Lent III - 24 March 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He 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 he 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.’”
Lent is a season of many things.
It points us towards Jerusalem and invites us to travel with Jesus towards mortal confrontation.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere,
Lent is a season where Spring teases us with hints of that which is to come,
While reminding us of the reality right before our eyes:
Slush, mud, and that sloppy mess endlessly wiped away from our windshield.
There just isn’t enough windshield wiper fluid in this world.
Keeping a clean windshield this past week made me think about repentance;
A common thread woven throughout Lent,
Addressed each year through the Gospels,
Especially prevalent and characteristic of Luke / Acts.
Had the presence and actions of Jesus Christ taken place today in our cultural environment
Jesus may have used windshield wipers as a metaphor for repentance.
It might have gone something like this:
‘Consider the slush of Spring,
Salted, plowed, and sprayed upon your windshield.
Windshield wipers are like repentance;
Every sin and moral failure is wiped away,
Never freezing fluid cleans and shines.
Just as one is able to see more clearly,
Slush and spray return and gradually obscure sight.
Repentance is needed all over again.’
Silly speculation? Perhaps.
Yet, allow our windshield wipers to remind us
Of our need for continual, repeated, lifelong repentance.
Every preacher of experience
Will have used the Lenten theme of repentance
To address the issue numerous times throughout their career.
I’ve personally interpreted and preached on this Gospel passage on repentance eleven times.
Yet, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ,
Never ceases to amaze me.
The more I study,
The more I digest and discern,
The more I reflect and pray,
The more the Gospel opens up to me.
I’m always learning something new,
Which allows me to fall deeper into relationship with Jesus.
New to me this year
Is a model of repentance that reflects maturing spiritual growth,
Which I’ve visually crafted into a flowing river
Leading us directly to God.
At the beginning of the journey
Is Christianity 101.
We step into the boat called the Church
And begin our lifelong journey of faith.
We emerge from our baptismal waters an empty slate;
A clean pallet, upon which our mentors, the Saints, begin to paint.
“Teach them all that I have taught you,” Jesus commanded. (Matthew 28:20)
We begin with a definition:
(Wikipedia, with reference to: Jeremiah Unterman (2017). Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics. University of Nebraska Press. p. 109.)
Reviewing one’s actions.
Feeling contrition or regret.
Commitment to change for the better.
The God of our Hebrew ancestors,
As recorded in our Old Testament,
Call God’s people to repentance:
“Thus saith the Lord GOD: Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” - Ezekiel 14:6
Self assessment inevitably leads to the feeling of sorrow
And a desire to return to ways of righteously following God’s will and ways.
Our Early Church ancestors
Use the Greek word Metanoia (met-an'-oy-ah) to describe repentance;
A change of mind and a change of conduct.
John the Baptist called for people to repent.
Jesus called for repentance. (Matthew 4:17)
Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim repentance. (Mark 6:12)
Peter calls on people to repent in his Pentecost sermon. (Acts 2:38)
Paul calls on both Jew and Greek to repent towards God. (Acts 20:21)
Obviously, the beginning of repentance is an important early step
In the journey that leads us to God.
The behavior of the world,
And our sinful behavior,
Must be recognized and assessed.
We must experience the sorrow that follows;
Sorrow that comes from the heart,
That comes from disappointing God.
That sorrow must drive a growing, burning desire
For moral transformation with a stubborn intention
To never fail God again.
Christianity 101. Repentance begins with moral transformation.
But that’s not where it ends.
Are you ready to continue on?
To matriculate to Christianity 201?
To grow with the flow and
To be brought closer to God?
Turn on your windshield wipers.
A clean windshield allows us to see more clearly the reality that surrounds us.
Repentance allows us to see clearly
The hazards and dangers of the world.
Repentance allows us to see clearly
A safe way forward, an escape from the mortal realities of life.
Repentance allows us to bring into sharp focus
The purpose and meaning
Of Christ’s Passion, Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.
It’s impossible to interpret the times without the ability to see clearly.
“You see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.” Jesus teaches (12:54)
Clean off the windshield so you can see the clouds!
Repentance makes it clear to see the randomness of suffering and death.
Planes fall from the sky and people die.
Eighteen were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.
The tyrant Pilate killed Galileans and mingled their blood with Temple sacrifices.
Random. Senseless. Suffering.
Repentance makes this crystal clear:
We all die. Age 6 months, 21 years, 59 years, 94 years.
Bad things happen to good people, to bad people, to all people.
Our mortality is shared with everyone else in God’s creation.
Here’s the Good News:
We’re alive now.
Take advantage of this moment and repent, Jesus encourages us,
“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (13:5)
Repentance can only happen in the here and now;
You can’t repent after you die.
Time is short.
This breath and this heartbeat is a gift from God;
Take advantage of it.
This is what we can see with a clean windshield:
Repentance brings into focus the actions and meaning of Jesus.
With our repeated repentance we can come to a deeper understanding
Of Christ’s love for us,
The generous and abundant gift of atonement,
Substituting our sins for his death upon a cross.
Repentance allows us to see, confirm, and claim God’s promise;
The eternal gift of salvation,
Victory over the grave and a promise that
The river of faith leads us into an eternal presence with God.
A safe way forward is clear.
Follow the Way;
God’s Way forward.
Keep those windshield wipers working
And use your wiper fluid lavishly.
Christianity 301 is right around the next bend.
Repentance makes clear an individual characteristic of a Christian life.
What is often overlooked,
But can now be clearly seen before us,
Is the reality and power of communal repentance.
What happens when more and more of the world’s population
Engages in the repeated acts of individual and collective repentance?
The Kingdom of God advances.
The Kingdom of God grows in strength.
The Kingdom of God welcomes home new disciples of Jesus
And the world becomes transformed.
Like a rolling snowball that grows with increasing size
The momentum of the Kingdom of God grows with such power and force
That God’s Kingdom will not be deviated,
That God’s Kingdom will only have one eventual and certain outcome.
Stand confident in this fact:
There is nothing that you or I can do that will derail or bring to destruction God’s Kingdom.
We are freed with creative license to facilitate and participate in Kingdom growth.
So, let’s repent; and get to work!
Stand confident in this fact:
The outcome of God’s Kingdom is certain;
God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. (11:2)
Count on it.
Our senior year culminates with graduation;
What John Wesley called Christian Perfection.
Perfection is that complete state of clarity, purity, and love.
Perfection is what we strive for with every act of repentance,
With every wipe of our windshield.
Perfection is the example we attempt to set for those who come behind us.
Perfection is God’s gift of being forgiven,
Being re-made righteous,
Striving to maintain righteous,
Living as righteous.
Perfection is God’s gift of salvation,
Living in eternal love and presence of God.
Perfection of the world is God’s deepest desire.
Jesus calls you, me, and the world, to repentance.
“Turn back, oh man. Forswear thy foolish ways!” as he sings in the musical Godspell.
Raise your self-awareness.
Taste bitter regret.
Rise to the commitment of moral transformation.
Repent, Jesus commands.
As that sin is forgiven and wiped away
See the world more clearly.
Time is short and the length of our lives is unknown and sometimes arbitrary,
So repent now. Repent repeatedly.
With repentance comes clarity:
See the dangers, trials, and snares before us.
See the path God gives us to safely make forward progress.
Repent, Jesus so desires,
That we may see clearly and journey boldly
To his cross and empty tomb.
Repent knowing that
Repentance advances God’s Kingdom, that
Repentance brings us to Christian perfection, that
Repentance bring us home to God.