Year C Lent 3
Call to Worship
It's the third week of Lent.
We are moving closer to the cross.
The Lord who calls us in good times,
Calls us still when suffering is immanent.
He calls us to trust in a faithful God,
whatever disasters and dangers befall us
whatever we hear of in the world around.
Hymn Together in Song 102 Praise to the living God
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
We know we are in Lent
the church encourages us to give something up as a reminder of our need to repent,
and the shops encourage us to indulge in chocolate and other treats.
The radio reminds us to drive carefully – Easter is the time with Australia's second- highest road toll – as people celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection by driving as far as they possibly can in four days.
And in the chaos of life and death and chocolate -
there is a truth that is worth the celebration -
that Jesus came into our world
shared our life
shared our suffering
shared our death
as you gave him new life -
he then shared that life with us.
Whatever ways we celebrate this,
it is a gift we do not deserve
and a gift we can never repay.
that we want to believe we are better than we are.
We fail to love you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,
We fail to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Yet we want to believe we are so good we can earn your love.
We feel more secure if we could trust in our own goodness
instead of trusting in your grace.
Help us to trust,
not in our own imagined goodness
but in the truth of your limitless love and mercy.
In Jesus' name we pray.
Declaration of forgiveness
Kids' Time – Bec
Hymn Together in Song 669 Jesus is the Rock
The other day, I heard something shocking on the television news. A man was saying the Brisbane City Council were treating Mitchelton residents the same way the Nazis treated Jews in World War II. I'd always thought the City Council was a fairly benign entity, but here it was, herding millions of people into Queensland Rail cattle cars, sending them to remote concentration camps, starving and torturing them, submitting them to forced labour, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and then killing them and burying them in mass graves!
As the news story went on, it turned out that what the Council was actually doing, was (shock and horror) talking about introducing high density housing to the area. It seems they just don't make atrocities the way they used to!
Well, actually they do. If you want to see a real atrocity, they're still going on in Somalia and Nigeria, and any number of other places around the globe. We don't see those on TV because it's too dangerous for camera crews to go there (and yes, camera crews go into war zones, but there are places far worse than war zones – and some that the international community considers too dangerous to send peacekeeping forces). Since those don't get a lot of publicity, if you want to think about more famous atrocities of the recent past, you could think of Pohl Pot, Idi Amin, Nicoali Caucescu, or of course, the classic Adolf Hitler.
We've all seen enough of what happens in the world to have an idea of what these people were talking about when they came to Jesus with news of what Pilate had done. We might sometimes imagine Pilate as an ineffective leader who was intimidated by Jesus' opponents at Easter. But historians tell us today's picture of Pilate is actually more accurate. This particular incident isn't recorded elsewhere, but there is enough recorded evidence to tell us that there was really nothing Pilate loved more than a good bloodbath. (If he could throw in a little blasphemy as well, like human blood mixed with the temple sacrifices, all the better.)
Then there was news of the tower falling at the pool of Siloam and killing people. Between hurricanes, sunamis and earthquakes lately, we have seen enough natural disasters, and enough people killed and trapped by falling buildings, to get a picture of what this is like as well.
All this news of horror and violence, and the people were looking for something from Jesus. They wanted some reassurance that in this volatile, frightening world, they were safe. I get that. I'm sure you do to. We all want to know that this couldn't happen to us. We want to believe that we live somewhere that the greatest trauma we could possibly face is that the Council could change our neighbourhood to high density housing. Everyone in the world wants to believe that. We want to believe it won't happen to us.
So these people look to Jesus for that reassurance. They want the Heavenly Insurance Policy – the one that guarantees their safety because they're such Good People that God would never have any reason to punish them.
This is one of those many times in the Gospels where Jesus does exactly what people do not want. He doesn't pat them on the back and say “there, there, it's all going to be OK.” He doesn't sign off on the insurance policy. He doesn't tell them that if 're good enough God won't let Pilate hurt them. God won't even stop Pilate issuing the order to crucify Jesus.
If God were going to prevent bad things happening to someone good, surely Jesus would have been saved from his fate!
As for the rest of us? We're not really that good. Jesus asks his listeners if they really think they're any different from the people killed by Pilate or by the falling tower. They're not. They hope they are because that might mean God has some reason to protect them. But truthfully, none of us is that good. Are we better than the people killed in the world trade centre or Haiti? Is there any reason we should get the Heavenly Insurance Policy when they clearly didn't?
The Heavenly Insurance Policy theory believes that God gives direct, in this lifetime, rewards for good people and punishments for bad people. If you're good enough, you're safe from bad stuff. You may have heard of the Wesbro Baptist church in the USA. That's that strange group of people who picket the funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq. (I don't think they have any affiliation to any other Baptist church.) Their theology is the ultimate in the Heavenly Insurance Policy. They claim that everyone who died in the world trade centre was homosexual – which is why God killed them. They choose to believe something so biziarre, so that they can believe that nothing like that could happen to anyone in their church. The Insurance Policy is simple – you pay your premiums by following all the rules – and then you're protected.
Great theory. Wonderful if it worked. It doesn't.
Instead of patting his listeners on the back, Jesus told them to repent. Whether or not they were following all the rules, they still had to get themselves right with God. Already repented yesterday? Great, do it again today. Human beings, being human, are constantly messing up. I'm not saying we don't try. I'm sure most of us do. The trouble is, we easily fall prey to spiritual ADHD. We repent, we check out our lives, realise they're not what God wants, and we get ourselves really focussed on God. It's all great. Then we get distracted. Something else happens, or some other idea attracts us, and it's a while before we realise that we forgot that we were going to always spend our entire lives focussing on God. So we get God back in our sights and decide that's absolutely where we're aiming. But something else comes up. We get distracted. Then we repent, and....... Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Are we better than the people who died in Chile or Haiti or any other disaster? It's a stupid question. We're all human. We need to repent. Again, and again, and again. (Remember “repent” doesn't mean to say you're sorry – it means to turn back, specifically to turn back to God.)
Far from offering insurance for good people, and stomping on bad people, God is like a gardener with a fruit tree that just won't grow any fruit. He looks after it really well, year in, year out, but the wretched tree still won't do anything of value. It's just taking up space. It's not showing signs of ever doing what it was intended to do. It's human beings who repent, and repent, and repent, and yet, instead of living a life devoted completely to loving God and loving each other, they get distracted, selfish, bored, forgetful.
The Gardener could just rip up the tree and try planting a new one that might do better. Punish the whole human race – give everyone what we deserve. Instead he adds some fertilizer, aereates the soil, pours on the water, sprays the pests. He gives the tree what it doesn't deserve, and what it hasn't taken advantage of ever before: yet another chance.
There is no pat on the back and “there, there, it can't happen to you.” It can happen to anyone. Stuff just happens. It's part of being human. There's no Heavenly Insurance Policy. We don't get protection for being good or punishment for being bad. We don't get what we deserve. We wouldn't like it if we did.
What we have is a chance and an invitation to repent, and a God constantly willing to give us another chance. We get grace. And to quote a Relient K song “the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” We have the opportunity that when rewards and punishments really are handed out, to stand behind Jesus- and know he already took our punishment, and will let us share his rewards.
Hymn Together in Song 689 Lord, hear my praying.
Prayers of the People
We pray for all of the hurting people of your world
For those who suffer because they are simply in the wrong place or of the wrong race
For those who suffer because of the greed or need of others
For those whose world has fallen apart because of the actions of nature, or of human beings,
For those who are afraid of losing whatever they have
For those who have nothing left to lose
We pray for the hurting people of your world.
In Jesus, you knew what it was to hurt, to feel pain, fear, loss,
Give the strength of your love to all those who hurt
And give the will to the rest of us to help where we are able.
In Jesus' name, amen.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten calling.