Third Sunday in Lent (2022)
I have the joy of knowing an attorney, my sister in law. The best part about this is that she was in law school while I was OUT of school so we were able to learn lot’s of things while she was traipsing through the academy.
One legal concept that really stuck with me was the idea of ‘duty to warn’. She told us that all those warnings you see on your prescriptions or the note on your cup of coffee that says it is hot are all artifacts from this idea that in general, society has a duty to warn consumers.
The scriptures today warn us of impending harm if we do not change our ways.
The duty of the watchman
The duty of the watchman
In each of our three primary readings there is a distinct threat made. Pretty quickly this sermon could turn into just a good old fashioned bible thumping with more than a few bruises if we are not careful. Did you catch the heart in this?
Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
It is so easy to point the law out to people. It is so easy to turn religion into self righteousness. However, if we do this we fail to recognize that we are on the wrong side of the law. The intent of the law is to bring people into repentance and keep us all in a state of humble endurance. The LORD WANTS TO SAVE US.
I love the parable of Jesus at the end of the gospel reading. The vinedresser sees this vine in an incredibly fragile state. The owner is ready to cut it down and be done but the vinedresser is ready to pour on another heap of warnings and gifts to try and bring fruit.
Of course, the fruit in either Ezekiel or Luke is repentance.
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
The challenge in both of these readings is that no one is yielding that fruit. The stern and swift picture that we start to see emerge here is that Jesus is able and justified in moving on from us, justified in cutting us down Why?
Because we’re not that great.
The Sin of Comparison
The Sin of Comparison
This leads us to the next thing that we need to consider. What is the difference between the tree that the vinedresser preserved in our reading and the one that would have been cut down? Not much.
The tree itself is no different, it is merely how it is viewed by the owner.
What is the difference between the community that is damned in Ezekiel and the community that is saved? Not much.
The community is no different- except that God gives grace.
“And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins.
See if we trust in our works it’s over. If we trust in our works we start to play a dangerous game of comparisons.
This is where the beginning of our gospel lesson is particularly elucidating:
Jesus points to two different events that occured and were in the general knowledge of the community that He is speaking to. Apparently Pilate had commited a genocide and then mingled the blood of the dead with a sacrifice either to the Roman gods or at the Jewish temple.
The second event was the death of some 18 people who had a building fall on them.
As fallen humans we have a compulsive need to explain these events away. Why did Covid happen, why was my loved one so wounded, why have I been betrayed by my friends. This is where we explain things often using the dangerous solution of comparison:
Well those Galileans were always playing around that tower and they refused to heed warnings. There was a warning that said ‘Tower may fall’! Those Galileans were anti-government protestors and so of course Pilate committed an atrocity. I WOULD NEVER do either of those things- that is that we wouldn’t- until we do.
Comparison works against us in both directions. It either fictitiously makes us appear better than some victim or perpetrator of sin OR it makes us seem lower than a seemingly pious individual. Either way we don’t measure up because our vessel of righteousness is filled with pride or despair instead of the love of God.
What everyone in the room needs to realize is that when we play the comparison game we are working against ourselves. We replace God’s law with our substandard ideals, and reduce His love to our simplistic perspectives.
Ultimately, who do we have to compare ourselves to? Our maker? How’s that go for us? We hold up some kernel of righteousness and say ‘Look what I did!’, then God looks at us and says oh nice, do you also perform alchemy by breathing life into dust? There is no comparison to our creator. We say, ‘Man I visited the sick and I fed the poor’ . The Lord says ‘I raise the dead and make rain for the earth.’
We have the audacity to claim this things and then also say that God is out of line- that He is repressive to who he created us to be. To say that he made us a certain way and sin has nothing to do with it.
“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.
Note, its not outsiders that says this - it us. God’s own people.
Bringing Back the Lost
Bringing Back the Lost
The laws of God are a good thing. They are consistent, they are unchanging and they are the path of life. Yes they show us where we are deficient but they also show us how we get to live, the way to flourishing.
In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.
The only difference between people inside of the church and those outside of the church is that we don’t defend ourselves - instead we solely, and wholly trust our God.
Romans 14:23 (ESV)
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
It was God that lead Israel through the wilderness, Israel walked into the cloud - faith leads to action. God baptised them in the cloud, God demonstrated His favor upon them even as they grumbled, and doubted, and worshipped idols. It is God who leads us and saves us. It this faith that receives His grace.
What our bodies and souls need for salvation is one that is infinitely patient and supremely just. We need the perfect human and the perfect God. Those two can seem diametrically opposed until we meet Jesus.
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Jesus is the one that pours himself out for us, the unproductive tree, and says let me keep this one going longer. Jesus is the grace of God and the warning of God.
What happened to Jesus? He died. He is the warning that our sins will kill us. He is also the grace of God that we may live just as He is the firstfruits of the dead.
Friends, may we all repent of everything, every breath that we take, and rely only on the vinedresser, on Jesus, that we may be saved. We are warned because we are loved.