Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Good People. . .

Sermon for Lent 3C, preached on Sunday, March 24, 2019, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

[Jesus] answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:2-3). 
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”  We ask this question every time there’s a disaster.  We ask it when a loved one suffers a terrible accident.  We ask it when young children die after suffering for years from cancer.  This question gets thrown around by atheists and others calling into question God’s goodness; calling into question His very existence.  If God were truly good, if He really loved us, if He was all powerful as the Bible says, then why does He let bad things happen?  It’s not fair that good people should suffer.  And you’re right; it’s not fair.  But let me ask you another anyone truly good?

    We like to think people are good.  We like to think that deep down inside we’re all good and want to do the right thing.  All the time we’re told to have faith in humanity; that if people are just given a chance to do what’s right, they’ll do it.  The evil that people do isn’t because they want to do it, but they had to do it.  They were forced somehow.  It’s a result of their poor living situation, or their terrible childhood, or all the violence they’ve seen on TV and in movies and in video games, or because they were picked on by others, or...the list could go on and on.  We want to believe that people are good and that evil is from outside of us so that we aren’t held accountable for it.  We want to believe people are good so that we don’t have to face the truth that we’re not, the truth that we’re sinners.

    In the Gospel reading today, Jesus was updated on the current events.  Several Galileans had their blood mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.  This was a terrible thing.  These faithful Jews were killed Pilate as they presented their sacrifices.  And so, the question could be asked, “Why did this bad thing happen to these good people?”
    The people who reported this news probably expected Jesus to rebuke Pilate and the Romans.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  Instead He asked them two questions: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 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? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:2–5). 
Jesus’ questions confronted the popular belief of the day that saw a cause-and-effect relationship between sin and suffering.  If you sinned, God punished you.  This is the same popular belief we have today.  It’s what’s behind the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  We expect there to be a cause-and-effect relationship.  This makes sense.  That’s what’s fair.  And yet, that’s not what Jesus says. 

Jesus didn’t focus on Pilate’s sin.  He didn’t focus on the Galileans’ sin or the sin of the eighteen.  Instead, He focused on the sin of those who were still alive...He focuses on our sin. 
The people who suffered in Jesus’ examples weren't suffering because they were worse sinners than anyone else.  God wasn’t punishing them for specific sins.  But these people were still sinners, just as you and I are sinners. 

The truth is, no one is good; not one of us.  And because of this, we should all be like the Galileans and the eighteen.  We deserve death for our sin.  That’s what we confess every Sunday.  We come before God on our knees and say we “justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment.”  When we see death in our world, we need to recognize that it’s the just punishment that we deserve and we must repent of our sin. 

    We ask “Why do bad things happen to good people,” but what we should be asking is “Why do good things ever happen to anyone?”  No one is good, except for God.  God is good.  God is gracious.  God is merciful, and because of His love for you, because of Christ your Savior, He relents from the punishment that you and I deserve. 

Jesus steps in to save you from death.  That’s what His parable for today is about.  God is the man with a fig tree, and we are that fig tree.  God expects us to bear fruit, to live according to His Word and commands, to live a life of faith; and yet, like the tree in the parable, we don’t.  We sin.  We turn from God.  We question Him and His goodness.  So what do you do with a fruit tree that bears no fruit?  You cut it down.  But thanks be to God that our Vinedresser, that Christ our Lord, has stepped in for us.
Jesus is our mediator.  He stands before God, asking for mercy upon us, not because we deserve, but because He received the punishment that we justly deserve.  The punishment of sin was placed on Christ as He was nailed to the cross.  Jesus received God’s full wrath so that you wouldn’t.  So with faith in Him and in His saving sacrifice, repent of your sin.  Live the life God has given you.  Live the life God has called you to.  Live the life of faith, doing good, showing forth Christ’s love.   
It’s interesting that Jesus’ parable doesn’t have an ending.  It ends with the vinedresser saying, “if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (Lk 13:9).  We don’t know what happens to the tree: did it bear fruit?  Did it continue to be fruitless and get cut down?  The story’s ending isn’t written; and thus, it’s a call to us.  Are you going to bear fruit?  Are you going to see death in the world and see it as the just punishment that you deserve?  Are you going to repent of your sin and live in the life Christ as won for you?  Are you going to live according to God’s Word and commands?  Or, are you going to continue to be fruitless, continue to live in your sin, refusing to recognize and repent of it?

We ask “Why do bad things happen to good people,” but we should ask “Why do good things happen at all?”  They happen because of Christ, because of God’s goodness and mercy.  We don’t deserve anything but death, but Christ stepped in, taking our punishment.  So with faith, repent.  With faith, bear fruit.  With faith, turn to God and receive His goodness, His forgiveness, His life.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.

1 comment:

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