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Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Mar 24, 2019

Passage: Luke 13:1-9

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Category: Lent

Detail:

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent (2019)
March 24th, 2019
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 

Exodus 3:1-15       1 Corinthians 10:1-13       Luke 13:1-9

Every once in a while, my wife and I like to take little adventures along the back roads of South Carolina. A number of years ago, we stopped in the small town of Sellers, which is just a little north and west of Marion. There’s an old abandoned church in Sellers that had piqued our interest when we heard about it, so we drove to the church yard to have a look. The church itself was in none too good a shape, but the nearby graveyard was quite well kept. So we decided to wander around the graveyard. We found that most of the graves dated to the 19th century, and there was one grave in particular that we both found interesting. It was the grave of one Isham Watson, who died on October 30th, 1864, at the age of 77. And the epitaph read, “He was distinguished for energy, industry, perseverance, and economy. He was a pious man during the last 34 years of his life and died in the Christian faith.” The part about him being “a pious man for the last 34 years of his life” made us both wonder whether the inscription might have been something of a backhanded compliment. Because you could interpret it to mean that for the first 43 years of his life he was something of a scoundrel! And 43 years as a scoundrel in small town SC is time enough to ensure that people won’t want anyone to forget your not-so-pious past, even if you were pious for the entire second half of your life!    

I mention this gravestone because the story about the fig tree that we get from this morning’s Gospel reading is about the importance of making the most of the time that we are given. The basic lesson of Jesus’ parable is that even though God is patient with us, we still should feel some urgency around repentance and ordering our lives in response to God’s kindness. 

Now, to be fair, we in the Episcopal Church don’t tend to do urgency very well. Typically, when there’s a pressing matter before us, we like to appoint a subcommittee or two to take up the question before it’s discussed again in committee. So urgency is not usually something we hear much of in the church. Only, it should be. 

Again to be fair, there are some who would say that Episcopalians don’t usually talk much about repentance. But I disagree. The issue there, is that the word “repentance” has, over the last century or so, come to be narrowly associated with a dramatic and emotional acceptance of Jesus as one’s personal savior, and the call to “Repent!” is preached in a heavy-handed way where the essence of the message is “Get saved or else! You need to accept Jesus, and if you don’t, then you’re going to hell.” And that’s just not our understanding of Jesus’ message. 

But we do talk quite a bit about repentance in church. Every Sunday, in fact. If you pay attention to the words of the confession, then you may have noticed that every week, we ask God to forgive us for all of our sins - known and unknown, things done and left undone. We say that we’re sorry, and we say that we humbly repent. And we ask for forgiveness so that we can take delight in doing the things that God wants for us to do. It might not be a dramatic event every Sunday, with a pressing sense of urgency, but the truth is that we do take repentance seriously. We just understand it differently.  

Being a Christian is not about simply accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and once you’ve done that, you’re all set and it doesn’t matter what you do afterward. Such an approach to faith relies on what many theologians call “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace,” is the notion that you bear no personal responsibility for how you live your life in response to the knowledge that Jesus died on the cross to save you. “Cheap grace” involves the thought that being a follower of Jesus does not require either discipline or a life of ongoing self-examination and repentance. 

But the truth is that repentance and being a follower of Jesus DOES require discipline and the regular recognition that we often fall short and don’t bear the fruit of the gospel in our lives. 

And there really ought to be some urgency to how we shape our lives in response to Jesus. Not out of fear that we won’t one day get into heaven; but instead, out of the loving recognition that what we think and do, in the here and now, matters a great deal.  

One great religious thinker put it this way: 

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. 

In other words, there should be some sense of urgency around every thought we think and every word we say and every action we undertake. Especially since we are followers of Jesus. Because if there’s not that sense of urgency, then we might begin to assume that what we think and say and do doesn’t really matter to God. Which is basically the same as saying that God doesn’t care about us. And if we believe that God doesn’t care about us, then why should we care about  anyone else? Why should anyone care about anyone else? If the whole world were to begin thinking this way, then we’d all be in real trouble. Because we’d all lose the ability to bear the fruits of kindness, compassion, joy, and love that God wants for us to bear.

We’re about half way through the Lenten season now, and as we approach Holy Week and Easter, I hope that we will all pick up a renewed sense of urgency and begin to live as though every day matters immensely for us and for how joyful our celebration of Easter will be. And I hope that we will all take the message of repentance more to heart and be more intentional about living in loving response to God. God’s patience is infinite, but the time is short! Even if you’ve got 34 more years to be a pious Christian, the time to begin is now.