The Hour of Repentance
March 23 and 24, 2019
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our text for today includes tragedies recorded in history and a parable told by the great story teller himself. This morning Jesus would call us to repentance. Please pray with me……….
As we journey through the Sundays of Lent, our sermon series focuses on these pivotal moments in the Gospel of Luke, these hours of Jesus life, and we remember that the word “hour” doesn’t just mean sixty minutes in the day. The word “hour” rather refers to certain opportune times and particular pivotal moments in the life and ministry of Jesus. Two Sundays ago, we saw Jesus in the hour of temptation, last Sunday in the hour of the trap, and today, in the hour of repentance.
A warning that led to (change)
Those of you 40 or over may remember January 28, 1986 as the day that the space shuttle Challenger exploded and broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean. You may remember that the blame was laid on faulty O-rings that could not maintain their integrity if the temperature fell below freezing. The night before that fateful launch, a man named Allan McDonald who was the Director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project had refused to sign off on the launch because the temperature had dropped below freezing. But the launch took place anyway and turned into a full- fledged disaster. For telling the truth McDonald was removed from his job and demoted. Eventually however, a Presidential Commission vindicated him, he was put back on the job, he led the redesign of the solid fuel boosters, and because of those improvements and 110 successful flights following, astronauts now consider the solid rocket boosters the safest pieces of equipment on the shuttle. This was a tragedy which led to a change of mind, which is the literal meaning of the Greek word for repentance.
Martin Luther’s words about repentance signaled the beginning of the Reformation. They dominated the first four of the 95 Thesis. He said in the first thesis, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, Repent ye! He makes clear that the whole life of His believers is to be a constant or unending repentance.”Our catechism defines repentant believers as those who are sorry for their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Part 1 of repentance is contrition and part 2 is faith.
Three lessons for today as we explore our Lord’s call for daily repentance to the end that God’s grace would be sweeping over our hearts and homes today, to the end that God’s mercy would be ruling in our church and school in these days, to the end that God’s forgiveness and the fruits of repentance would be making a come back in our nation in this hour.
Lesson #1 is that Every tragedy is a call to (repentance) In our text, the first tragedy was that a group of Galilean Jews who were offering sacrifices in the temple ended up getting slaughtered by Roman soldiers. There were people in that day suggesting that those Galileans who were slaughtered must be worse sinners than all other Galileans, but Jesus looked them in the eyes and said, “you couldn’t be more wrong about the relationship between sin and suffering. Let me tell you, unless you repent, you’re going to die.”
A second tragedy was that a tower that fell on and killed 18 unsuspecting people. There were those who thought it must be a case, to use a 21st century word, it must be a case of karma, these folks must be worse offenders against God’s commandments than the rest of us. Jesus looked them in the eyes, and said, “Wrong again, this tragedy and every tragedy is in fact, a warning for everyone who hears about it to get yourself in front of a mirror, take a good hard look at the way you are thinking and speaking and doing life. Every disaster is an opportunity for you and me to be sorry for our own sins, and opportunity to say out loud, “there but for the grace of God go I”, an opportunity to cry out to your Savior who loves you so much, and to believe with all of your heart and soul and mind that your sins have been forgiven, your debt has been paid in full, heaven is yours.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where the folks hear news reports about billions and billions of dollars of flood damage in nearby cities and states, they hear news reports of Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria and Muslims getting gunned down in New Zealand. They respond by confessing their faults again and again to God, and to one another, that the blood of Jesus Christ might wash over their souls, much like a good hot shower washes away the dirt and the grime day after day.
Lesson #2 is that Every unproductive fig tree is without (excuse). Jesus tells this parable to support his call for repentance and to illustrate God’s patience. We should understand today that God’s patience is long, but not without end. John the Baptist had said it this way to the Pharisees and their buddies, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come…even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the first.” There is a point at which God in heaven above says, “that’s enough.” I’m reminded of my dad, who would tolerate just a little bit of whining and fussing and complaining, and then he would say, as many of your dads would say, “quit your complaining, or I’ll give you something to complain about.”
In today’s parable, God is the owner of the vineyard, the vineyard is the nation of Israel, and Jesus is the gardener. All that God could do for this vineyard, he has done. For three years now, the gardener has come looking for fruit, and this unproductive fig tree is standing without excuse.
So also do we stand before God without excuse today. Most of us have grown up in the church, and in homes where we have been warned of how dangerous it is to ignore the commandments of God. Many of us have been well catechized by our pastors, we have been taught in a faithful way by our teachers, and we have grown up in homes where the Word of God is front and center.
The preaching and the teaching and the remembering of the Law is meant to stop is in our tracks, to show us our unworthiness, and to make us contrite. The Augsburg Confession defines contrition as the terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin. One pastor Karl Ehlers says it this way, “There is no repentance without sorrow, no regeneration without sorrow, no conversion without sorrow.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where increasing numbers of people are sorry. They are sorry for the bad they have done and the good they have failed to do. They are sorry for losing their tempers, they are sorry for throwing themselves pity parties, they are sorry for being stupid. They are sorry for talking before thinking, they are sorry for bad habits into which they have stumbled, they are sorry for walking by on the other side of the road again and again right past those who are wounded and wondering if anybody cares.
Dear friends in Christ, I have really good news for you today, “A broken and a contrite heart, our Lord will never despise.” This is the main responsibility of every pastor that dares to step into the pulpit and preach God’s Word – to let the Gospel have the final word, to let the love of Jesus Christ be the dominating message in our life together.
If lesson #1 1 was that every tragedy is a call to repentance, and if lesson #2 was that every unproductive fig tree is without excuse, then:
Lesson #3 is that Every gardener has the responsibility of both cultivating and (fertilizing). Listen to this vinedresser pleading for the owner to be patient, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.”
You may not want to hear this, but I know something about manure. I used to pitch it and spread it all over the neighborhood on spring Saturdays in the great state. It wasn’t my favorite job in the world, but obviously it needed to be done. You should know that I grew about 30 miles from Gwinner, North Dakota, where the Melroe brothers began to produce Melroe bobcats. I heard about the wonders of those bobcats, and I can remember suggesting to my dad that if we could just make our barn doors a little bit bigger, we could buy a bobcat and get our barns cleaned in a hurry. I’m not even sure if dad dignified my request with words, but if he did, it was something like, “quit being a pill.”
The preaching of the law is like a gardener digging around his plants, and the preaching of the Gospel is like spreading manure, spreading fertilizer. The preaching of the Law is all about loosening up the hard soils of our heart, and the preaching of the Gospel is about nurturing our faith. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Dear friends in Christ, three words of Gospel I speak to your hearts today. 1) God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. 2)You and I belong to the world. 3)Therefore God is reconciled unto you and to me. One more time in this Lenten season, I invite you to come to the foot of the cross and even as you do, know that Christ comes to you praying, Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. Come to your Lord’s Supper again and again, and even as you do, hear Jesus Christ interceding with his father, “give them one more year, and if they bear fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut them down.”
A promise that leads to (turning around)
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town weaving and winding their way to their Annual Meeting, a meeting where their officers are elected, their priorities are set, and their one year plan for ministry is launched. They hear one more time that their sins against God and one another are not remembered in the courtroom of their God. The believe with all of their hearts that their failures and faults have been sent away as far as the east is from the west. Collectively, they breathe one more sigh of relief. They pinch themselves to see if this good news can possibly be true. They turn around and go in a new direction. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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