Scripture: Luke 13:1-9
Everyone has a theory about how things should be. If we were to spend this afternoon we would have probably fifty different ideas of how best to proceed into the future as a community, church, or nation. Wait did I say fifty…that might be a little low, even though we have less than fifty here. Each of us have so many ideas about how best to do things we are not even in unity in our own minds. It is actually quite humorous if you think about it.
The good thing about most ideologies is that it makes discerning what ideas you agree with easier. You do not have to think about it, and to be honest most of us don’t think about it. We go through life latched onto some ideology that we think suits us best and we hold onto it. It doesn’t really matter to us that at times that ideology and our actions do not actually reflect each other. We like the labels because it is easy. We like the label of Christian, spiritualist, Democrat, Republican, capitalist, or socialist because these labels seem to allow us to sit back and let our lives be defined for us. If I say I’m something then I do not have to prove it.
This is a problem because of the six ideologies I mentioned I strongly doubt there is one person in this room that is one hundred percent any of them. I say this because we each have this independent streak in us that does not want to be fully conformed into a group, yet we want to be accepted by it. Yes I even include Christian in that list.
Today’s passage is a passage about what it means to be a follower of God. Just as a warning you may not like what I have to say. I give this warning because each of us, even in our journey in faith, tends to get in our own way.
“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” What a way to begin. This section of scripture is unique to the book written by Luke. It is unique not only in scriptures but in historical documentation as well. No one really knows what specific moment in history Luke is referring to. The do not even know if it is an actual even or just some hypothetical scenario used to test Jesus. I want us to consider it as an actual historical event because it very well could have been. I say this because the northern area of Palestine in the Roman era is similar to the American South. They have a nationalistic fervor that is almost annoying to people outside their culture, and a skewed view of what the nation is supposed to be. Galilee is filled with a bunch of good old boys that think they know what is best for everyone else and they tend to want to push the rest of the nation into their line of thinking. There were several groups among the Galileans that built up enough support amongst themselves that they tried to lead revolts several times. They had a reputation as being rebels, nonconformists, and trouble to the outsider.
Pilate is the Roman appointed Governor over Jerusalem. He is not directly involved with ruling the rowdy Galileans but he does have to deal with them on occasion since everyone must make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship in the temple and offer sacrifices. Pilate’s number one concern is to stop any uprising that would attract the attention of Rome, and history has proven that he did this with a firm hand. It was not uncommon for Pilate to send in the troops to settle things quickly, and he was not opposed to killing anyone that stood in the way of restoring order.
So we have a scene of civil war. Rome is stopping an uprising. A tyrant is being opposed. Terrorists are being vanquished. Depending on one’s perspective. There is much that could be said about this event. We could focus on the mingling of blood, which would not only have left their sacrifices ceremonially unfit, but also rendering the temple unclean. We could focus on the rebellion of the Galileans. Jesus takes a different route. It was a common understanding at that time that bad things happen to bad people. If something happened to you it is your fault because you lacked the faith. I say that as if it is a school of thought that passed away in antiquity but it is still present to this very day. It is probably one of the most widely accepted ideas in pretty much every religious culture. If you have a problem its your fault. Jesus asks those he’s talking to “did this happen because these guys were worse sinners?”
It is an odd question. It almost leads us to believe that maybe Jesus was talking to people that supported Roman rule. It could also be that these Galilean men acted independently without unifying the group so they sinned because they acted rashly. What we do know is that Jesus knew the hearts of those in this conversation. They were judging these Galileans. Some may have judged them as heroes to the cause or righteous martyrs. Some may have seen the men as the problem of the world they lived in, and others may have been more concerned with the sacrifices in what ever case Jesus is saying each judgment is wrong.
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Harsh! This is where it gets personal. We judge. We use judgment to try to make sense of the world around us. We judge people to determine their worth to a company, or if they should be a member of committees. It is difficult to keep from judging. The issue with judging is that we often do it from a skewed perspective. We judge based on how something or someone will affect us personally or how they will affect our ideology. This manner of judgment has its place in some areas but not in the kingdom of God.
Jesus is telling them that they need to change their perspective. Repent, or stop and turn the other direction. Everyone talking that day was throwing out their ideas of why this tragedy happened. Jesus tossed in the idea, “what should you be doing.” If we fail to stop and turn the other direction, if we fail to stop and turn to God we run a risk. None of them were focused on what really mattered, not one person in that conversation was focused on what the true Kingdom of God was. Is the kingdom a nation devoted to religious structures, worthy to fight to the death over?
Jesus then shares another tragic event, the falling of a tower in Jerusalem. What causes towers to fall? Structures fall because those put in charge of them neglect them in some way. They fail to maintain the structure, to defend the structure against various attacks, or maybe they failed to build it properly to begin with. We do not know how or why this structure fell, but it did, and in the process it killed eighteen people. Tragic. Who is to blame? The people who died? A tower, in ancient times, was a defensive structure so when it falls it means that there was a break down in the government that failed to maintain something. It very well could have been that those eighteen people were supposed to keep the tower structurally sound but instead used funding for other purposes. They could have also been a victim of inadequate funding or rebellion. The same answer comes from Jesus, they were not worse sinners but if you do not repent then you will perish just as they did. Again the crowd looked to blame someone and again Jesus turns the blame not on one person but on all of them.
Repent! Stop and turn around go the other direction. The problem in our world is that everyone is going around thinking that they know the best way and they want to force everyone else to comply. Repent. That is not the Kingdom of God, no matter how benevolent or righteous it is, but the kingdoms of man. In the kingdoms of man, we want to see results and if the results are lacking we slash and burn and take down anyone and everyone that was associated with it. Repent. The Kingdom of God is not like that. The Kingdom of God does not look to place the blame on whom caused the tower to fall and why people were killed. We already know why that happened. Towers fall because people fail. People are killed because people kill. Repent. Stop focusing on answer those questions and start going a different direction. The Kingdom of God is focused elsewhere.
Jesus finishes this discussion with a cryptic story. “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.’” (Luke 13:6-9, NRSV)
What does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God? What does it mean to be a Friend of God, or a disciple of Christ? The answer is right in this story. The full gospel is presented in this short cryptic parable. It actually is not very cryptic. The world is the vineyard. Each of us is a tree or a creature of this earth, the adversary or the accuser has been given charge over the vineyard and it looks at us with judgment. The ruler of the air the kingdoms of man judge the tree as being fruitless and a waste of soil. In comes the gardener, with a very different perspective. Let us nurture and encourage the tree. Dig around it putting fertilizer in the soil to encourage growth. Then look at it.
The people in the conversation with Jesus were not looking to encourage or nurture growth, they offering judgment from a skewed perspective. Jesus says repent. Stop looking to accuse, stop becoming a hindrance, and start encouraging growth. This takes work. Repentance is not just the saying of a few words and magically you become a citizen of Heaven. It is work. It is the turning and the changing of one’s life to focus on the things important to God. The gardener worked with the tree. He dug down around the roots. If you have ever used a shovel you know that digging is work, but like most things if you keep working you will develop skills.
The digging around the roots is like the discipline of prayer. Prayer is not something that comes easy to many people. I would venture to say that a life style of prayer is probably one of the hardest things to develop because it takes time. It is more than speaking our requests to heaven; it is studying scripture, meditating on the scripture, examining our lives against the testimony of scripture, it is crying over our failures, and celebrating our liberation from bondage. Prayer is where we being our relationship with God and where we begin to Love God. Prayer is work but if we develop skills a lifestyle of prayer it opens up our lives for something more.
After the gardener digs, he adds manure or fertilizer. This is a catalyst for growth and change. As we pray we will often find areas of our lives that we cannot overcome. We may resent others, an addiction, a grudge, or something that is holding us from fully turning our lives to God. We may also find a calling to a ministry, or a correction in an attitude we need to make. We need something to encourage growth, because many of these things seem bigger than we can handle. Embracing the Holy Spirit is that catalyst for change; the Spirit is the fertilizer that encourages growth. If you know plants you would know that they grow to nutrients and water. Roots will always grow toward the things they need. Prayer opens our lives so that God can add the Spirit to our lives. As we embrace the Spirit more fully our roots spread, we begin to release more of our live into that realm of God reaching for more and more Spirit. This growth beneath the surface has a mirrored affect above the surface. As the roots grow the branches grow. As the branches grow more leaves emerge. As more leaves emerge more flowers bloom, and as flowers bloom fruit is produced.
This is all provided through the one that stood against the adversary or the accuser. We are not the Gardener. The Gardener is Jesus who provides the way for us to enter into a relationship with God by taking on all of our failures, and all of the judgment from the kingdom of man, and hanging them on a cross of shame. It is through Jesus that the Spirit flows into our lives from the Father. It is Jesus that stands between judgment and us and says give it some time, let me work with them, let me stand between life and death for them, and I take on the responsibility.
Repent or you will perish. Repent stop doing what you are doing and examine your life according to the Kingdom of God. God does not want us to rebel against a tyrant He wants us to love our enemy. God does not want us to let our structures to fall but He wants us to be stewards of the blessings He has given us. God does not want us to judge others according to strict codes, but He wants us to provide an environment where His creation can flourish and be fruitful. Without repentance we are just root bound dying trees. Dying trees are only fit to cut down and tossed in a fire. With repentance with we can turn our lives toward the Light of God and we can grow and His Kingdom can come to Earth just as it is in Heaven. You see it is not about what we can do ourselves but it is about what we can do with the help of our gardener.
We all have ideals and ideologies. We have them for reasons, but as we enter this time of open worship and holy expectancy let us all toss those away, because many of those ideologies are based on the kingdoms of man and not the Kingdom of God. Let us become a people of repentance, a people of turning. Let us become a people of Prayer, Worship, and Ministry. Let our lives be about loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.