Going Deeper 3/25/2019

Hear again these words from our Gospel reading, Luke 13:1-5… There were some present who told [Jesus] 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."  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
There has been a debate about the relationship between our sin and our suffering going on about as long as there has been sin and suffering. There are some who argue that those who sin will be temporally and eternally punished according to their sin.  Those same folks will also say there is a correlation between obedience and “blessings.”  Those who obey are blessed.
This, in a way, is similar to the Buddhist and Hindu philosophy of karma.  You know, what goes around comes around.  Do good, receive good.  Do bad, receive bad.
And it is certainly possible to support this belief from the Scriptures.  For example, Psalm 1 proclaims that the righteous “are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.  In all that they do, they prosper.  The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”  The same concept can be supported with words from Paul’s letter to the Galatians 6:7… “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” 
That all seems to be pretty straightforward… unless, that is, you keep reading.  Two other books from same the “Wisdom Literature” section of the Bible, Job and Ecclesiastes, seem to challenge the karma-like concept from Psalm 1, both dealing with the question: Why do bad things happen to good people?, and it’s twin question: Why do good things happen to bad people?
So, like many teachings of our Christian faith, it’s just not all that simple.  Yes, it is generally true that obedience often leads to blessings and disobedience can lead to all sorts of problems.  The wisdom behind this is really not all that complicated.  Our loving Creator knows what is best for us and His word is given to guide us into living lives that are best for us and everyone around us.  The more we live in line with our Creator’s design, the better our lives will tend to be.  And of course the opposite is also true.  If we reject God and His plan for our life and His world, then things tend to fall apart.  In other words: do good, receive good; do bad receive bad.
But there are many significant problems with presenting this as a clear and consistent reality.  First of all, as we just stated a moment ago, sometimes some very bad things happen to some pretty good (or at least apparently good) people, and some very good things happen to some very bad (or at least apparently bad) people.  So-called karma simply is not consistently true.
A second problem with this teaching is that according to the Bible, no one is truly good.  For example, Psalm 14:2-3… The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.  They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.  Ecclesiastes 7:20 echoes this truth… Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.  And in the New Testament Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  This means that if all of us were to get what we truly deserve, there would be hell to pay. 
The third problem with believing in karma—and let’s be honest… many Christians really do— is that Jesus contradicts it.  John 9 starts off with this story: As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."  Jesus then healed the man, which was another in a series of signs revealing that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for.
People have seemingly always bought into the principles of karma, and Jesus uses that reality to do some teaching in our Gospel reading.  Karma would suggest that the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices… suffered in this way because they were worse sinners than all other Galileans, and the eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them… were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem.  “No” says Jesus!
Do you know what really makes sense, and what is the clear truth of the Gospel?  While there is not a consistently true relationship between our sin and our suffering, there is a very clear relationship between our sin and Christ’s suffering. And there is also a very clear relationship between Jesus’ goodness and our blessing.  Jesus lived the perfect life that we are supposed to live but cannot, and then suffered and died so that we need not.  Jesus suffered and died in order to take our punishment and death upon Himself.  We are not punished here and in eternity for our sin.  There was hell to pay… and Jesus paid it!  Karma contradicts grace. 
But that is only half of our text.  Jesus also calls us to repent, calls us to recognize the reality of our sinful brokenness.  This echoes the message of John the Baptizer, who called people to not only be aware of their sin, but also to: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3:8).  
Some Christians think of repentance as simply feeling sorry for one’s personal sin... but that is just a start.  Yes, repentance refers to individuals and communities recognizing their sin, but also to their turning away from it, which is what “repent” literally means, to turn away.  Paul declared that we are to repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance. (Acts 26:20)  We are called and empowered to turn away from sin and turn towards God, living more and more faithfully in the way of Jesus, with our lives centered in both worshipping and serving our Lord and Savior, and then loving and serving others the way He did.
The parable which concludes our text underscores the importance of two things: 1) recognizing and rejoicing in the patience of God upon our too-often fruitless lives, and 2) our need to repent soon.  As we hear throughout the New Testament, we should live our lives as though Jesus is coming back at any time… which He is.  And while we wait and anticipate, we are to be about our Father’s business as we bear fruits worthy of repentance, the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As our journey through this season of Lent continues, we move forward with the end in mind.  Repenting will lead to rejoicing.  Let’s close by hearing again-- and taking to heart-- the words of Isaiah from our first reading: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”  Let us all, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, seek the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and seek to love our neighbors as ourselves.  
Again… that is the way of Jesus!  Amen.