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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sermon: Repent from What?

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Third Sunday in Lent
Luke 13:1-9

When bad things happen there is no shortage of people who will pontificate about why the events took place, the most famous person in the U.S. for doing this is Pat Robertson, founder of the 700 club. Here are a few of his comments about events (, accessed March 2, 2010):

  • Shortly after a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, potentially killing half a million people, Pat Robertson said Haitians had made a "pact with the devil" and have been "cursed" ever since.
  • On his "700 Club" program Jan. 13, 2010, Pat Robertson said, "They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'we will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' the devil said, 'ok it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."
  • Two days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Pat Robertson had fellow televangelist Jerry Falwell on his "700 Club" program. Robertson agreed with Falwell when Falwell said God allowed the attacks because of moral decay - specifically the ACLU, abortionists, feminists and gays. Robertson later distanced himself from the remarks.
  • After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Robertson suggested that God was angry over abortion. "I was reading... a book that was very interesting about what God has to say in the Old Testament about those who shed innocent blood... Have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected?"
In the Star Tribune the other day one reader stated, “The world now waits to hear what moral failing Pat Robertson will ascribe to the people of Chile to justify the earthquake there” (Star Tribune. March 2, 2010, A-10). Some may call Pat Robertson a prophet, speaking the words that he does, however some may call him some other things.

I think Pat Robertson really needs to meet Jesus, and hear what Jesus says in our gospel reading for today. Jesus looks at a couple of bad things that took place, but Jesus came up with a different response than Pat. It is interesting to note that these events are not found anywhere is scripture or history, but Jesus knows about them and refers to them. Jesus says, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No. 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” (Luke 13:2-5).

The Jews connected sin and suffering. We have only to begin the book of Job to see this. Job’s counselors continue to go after Job to find some secret sin to explain his present suffering. It is called the doctrine of retribution, or bad things only happen to bad people. Eliphaz, one of Job’s counselors said to him, "Who that was innocent ever perished?" (Job 4:7). This is a cruel and a heartbreaking doctrine, which Job knew well and challenged vehemently. And Jesus too, denies it.

Jesus says it was not because they were worse sinners or offenders. It is NOT because they were worse sinners. But Jesus turns to repentance, “unless you repent you will all perish like they did.” Jesus is speaking to “you” who are in range of his voice, the possibility of destruction is still a possibility for you. “These grim deaths are not ‘explained’ in themselves, but they are occasions for Jesus to confront the hearers with the call to faith and obedience” (Teide, Luke, p. 248).

But repent from what? I mean we are really not as bad as so-and-so (insert name here) what do I have to repent from? I am not as bad as Pat Robertson, or murders, or adulterers.

Repent from what? I wonder if repent in here means to stop thinking about bad things happening to bad people and stop judging other people. Jesus may be saying, “look at yourself and repent, you know you do this and it is not right.” It is interesting to note that right after these words of Jesus, he heals a woman on the Sabbath and the leader of the synagogue judges him for “breaking the law” (Luke 13: 10-17).

Repent from what? I wonder if we are to repent from thinking we are God. Or getting in God’s way. Or thinking our way is better than God’s. Or maybe, that my ways are God’s ways.

Repent? Maybe there is a need to look deep inside oneself and not focus on others. After all, a lesson we have learned from Job (and Jesus too), is that only the one who suffers can find meaning for their own suffering, meaning cannot be imposed upon by others. Only looking inside of oneself can we see that which is getting in our relationship with God and from what we need to repent. “Unless you repent, you will all perish,” there is a spiritual urgency here.

Now Jesus closes this teaching with a parable of an unproductive fig tree. It is a parable which at the same time offers grace and warning.

The parable offer grace, it offers a second chance. A fig-tree normally takes three years to reach maturity. If it is not fruiting by that time it is not likely to fruit at all. But this fig-tree was given another chance. It is Jesus' way to give chance after chance, look at Simon Peter and the Apostle Paul. God offers a chance to those who falls and rises again.

But the parable also warns that there is a final chance. If we refuse chance after chance, a day will finally come, not when God has shut us out, but when we by deliberate choice have shut ourselves out.

I see in this parable that Jesus is the gardener in our lives who steps in to tender and nurture, digs up the roots, shifts the ground adds a little manure, to give us a chance to bear fruit. We are rooted in baptism which is all about making us new and giving us another chance, day after day.

Let us take time this lent to reflect and repent and listen to Jesus invitation to come to him, your life depends on it.

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