“The Road to Jerusalem: Repentance” March 24, 2019
“The Road to Jerusalem: Repentance”
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
When I get the chance, I like to stop in at Margie’s school to visit. Sometimes I’ll bring coffee, sometimes I’m dropping things off that were left at home, and sometimes just for the heck of it. I’m lucky that I can do that because sometimes that’s about the only chance we get to see each other that day. Anyway, there are times when she is tied up with other things and I find myself – you guessed it – waiting in the principal’s office. Now, I can’t say that waiting in the principal’s office as an adult brings back a flood of wonderful memories, but it’s interesting nonetheless. One thing that wasn’t around when I was a kid is the “green sheet.” This is a worksheet that you, the perpetrator, have to fill out if you find yourself in the principal’s office, and I’m glad they weren’t around when I was a kid. The first question is something like “what is it that happened?” That’s not so tough, but then it asks things like “why?” Why did you hit Jimmy in the nose? Now things are getting harder. This is followed by a series of impossible questions like “why was this the wrong thing to do“ and “what could I have done different?” and “how will I behave differently in the future?” It makes me yearn for the days when a youngster could get off with a half-hearted apology and maybe a swat with a paddle. But no. With the green sheet you have to think about it, you have to face this thing head on, and worst of all you have to demonstrate that things are going to change; that you are going to change. It’s hard being a kid nowadays: you walk in expecting punishment but instead are asked for repentance.
And it’s repentance that seems to be the theme of our gospel text today. On the road to Jerusalem, there was undoubtedly a lot of slack time. Walking is slow business. The conversation was about a particularly gruesome event. Evidently, there had been an incident whereas Pilate sent his troops into the temple as some Galileans were performing their ritual sacrifice and…well, and slaughtered them on the spot. Their blood mixed with the blood of the animals being sacrificed. Now, nowhere is there another record of this ghastly deed, but I dare say it was not all that uncommon. And so we read (vs 1) Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices. It was the news of the day, and folk were, well…they were shocked, they were afraid, they were trying to make sense of it all. And they were looking for a reason, and the talk must have turned to punishment: what did these Galileans do to deserve this? And so in (vs. 2) Jesus speaks up, saying, Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you. Jesus is clear: God does not hand out punishment according to the crime. That’s not how it works! That’s bad theology and is certainly not the way of a loving God. But then – and this kind of troubles me – he says but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.
“Unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.” It seems an unusual thing to say. It was Charles Spurgeon that once said, “If you are renewed by grace, and were to meet your old self, I am sure you would be anxious to get out of his company.” Yes, when Jesus says “unless you change your hearts and lives” he is talking about repentance – true repentance, life changing repentance. And in this time of Lent, there can be no theme more present in our minds than repentance. A Lenten repentance is the turning away from ourselves and the turning toward our salvation. It is the dying to ourselves to be made alive in Jesus Christ. Our old self is no more. It is the knowing that God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. It is the knowing that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there is nothing we could have done to make him love us less. The beauty of this text – the awesome, spectacular, wonderful beauty of this passage – is the way that Christ sees into their hearts just as he sees into ours and tells us to turn around; turn around and leave behind that notion that we all hold, maybe just a little bit, that bad things only happen to bad people. I tell you no, you are horribly mistaken. Turn around, repent. It’s not about them; this time it’s about you.
In the early 1900’s, the Times of London, a newspaper read all over the world, invited famous writers to answer the question, “What is wrong with this world?” Almost immediately, their mail room was flooded with many long essays spelling out both the problems, and as a bonus, the writer’s assessment as to who was to blame. God, the Devil, the Church, the Communists, the Fascists, white people, black people, Asians, Hispanics, the Germans, the Jews, the Chinese, the Muslims, and the Americans. It was women, men, the “Older Generation” and “These Youngsters nowdays.” All kinds of solutions, all kinds of scapegoats. But it was G. K. Chesterton, the author of the Father Brown series and a prominent writer on Christianity who won the prize in my book when he wrote in reply to the question “what is wrong with this world?” a letter to the Times of London simply saying, “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.”
Jesus calls us today, particularly in this time of Lent, to turn around – to turn from blaming God, or the Devil, or the political party of your choice or whatever for what is wrong with this world. Christ calls us instead to look at ourselves and when we finally come to that place where we truly believe that he died for our sins, not those other people – those bad people – but for our sins; when we finally come to that place, then we are ready to turn around – to repent – and look to God for our hope, for our help, for our salvation. And the fruit which we will bear is the proof that the master gardener has given us, yet again, one more chance to be pruned, to be fertilized, to be nourished – only this time, we turned around and took it.
Amen & Shalom