An Emotional Lent: Repentance
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 13:1–13:9
The Third Sunday in Lent
March 6-7, 2010
“An Emotional Lent: Repentance”
So, what does repentance look like? What does repentance feel like? During this Lenten season, the message for each Sunday focuses on emotions that rise up out of the appointed Gospel lessons. So far, we’ve looked at temptation and grief. Today we look at repentance – if we can call repentance an emotion. When all is said and done, a repentance is not a feeling or an emotion, but it may well produce feelings and emotions within us – perhaps very strong feelings and emotions. Not once but twice in the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus calls the people of his day and ours to repentance – a change of heart and mind that leads to new life, a return to the Lord our God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The message for this day, rising up out of the Gospel lesson, is entitled “An Emotional Lent: Repentance.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In the face of disaster or tragedy, people ask the question: “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?” Underlying both of those questions is another question: “Why is God punishing me?” The tragedies spoken of in the Gospel lesson – people who were murdered while in worship by order of Pontius Pilate and the people who were killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed – caused many to ask these very questions. What did they do that these tragedies came upon them? With the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and now Indonesia, and the bizarre shooting at the entrance to the Pentagon this past week, our world is struggling to grasp what is going on. Of course, there are geological reasons for the earthquakes. There may be emotional or psychological reasons for someone who calmly enters a building with the intent to kill. But is there something else we are to take away and learn from all of this? Upon receiving news of disaster or tragedy, our response is often one of compassion coupled with the thought: “There but by the grace of God go I.” There can be a certain smugness on our part when tragedy or disaster happens to someone else. We would do well to take seriously God’s Word: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Jesus would turn out hearts to repentance. He bluntly tells the people of his day who think that somehow they’re better than the people who died in these tragedies: “… unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did” (Luke 13:3, 5). The truth is, we are no better than the people whose lives were lost in Haiti, Chile, Indonesia or anywhere else. We are sinful human beings who are prone to evil, just like God’s people of old that Paul talks of in the Epistle lesson: idolaters, sexually immoral, putting God to the test, complaining (1 Corinthians 10:1-13). Rather than question why tragedy and disaster befall some and not others, we would do far better to fall upon our knees with tears of repentance, giving thanks to the Lord for his mercy in sparing any of us. This is a call to repentance for each and everyone one of us: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, 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” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Enter the owner of the vineyard. He comes into his vineyard looking for fruit on the fig tree he’s planted, which should be bearing fruit but is not. After three years of looking for fruit and finding none, he’s ready to cut it down and get rid of it: “Why should it be wasting the soil?” (Luke 13:7). We’d do the same thing. I ask the question again: What does repentance look like? We have to go back to Advent to help answer that question. Remember the thundering admonition of John the Baptist to the people who came to be baptized by him: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that are worthy of repentance…” (Luke 3:7-8). Repentance – a change of heart and mind, a returning to the Lord – that is real must bear fruit. It must! Simply to mouth the words and go through the motions without any fruit of repentance – of a life that is changed and transformed – means that repentance is fake and artificial. Such repentance is not real, but a sham. Such repentance is itself in need of repentance! God alone can change and transform hearts and minds, and we pray that He will beginning with us.
Enter now the gardener, who faces the anger of the vineyard owner. The justified judgment of the vineyard owner (“Cut it down!) is offset by the miraculous mercy of the gardener. Gently, He pleads for the unproductive fig tree: “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9). Do we see ourselves in that unproductive fig tree? We should, but we should also see the Lord Jesus in that gardener. He pleads for us. A couple vacationing in Europe traveled to Innsbruck, Austria and stayed at a beautiful little chalet. One afternoon they were admiring the unbelievably beautiful geraniums growing all along the front of the inn. They were the healthiest, brightest red geraniums they had ever seen. “How red these flowers are! How do you do it?” the coupled asked. “What sort of fertilizer do you use?” “Blut,” the landlady replied. Blut - blood. “My husband brings me a gallon of blood from the slaughter house each week. These flowers grow best with blood.”
“Sir, let it alone…” the gardener said to the vineyard owner. The word in the original language of the New Testament for “let it alone” is aphes. “Master, let it alone. I’ll dig around it and put manure on it.” That word aphes, “let it alone,” is the same word in the New Testament for forgiveness. Our Lenten season will lead us to Good Friday, to Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. There on Calvary outside Jerusalem, hanging on the cross, bearing the crushing weight of the sins of the world, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them…” “Father, aphes… let it alone.” And his blood dripped down, becoming the fertilizer of forgiveness for us, going down deep into our roots, nourishing our life with his death, so that we might bear fruit, fruit that is worthy of repentance, fruit that will last (John 15:16).
May that gracious Gardener, the Lord Jesus, who gave his life for us and for our salvation, so work in our lives that we might produce the fruits of righteousness to his glory and praise, for the building up of the Body of Christ, and for the life of the world. Amen.