Published by Michael Bigg on Sun, 24 Mar 2019 12:15

(The text of Mike's sermon on the 3rd Sunday of Lent based on Luke 12:49-13:6)

We often assume that Jesus came to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all, don’t we? But the peace that the Prince of Peace brings in this world is peace between people and God, and peace within ourselves, not necessarily peace between one person and another.

In the passage from Luke we hear how he will divide families. Father against son, daughter against mother, even the in-laws are involved. I’m sure that some of you will have had that experience – the pain of a child who has not chosen to follow Jesus; the spouse who just doesn’t understand our faith; perhaps a father-in-law who scoffs at you. Being a Christian isn’t a neutral choice or preference, like having a favourite colour or preferring chicken to beef. Following Jesus is an orientation of life that will inevitably bring a sense of division with others who are not similarly orientated. We’ve seen a similar thing with Brexit – those on opposing sides of the matter seem to approach our relationship with the EU from such different places that division becomes inevitable.

 

Jesus goes on to castigate the people. You can interpret the weather, can’t you? he says. But can you interpret the signs right before your eyes? God’s judgement upon each one off us is coming, and yet you cannot recognise his representative right before you because your hearts are hardened.

It is this theme of God’s judgement upon us that was pressing in Jesus’ day and it’s a pressing theme for us today. Are you right before God by turning away from sin and trusting in Jesus? If not, then don’t wait around. You know to take appropriate action when you see the rain coming – you get an umbrella! How much more important to take appropriate action when we see God’s judgement coming!

 

That’s why Jesus tells this little story about dealing with your accuser before you get before the judge. This isn’t practical advice about handling legal disputes, it’s an allegory for human existence! Right now, each one of us is on a journey to meet our judge. Our sin and failure to live in God’s ways are our accuser. We have two choices – we can either wait until we get to that appearance before the judge and let our sin convict us; or we can deal with our sin daily by turning away from it and trusting in Jesus so that when we do come to judgement there will be no case to answer.

 

Now, I am convinced that Christian faith is about experiencing fullness of life in this present age. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the age to come is an optional extra. It is the hope of Easter Sunday that makes the suffering of this present age tolerable. That final calling to account before God can come at any time – death and suffering rarely come on a pre-arranged timetable. That’s why Jesus tells us to repent now. To turn to him now.

 

People come to Jesus and talk to him about the Galileans who were executed after an uprising. Pilate had their blood mingled with the blood of Jewish sacrifices to desecrate them. The subtext of their questioning is that these men must have been punished by God for some level of sin.

Jesus absolutely rejects this line of thinking. “Do you think that these people suffered like this because they were worse than any other Galileans? No way. I tell you that unless you repent all of you will perish just like them”.

What about the 18 crushed by the freak collapse of the tower of Siloam? Surely that’s God’s punishment for iniquity.

Again, Jesus says no. All of you, unless you turn away from sin and turn to God, will perish just like them.

 

We love to grade our transgressions, don’t we? We love to justify ourselves by saying, “Well, I may be a sinner, but I’ve never done that”. I’ve broken the speed limit, maybe I even have a cruel streak but I’ve never done something really bad.

It’s an understandable reaction to want to minimise our own failures. I may be bad but I’m not that bad. That’s why we love to demonise the rapist, the paedophile and the murderer. Someone else is worse than me so I can pretend that my transgressions don’t matter so much.

 

But Jesus makes it clear that our transgressions are significant, however small they may be in comparison to others. Unless you turn and repent you will perish just like the rapist, the paedophile and the murderer.

 Resisting the temptation to rank our transgressions is important for two reasons then. Firstly, when we rank sin it often has the effect of allowing us to pretend that our own sin doesn’t matter.

But secondly, when we rank our sins it has the effect of suggesting to those who have committed what society traditionally sees as “big” sins, that forgiveness will be less forthcoming.

Experience suggests that there will probably be people in this church who have done some terrible things. I suspect that Jason will agree that it is very common for people to reach the end of their life and feel that there is something that they need to get off their chest before they die.

We make a general confession each week, but sometimes people feel that they need to admit to and name a particular sin and to be absolved of it specifically. If that’s you, then get in touch with Jason or with me. The Church of England does still offer the Ministry of Reconciliation through hearing confession – as the saying goes, when it comes to formal confession: “All may do it, some should do it, none must do it”.


And so, to return to Luke, Jesus tells the story of the barren fig tree. Each of us is a fig tree and God looks earnestly for the fruit of repentance on our branches. Will God find anything?

We can say, give us another year, then we’ll bear fruit. We just need more time.

It’s telling that we never find out what happened to that fig tree. Did that extra manure provoke it into fruit, or was it cut down the next year? We never find out. That’s because we, too, never know if that axe is at the root of our tree. Is the time coming when the gardener will finally say, “Enough”? Not one of us knows the day of our own death. And that is why Jesus tells us to repent today. To turn to him in faith today.

 

So, what to do when we go away from this place today?

Perhaps you are someone who has never really turned to God in penitence and faith. Perhaps you have been coming to church for years, and have said the words of confession for years, but have never really repented and turned to God in faith. Maybe today is the day to start that journey. Be brave – talk to Jason or me after the service, or go back to the privacy of your own room and get on your knees.

Maybe you are someone who is a faithful Christian who wants to turn to God in penitence and faith. And yet you feel the burden of a particular transgression and would like to lay that down. Perhaps it would help to speak aloud in confession the sin that burdens you. Be brave – get in touch with Jason or me and lay that burden down in faith.

Maybe you turn to Christ daily and seek to follow him. Maybe you have repented and have settled the case with your accuser before you come to the final judgement.

If so, your task is a special one: tell others! You might know someone drowning under a burden of guilt. Be brave - tell them that they can be forgiven and know the peace of God that passes all understanding!

You might know someone who seems to be just fine but has no intention of coming to God in faith. Be brave - tell them that they risk missing out on the fullness of life that Jesus offers!

 

Almighty God forgives all who truly repent and offers fullness of life. It’s frightening news, but good news indeed!

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