Monday, February 29, 2016

Lent 3 Sermon: "Great Unexpectations"

+ Third Sunday in Lent – February 28th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have certain expectations when it comes to stories. The guy and girl fall in love. The bad guys lose. The good guys win. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Like it or not, in good ways and bad ways, we bring our expectations with us when we read Scripture. Today’s story in Luke 13 of Jesus and the crowds, and Jesus’ parable of the fig tree are no different.
When Jesus asks, “Do you think those Galileans whose blood was mixed with the sacrificial blood were worse sinners?” we expect the answer to be, “yes”. When Jesus asks, “Were the 18 on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem?” we expect the answer to be, “yes, they must have done something awful to deserve that”.
But what does Jesus say? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Jesus doesn’t give in to the crowds’ expectations of judgment. He doesn’t lay these tragedies at the feet of one man’s sin, but all sin. Jesus turns the crowds’ attention and ours, not to other sinners, but to us.
We expect Jesus to point out the sins of others, but instead he points us to our own sin. He turns the story on us. Unless you repent, you will perish.
Yes, we expect these stories to be about judgment, warning, and repentance. And they are. Repent. Run away! God doesn’t grade on a curve. Our sin is serious, deadly serious. Repent or perish. That’s the warning. The axe is laid to the root. Judgment is coming.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Hate the sin but love the sinner. No. God hates sin, but justifies the sinner. There’s a difference. God doesn’t love the sinner in his sin, not according to Ezekiel. Rather, God loves the sinner in his sinless Son Jesus. God is just and cannot tolerate sin, but God sends Jesus to the cross so we might be justified and live. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
Yes, this story is about judgment, warning, and repentance, but it’s about so much more. This story – just like Jesus’ teaching, death, and resurrection – defies, upends, and overturns all our expectations.
Jesus doesn’t say or do what we expect him to do. Just like the Vinedresser in the parable of the fig tree:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.  Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
We expect the vineyard owner to say, “I’ve had it. Give that worthless, barren fig tree what it deserves. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”  
But unexpectedly, the vinedresser intercedes: Let it be for this year. I will dig around it and put manure on it.
This parable of the fig tree is a story of God’s unexpected patience, mercy, and grace towards us. 
Let it alone, he says. Let it be. Forbear it. Forgive it. Jesus uses this word for forgiveness over and over again in Luke’s Gospel. We live, as the fig tree lives, under the shade of the cross. We live by forgiveness.
But of course we, along with the world, have different expectations of how that all happens. Oh yes, there’s repentance. But we expect repentance to be a little rehabilitation for sinners or only necessary for the really, really bad sinners. We expect that repentance and faith is something like a pat on the back from God.  
But God’s patience, mercy, and grace to us in Jesus are altogether unexpected.
Where we are impatient, quick to anger and abounding in steadfast stubbornness, Jesus is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Where we expect, and rightfully deserve judgment for our sin, Jesus is merciful.
Where we expect to be cut down and cast out of the vineyard, Jesus graciously roots us in the tree of his cross.
God doesn’t operate according to our expectations, but by the unexpected and outrageous folly of Jesus crucified for you. Jesus the Vinedresser becomes the rotten, dead tree for you. Jesus is sent to the hill of dust, ashes, and stench of death for you. Jesus the Vinedresser hangs on a tree of death to forgive you. He allows his own body to be dug deep by nails and spear; he is covered in the dung of our sin to plant our dead roots in his tree of life. What an unexpected love it is.
Jesus is merciful towards us; he takes the punishment and judgment we deserved. And Jesus is gracious, giving us his undeserved life, righteousness, and forgiveness.
Jesus doesn’t come to see if you are good enough: he knows the truth about our goodness. Jesus doesn’t come to see if we are sincerely and heartily sorry for our sin: he knows our repentance is never worth the hot air we put into it.  Jesus comes to forgive you. For free. For nothing. You are saved by grace, just like the fig tree.
You see, Jesus does not love us because we are good fig trees or because we bear good fruit. Rather, Christ’s love for you makes you a good tree. Jesus Crucified causes you to bear good fruit: the fruit of repentance, of rejoicing, of running to your neighbor to tell them you are redeemed and so are they. All by the unexpected grace and mercy of the Vinedresser.
Jesus is your Vinedresser, and by his death he bears good fruit for you in his body and blood. By his death you are a good tree, watered and at the font and the altar. By his death you are guests at the unexpected party of the Lamb’s high feast.
And as long as you are in Jesus, you bear fruit. As long as his death feeds your roots, you will never be cut down.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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