come home. To be safe at home with Jesus. Safe at home with Jesus is the goal of repentance.
Now most of the time repentance is defined as turning, and it is that. We turn from one direction and head another. We are to turn from anything and everything that gets in the way of our relationship with the Lord. If it disrupts our connection to Jesus, turn away from it. And it’s not just for the big thing like murder, adultery, or embezzlement.
No, more often it’s the everyday things we need to repent of. The way we budget our money may leave us with little to share with those in need. We get the things we need, but ignore the generosity Jesus wants us to do for others. So we turn around from ourselves and come home to Jesus. We have those everyday sins of anger in which we allow ourselves to blow up over minor annoyances and then we turn from that and come home to Jesus. We complain about things that don’t satisfy us, rather than being thankful for people who are serving us well in their capacity, we turn and we come home to Jesus. We can do the same with impatience, fear, and lust. We turn from ourselves and come home to Jesus. That’s how repentance works.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of repentance. The young son wants his inheritance early. His father gives it to him. He heads off to another city to live. He has a great time living it up. Gets a condo in the trendiest part of the city. Goes to the latest hot places. Soon, blows through all his money. When a recession hits the economy he can’t earn enough to live on. He loses the condo, loses his friends and winds up homeless, eating at soup kitchens and whatever he can get dumpster diving behind places where he used to eat inside. What is really his problem? That he wasted all his money? Is it the sinful life he indulged in? The bigger problem began earlier. He. Left. Home. He turned his back on his home, where he was loved and accepted.
Finally, he realizes what he has done. So repentance begins. He turns away from what had led him so far from home and heads back. His father sees him coming. He runs to meet him. New clothes, New shoes, New ring. Celebration! He’s come home. Repentance is coming home. Repentance is being welcomed home in love and acceptance.
When in repentance we come home to Jesus, he’s waiting for us with open arms. With nail scarred hands he welcomes us with his love. He stretched out those arms on the cross to provide forgiveness for all that we need to turn away from. His open arms have forgiven all of the greed, fear, lust, impatience and any other everyday sin that gets in the way of our connection to him. We come home to the risen Lord who restores us to his family. And he gives us His Holy Spirit to renew our lives. Generosity, patience, trust, contentment, peace and kindness, become fruits of repentance in our lives when we come home. Yes, coming home to Jesus’ acceptance is very good.
During a baseball game the batter tries with all his might to leave the batter’s box at home and get to first. But as soon as he arrives at first base his focus is on coming home. That’s a pattern for our life. Repentance is coming home to Jesus. The goal of each day is to be at home with Jesus, until we enter that day when he calls us home to himself in that eternal day.