Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent (C)

February 28, 2016
Text: Luke 13:1-9

            Why do bad things happen?  It is the unanswerable question every one of us asks at some point in life.  For some of us, the question plagues us like a bad penny.  For some of us, the question is very pertinent, and very personal.  For the question, “Why do bad things happen,” all too often takes the form of “Why has this happened to me?”  The temptation here is to provide an answer where God has remained silent.  That was the issue in Job.  Job was afflicted by the devil.  Everything was taken from him: His livestock, his servants, his children, and finally his health.  His wife encouraged him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).  Now, all of this was the work of the evil one.  But God was complicit in the affliction, also.  He allowed, and even encouraged it.  Job wants to know why.  His less-than-helpful friends all offer their own answers.  “Obviously you’ve sinned, Job.  That is why this has happened.  God is punishing you.  You just need more faith, Job.  You just need to totally surrender yourself to God’s will.”  Well, to be sure, God has His reasons, but these suggestions miss the mark.  By a longshot.  So much so that God is angry with Job’s friends.  They have spoken where God has not.  Nor does God finally answer the question for Job.  Sarcastically, God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (38:4-5; ESV).  In other words, God tells Job, “It’s none of your business why I allowed this.  I’m God, and you’re not.  So like it or not, you’re just going to have to trust me, that I know what I’m doing, and that I’m working all things together for your good, because that’s the kind of God I am.”  God does not answer the “why” of Job’s suffering.  But He is with Job in the suffering, and He does something about the suffering.  He restores Job.  He repays Job double what he has lost in his afflictions, twice as much as he had at the beginning.  Except for the sons and daughters.  Seven sons and three daughters died.  Job is given seven more sons and three more daughters.  Because, in spite of all appearances, Job did not lose the previous 10.  They are with the LORD.  Job has them still, in the Communion of Saints.  And now he has all twenty children with him for all eternity in heaven.
            Our God works all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).  Even the afflictions.  That is the promise.  Though it is hidden under suffering and the cross.  He does not answer your question, “Why do bad things happen?  Why has this happened to me?”  Instead, He points you to the cross.  The cross, and His crucified Son, this is His answer to your suffering.  God does not tell you why you suffer, but He does tell you what He has done about it.  He sent His Son.  He sent His Son to die.  For you.  And in that death all the suffering of all the world, and the root cause of all the suffering of all the world, namely, sin, is drowned in the holy Blood of Christ and done to death.
            Some who are with Jesus in our Holy Gospel tell Him tell Him about a great tragedy.  Some Galileans were in the Temple, sacrificing to God.  Pontius Pilate, for reasons unknown to us, sends his soldiers right into the Temple precincts, to the sacred place of sacrifice, and the soldiers mow them down.  Blood everywhere.  The blood of the sacrifices.  The blood of the Galileans.  All together slaughtered as animals.  It would be like our own government ordering the army into the Church to slaughter us at the altar during Holy Communion.  Our blood would mingle on the ground with the Blood of the Sacrifice, our Lord’s Blood in the Chalice, shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins.  This was blasphemy against God, this assault on the Galilean worshipers.  It was tyranny.  A terrible abuse of power.  A blatant disregard for all things sacred.  And the question implied but left unasked, the question on everyone’s mind, what they really want to know from Jesus, is why?  Why these people?  Why this terrible thing that happened?  It hits a little too close to home, they think, because it could have been any one of us.  Unless… Unless these people somehow deserved it.  And there is the temptation to which Job’s friends fall prey.  To speak where God has not spoken.  To assign a specific tragedy to a specific sin.  To rationalize why a bad thing has happened, as if we could know.  The disciples fall to the same temptation when they ask Jesus regarding the blind man, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).  And we fall to this temptation, too, when we assign the blame for a tragedy to some sin of which the sufferer is guilty.  It comforts us to do it, because that means it won’t necessarily happen to us.  And it makes us feel superior, because it didn’t happen to us, so we must not be as bad as those people.  Well, you know that is foolishness.  Pat Robertson lets his mouth run about 9/11 being a punishment for the decadence of citizens in New York City, or Katrina being punishment for the sinful licentiousness of the City of New Orleans.  And you see that it’s ridiculous on the face of it.  But then you go and do the same thing when you see a guy pulled over by a cop and you think, “That guy had it coming!” (David Scaer).  But the reality is, the moment you saw the red and blue lights, you hit the brakes.  Because you had it coming, too.  Repent. 
            Perhaps the greater tragedy is when you fall to this temptation in the other direction.  When you think that you are suffering some affliction because of some sin you have committed.  When you think God is out to get you.  I have cancer because God doesn’t love me.  My son died because I was promiscuous back in college.  God took my husband too soon because I don’t pray enough.  This, too, is foolishness.  But the devil is pretty good at getting you to believe it.  Now, it is true that in general, all the suffering in the world is a result of sin.  If we weren’t sinners, if our first parents, Adam and Eve, never sinned, and if this weren’t, as a result, a fallen world and we fallen people, then there would be no suffering.  And it is also true that some bad things happen as a direct result of a bad thing we do.  Drunk drivers often crash and kill people and go to jail as a direct result of their drunk driving.  Robbers go to prison for robbing.  Drug addicts overdose.  Promiscuous people get STDs and children die in abortion because of the sin of their parents.  You get the point.  These things are consequences of bad behavior.  But you have to understand, God is not punishing you for your sins.  All the punishment for all your sin, God’s righteous wrath against all your iniquities, is poured out on Jesus on the cross.  It is completely swallowed up there, on Calvary.  There is none left.  God isn’t out to get you.  He already got you, in His Son.  His wrath is spent.  All that is left, as far as you are concerned, is love. 
            What, then, of suffering and tragedy?  Jesus tells us these crosses and trials, the terrible injustice suffered by the Galileans, those on whom the tower of Siloam and the Twin Towers in New York fell, the sufferings of our own Barbara Edwards, cancer, marriage troubles, death itself… these crosses and trials have a very specific purpose.  They are a call to repentance.  They are a call to faith in Christ alone.  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).  The point is, it could have been any one of you.  The recent shootings in Kalamazoo are evidence of this.  Dear people minding their own business, enjoying a meal at Cracker Barrel of all places, gunned down for no good reason.  It could have been you.  You are never safe.  And the idea here is not that if you just repent sincerely enough, you’re guaranteed it won’t be you.  The perishing Jesus is warning against is of a much more serious and permanent nature than tragic physical death.  He is echoing His warning to Adam and Eve in the Garden.  Repent, or the death you will suffer will not only be physical, but also spiritual (a breaking of fellowship with God), and eternal (the eternal suffering of separation from God in hell). 

            Repentance is a turning from sin, a turning from unbelief, a turning from all that is not the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), to the God who reveals Himself in the flesh of His Son, Jesus Christ.  That is the call of God in every tragedy, in every bad thing that happens.  It’s a reminder of mortality.  It’s a reminder that Judgment Day is coming.  It’s a reminder that we need saving, that we need a Savior.  It is the ultimate preaching of the Law.  And in these times, the Lord Jesus holds out His pierced hands to receive us into His saving embrace.  He will shelter us in the time of trial.  He will gather us under the outstretched arms of His cross, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.  When a tragedy occurs, in your personal life or in our life together in the world, the thing to do is get yourself to Church.  Confess your sins.  Be absolved.  Hear the Gospel.  Pass through the font to the altar, to be fed with the Body and Blood of the Lord.  That is repentance in action.  That is how Jesus protects you, how He leads you not into temptation, but delivers you from evil, and from the evil one.  Why do bad things happen?  Why have bad things happened to you?  The only answer you’ll get from God is Jesus.  It is Christ crucified and risen for you.  God doesn’t tell you why.  That’s His business.  But He does tell you He will be with you in the suffering.  And He tells you what He’s done about it.  Jesus.  That is where He is with you.  In the pierced flesh of Jesus.  That is what He’s done about it.  He sent His Son, Jesus.  To die.  For you.  And in the death of God’s Son, you have life.  And that is why God does all that He does.  That you live and be saved.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

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