Sunday, March 3, 2013

Third Sunday in Lent (C) 2013

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 13:2-3
Theme: Beyond Understanding

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Faith should not be set in opposition to knowledge. Faith does not scorn knowledge; it goes beyond its limits. And it does so precisely by venturing reliance in the trustworthiness of Christ. Yet this is no simple dynamic to engage. We are confronted with things beyond our capacity and control. Though explanations exist we are often not privy to them. Tragedies, accidents, events- often referred to as natural disasters- are the direct result of the fallen-ness of creation. But Christ is the Lord of creation.

Today Jesus is asked if there is a direct relationship between sin and punishment. Do some people suffer tragedy because they are more ungodly than others? Knowing their motives Jesus warned them to repent. Certain transgressions may lead to very direct consequences; i.e., drunk driving (the sin) may result in a car accident (the punishment); armed robbery may lead to a prison sentence. If you abuse your body with drugs or alcohol or live recklessly you are more likely to suffer from illness or injury. This correlation is common sense to most people.

But that’s hardly the end of the story and the correlation only extends so far. What about the seemingly innocent victim? What about the innumerable instances where the innocent by-stander seems to be collateral damage? What about the stillborn infant or the healthy 20 year old that dies in a plane crash? These are not unimportant questions. In fact, this issue is a stumbling block for many. For into this category soon comes the accusation that if God were a loving God He would prevent such things from happening. If you’ve lived very long on this earth you’ve heard these queries before.

More than just suspicion about God’s motives is often raised here. God is put on trial. Is He really too impotent, apathetic, or ignorant to intervene? The direct evidence can be convincing. One person may need only to experience or witness one personal tragedy to be overcome with anger or despair. Others may be persuaded by an accumulation of things over the course of time. So what are we to make of these arguments? Where does the Bible stand?

Statements like, “If that’s what God’s like I don’t want to have anything to do with Him.” Or, “How could a God of love allow these things to happen?” reveal the skepticism of the human spirit. They may be convenient excuses- ways of justifying disobedience to God’s will. Or they may be heartfelt and ‘genuine’ grievances against the Almighty’s lack of intervention. But even as such they uncover our angst at dealing with our inadequacies. We do not like to accept limitations of our intellect. Even less do we like to accept the limitations of our desires. But inevitably we come up against forces far beyond our means to handle. The web of sin is too tangled for us to comprehend or to escape based on our presumed innocence. Christ died for the ungodly. Thanks be to God His grace is sufficient for us as sinners!

God is not a tit-for-tat God. He is not in the business of petty rejoinders as punishment for individual indiscretions. We are much more valuable to Him than that. All sin and so all will be punished. This reality begins with Adam. The Scripture says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned..”1 All are born originally as sinners. Death is the punishment for sin. Separation from God happens both spiritually in this life, and eternally if the problem of sin is not resolved.

The Scripture goes on, “If the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”2 And the apostle John says, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them.”3 The first resurrection is the spiritual resurrection we have with Christ through baptism. In the waters of baptism our sinful nature is drowned and we are raised to new life. The second death is eternal separation from God in hell. That threat has no power over believers because Christ has silenced it.

Of course Satan is still busy in the short time that he has. He always fights his wars against the church on many fronts. He does the same thing with us individually. He is always using every opportunity to help us on our way, to obscure our view of the cross. The devil is more active in the lives of Christians and tries all the harder the more the fruits of the gospel flourish in our lives. Awareness of this struggle indicates a maturing faith.

In all the fruits of faith Christ is gloried- something we never accomplish on our own. Our Lutheran confessions say, “Even in this life the regenerate advance to the point that they want to do what is good and love it, and even do good and grow in it. Still, this is not of our will and ability but of the Holy Spirit.”4 The Holy Spirit comforts and counsels us. Christ bears our burdens. He absolves every sin and lifts our guilt away.

But it is not easy for us to let go. Consider the story of the Christian in the Philippines who was on his way to market driving a wagon full of produce when he overtook an old man carrying a heavy load on his back. Taking compassion on him, the driver invited the old man to ride in the wagon. Gratefully the old man accepted. After a few minutes, the driver turned to see how the man was doing. To his surprise, he found him still straining under the heavy weight, for he had not let the burden off his shoulders.

Perhaps we keep carrying our burdens because we don’t trust Christ will really bear them? Perhaps we want to be martyrs, praised by others and recognized by God for our great perseverance. Yet in so doing we are missing the full implications of the grace of God in Christ. The problem is not Christ’s ability, His willingness, or His faithfulness. He is quite capable. He has already suffered to the point of death on the cross. He has already overcome the grave by His resurrection. He has bested Satan and triumphed over hell. The problem lies with our skepticism that these great and sacred truths are directly relevant to us-today! Even the separation of many centuries of time since the Biblical events is not really the issue it’s made out to be. The issue is a more direct struggle between the flesh and the Spirit; between our need for control and the confidence that God has things in His control.

Tragedies will occur. But we need not fret about placing blame or making hasty judgments. Nor need we worry that God is uninformed or apathetic. He comes to the aide of His people. We stand in the conviction that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”5 This is possible only because of Christ who still intercedes for us. The entire journey of Lent could be viewed as an exercise in learning how God really can be working good in the darkest and most desperate of circumstances. We pursue a better understanding. But we also pray for a stronger faith when those limits are reached. We pray for a faith that sees things through the cross and empty tomb; a faith that is strengthened through sacred bread and wine; a faith that rejoices in all circumstances. May God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday in Lent
3 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Romans 5:12
2 Romans 5:15
3 Revelation 20:6
4 SD II Free Will
5 Romans 8:28

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