Worship for Sunday, March 20, 2022

Isaiah 55:1-9

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 63:1-8

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place,
that I might behold your power and your glory.

For your steadfast love is better than life itself;
my lips shall give you praise.

So will I bless you as long as I live
and lift up my hands in your name. 

My spirit is content, as with the richest of foods,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,

when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the night watches.

For you have been my helper,
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

My whole being clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast. 

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. [Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.  Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Why do bad things happen to good people? I would guess you have ALL asked – that very same question more than once in your life. Probably more than once this week!

The people in our Gospel reading for today are asking Jesus this question too. They hope Jesus can explain – why bad things happen to good people.

They start their discussion with Jesus by bringing up a recent tragedy that folks had been talking about. Some of Pontius Pilate’s soldiers had murdered a group of Jewish worshippers who were offering their sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.   It was a shocking act of cruelty.   These folks had been murdered as they worshipped the Lord!

Then Jesus points out a 2nd tragedy. 18 people had died when the tower of Siloam suddenly collapsed.

Jesus knows these folks are not just updating him on the local news.   Nor are they simply sharing their pain and heartache about the cruelty of their Roman oppressors.

Jesus knows – what they really need is for him to explain what these people did to deserve their fate. They want to know why these people died so tragically.

Jesus also knows they suspect he will say these folks really weren’t so “good” after all. They suspect Jesus will blame the victims for their fate. They expect Jesus to say these people deserved what happened to them. That they or their parents or even their grandparents had done something that had earned God’s wrath and judgment.

They expect this – because it was very common at this time for folks to explain that bad things happened to people because they deserved it.   People rigidly connected sin with suffering and punishment.

Was your child born with a birth defect? Then you must have committed a terrible sin to deserve such a punishment.

Did your neighbor die in an accident? She must have done something to deserve it.

And honestly – we aren’t all that different from these folks. Not really . . . When bad things happen – when tragedies strike – we try to make sense of them too. We look for patterns in the randomness of life. We search for answers to our questions of why? too.

Think of the way we responded to Covid-19. We tried to make sense of the wretched awfulness that was a new virus and ended up blaming its victims for their suffering. We were especially cruel to the 20% of folks who become seriously ill after contracting Covid-19. We were so quick to place the blame for their problems squarely on their shoulders.

Well – they must have pre-existing conditions. It had to be their fault for getting so outrageously sick. We want – NO – we NEED – their catastrophic illnesses to be their fault. So – we blame them for their illness.

They brought this on themselves – we imply.

They could have prevented this – we sigh.

We desperately need this to be true. Because then we will be safe. Then our loved ones will be protected. Then life won’t be so random and so terrifyingly uncertain.

If only they had taken better care of themselves. If only they didn’t have high blood pressure – diabetes – a heart condition – cancer – asthma. If only they weren’t overweight. If only they weren’t over 60 . . .

But wait a minute . . . asthma . . . that’s almost 8% of us.

Diabetes . . . that’s 11% of us.

Over 65 – that’s about 17% of Americans.

High blood pressure? That’s almost half of the adults in America!

Overweight . . . that’s 73% of the adults in the US!

Hmmm . . . okay!?!?!? That really changes things doesn’t it? Now we are talking about ourselves. Now it is not so easy for it to be an “us verses them” kind of dynamic.   Now we can’t stand outside of this.   Now we find ourselves in the middle of this messy mess.

We soon realize we  are pointing the finger of blame and shame at folks who are like us. Who have committed no greater sin than being alive and human in this broken world.

It would be so much easier if folks just got what we think they deserved.   If there was a cosmic balance sheet.   If each consequence could be traced back to a sin. Then the world would make more sense.

This is a lot like what we see happening in today’s Gospel reading. These folks expected Jesus to declare – the Galileans and the folks at Siloam got what they had coming to them. They deserved their fate. They want bad things to happen to bad people. Because then they will be safe. Their loved ones will be safe.

But that isn’t what Jesus says. Instead – Jesus responds – “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way – they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” And then Jesus answers his own question with a firm – “NO.”

No – these folks weren’t extra sinful.   This wasn’t the hand of God crushing them for their sins. This wasn’t a heavenly smack down.

Yes – the Galileans were sinners and so were the people at Siloam. But so is EVERYONE who has ever lived – except Jesus.

These people did not die because God was mad at them. God doesn’t work that way.

Jesus suggests we can make sense of the senseless – not by blaming the victims of tragedy – but by considering our own mortality – and our own sinfulness. And by considering God’s grace.

Sin has consequences. And we all suffer because of sins – but God doesn’t have a great big – heavenly score card on which he tallies up our sins and when we reach a certain number of sins – he punishes us. God isn’t waiting to zap us after we earn enough demerits to deserve punishment.

But God doesn’t erase the consequences of our sins either. Our actions – and our sins have consequences.   We can and do hurt people and ourselves by our sins – but those are our human actions not God’s.

Our God is not a thrower of lightning bolts. Or a tormenter of sinners.

Jesus’ message – is yes – all of us do deserve punishment – because we all sin. But God does not seek our deaths. God does not delight in our suffering.   Rather God loves us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to save us from ourselves. To deliver us.

What we deserve and what we receive from God are complete opposites.   We deserve eternal death and punishment – but God gives us love – forgiveness – and gift of eternal life.   Truly this is the Good News – AMEN.

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