Sermon – 3rd of Lent 2019

The Blame Game
Luke 13 vv 1-9
Bernard Moss 24/3/19 Lent 3 preached at 10.45am service.
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We begin this morning with 3 words
Glorious – long – to x2
All very familiar words and if we dwell on each one no doubt we will come to appreciate the richness and perhaps even complexity of each of them.
But all the time we leave them hanging in the air we won’t really appreciate their full significance.. it’s only when we understand the context in which these words appear that we will grasp their full significance, on this occasion at least

Glorious – long -to — we only have to add a few words from the wider context for their meaning to leap out at us
Yes my patriotic friends you are already ahead of me
Happy and glorious long to reign over us… the context in this instance makes all the difference to the meaning –suddenly the penny drops and the rich tapestry of the national anthem enfolds us.

And this is also true when we look at passages of scripture especially the range of lectionary readings we tend to get exposed to during Lent – never an easy read I must admit – but sometimes when we struggle to understand in this case what Jesus us saying, we need the wider picture before we can begin to make sense of it.

Jesus was reading the signs of the times… if you think our political state of affairs is worrying , in New testament times the people of God were desparately trying to achieve their own Brexit and escape from under the domination of the Roman Empire and the savagery that at times characterised their rule. If Herod got a whiff of potential treachery against Rome he would act with vengeance .. so we have a group of Galileans worshipping in the temple – whether they were indeed plotting against Rome we are not told, but if Herod said they were, then they were – and so at a stroke –in a hail of bullets so to speak – they were cut down.
And in those days, as in the book of Job, the finger of blame would have been pointed in such a way as to suggest that for them to die like that must be evidence of real individual evildoing and godless behaviour.
But Jesus responds by saying – just a minute – were these Galileans any worse than the rest of their community?…
Or take a health and safety disaster at the tower of Siloam – 18 people crushed to death – was this a judgment from God on their apparently individual personal sinfulness?
Just a minute says Jesus – we have to see the wider picture and ask ourselves whether the people of God as a whole are really being true to their calling – whether they are behaving as God intends them to behave. By focussing on two groups of individuals perhaps as scapegoats singled out for divine retribution, aren’t you failing to see that the hallmark of godly living is a shared sense of repentance – repentance that everyone needs to own, for all have sinned and failed and fallen short.
Jesus read the signs of the times – no doubt he could foresee that in but a few years’ time Rome would crack down even further, and sure enough in AD 70 Jerusalem was ransacked. And the Temple was destroyed.
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In this passage we are brought slap bang into the Blame Game – into a massive discussion about corporate shared wrongdoing, or at least a corporate shared responsibility for some of the ills that beset our communities. The emotional turmoil being experienced in New Zealand has not only brought about a tidal wave of grief and dismay; their Prime Minister has powerfully and eloquently argued for a determination at national and even international level to tackle the tap root of racism, bigotry and hatred.
We have had examples of his in our own communities, and truth be told throughout the world, where we have been forced defiantly to say ‘not only is this not us’ but agonisingly how on earth have we reached this point – how on earth as a community or a nation – have we reached this point whereby evil can flourish so terribly in our midst?. These cries, which can be heard reverberating throughout the book of Psalms and the OT prophets, ring true even today. How on earth have we reached this point of such national mistrust and vehement antagonisms when other parts of God’s world are in such desparate need of rescuing from the floodwaters of despair?
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Now of course there are no easy answers … and we need to think very carefully before suggesting how God may or may not be at work in His turbulent world – What Jesus seems to be suggesting in this passage is that we need not just individually but as communities and nations to pause, take stock and to practise that spirt of humility and repentance; of mutual respect and tolerance; of reaching out in mercy and compassion to those in desperate need. Perhaps it less a matter in the first instance of answers than attitude, and that only when we practise and cherish an attitude of humility and compassion will we begin to glimpse Gods’ purpose for us. Perhaps too often the focus of repentance has been at the individual level and has failed to take account of the powerful impact of wider evil attitudes.
Sometimes we need our moments of crisis – of gaping over the precipice as some would say – before we can regain our true bearings.
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And what’s this fig tree doing at the end of the reading you may ask? Told originally no doubt as a reminder again of God’s mercy and forbearance, and the need to repent.
Here we have the picture of the vineyard – a very familiar image for the people of God – and among all the vines this solitary non-productive fig tree… gardeners among you will recognise the anomaly in nature that one year you can have more plums on your plum tree that you can ever imagine, and next year not a sausage – well certainly not a sausage, that would be a surprise! .. but no plums either

And here the gardener says : please give it more time and let’s do our best to help it flourish by piling on the manure to fertilise it.
Because maybe just maybe we haven’t given it the encouragement and help it needs to bear fruit

And goodness me what an image that is for the church too – there are so many examples of the majority vines chastising the minority fig trees for not bearing fruit – for not flourishing.. without realising that maybe the prevailing atmosphere and culture is a root cause for people behaving in such a way. Feeling unwelcome, unvalued, unfed they will inevitably shrivel up. It’s not their fault – it’s a shared community responsibility.
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Glorious – long – to
We have been – well certainly I have been – struggling with these verses from scripture this morning,
but when we live in difficult tumultuous and even dangerous times we should not be surprised to find it difficult to find our way through
In Jesus’ day he called the people to God to a deeper sense of repentance – to open themselves to the love and compassion and mercy of God as the only way forward for human individual and shared flourishing.
And these are powerful reminders for us today… that the things of God really matter – that the values which God calls us to follow – of truth, justice, mercy and compassion really really matter, and we neglect them at our individual and national peril.
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Glorious – long -to make sense within our national anthem
But in a far far deeper sense we pray that reign of the king of kings and lord of lords will be long and glorious through Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.