A sermon at Christ Church, Cataraqui, Kingston, Ontario on March 19, 1995
by Robert Brow
As we read our Gospel reading, I want to use the three words, FATE, FAITH, FRUIT to explore the meaning of our text for the day. Read Luke 13:1-9.
FATE First we have Jesus’s reaction to the news of what had happened to a group of Galilean pilgrims who had gone up to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. We don’t know what they did to displease Pontius Pilate. He was a ruthless governor, and he was the one who later allowed Jesus to be unjustly crucified. Perhaps some spies had heard these Galilean visitors make some remarks the Governor, or about facilities in the city, or the rudeness of Roman soldiers. And Pilate said "Just watch. I will teach them a lesson."
This is what Luke records. "There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices" (13:1). From the media we are familiar with accounts of gruesome murders that horrify us. But to the people of Galilee this was a particularly awful crime. These worshipers were actually in the temple offering the animal sacrifices prescribed by the Old Testament law.
Suddenly a detachment of soldiers marched into the temple, and said "You Galileans, line up here. One by one you can kill the Passover lamb for your family." When the first of the pilgrims offered his lamb to the priest a soldier cut him down. And the others realized that Pilate had ordered the man’s blood to be mixed in with the blood of the animal he had brought for sacrifice. Then the soldiers turned to the next man. "Now it is your turn to offer your lamb for sacrifice." The other victims had to look on as one be one they faced the same fate. We can imagine the shock of the wives and children as they heard how their men had been killed in this gruesome way, and everyone’s horror when this story was told back in Galilee.
People quickly assumed that these Galilean men died because they had offended God’s righteousness, and this was the reason for the fate that had overtaken them. But Jesus asked the question, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?" (13:2). And he immediately rejected that idea. He reminded them of a similar tragic example of fate when 18 people were killed as the tower of Siloam fell upon them (13:4).
In our world every day people die from accidents, earthquakes, stray bullets, and other kinds of sudden death. It is important never to imagine that fate only hits bad people. There are cases where people deserve what happens to them because of their foolish behavior. But Jesus makes it absolutely clear that we should never assume that a sudden death has happened because the person was more sinful than others.
FAITH Jesus went on to add, both in the case of the Galileans being killed, and those who died when the tower of Siloam fell, "But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did" (13:3, 5). What did he have in mind? There is no evidence that those who have repented from sinful behavior never face sudden death. And there is no evidence that disaster will pursue those who do not repent. What is a fact is that everyone will die sooner or later from some cause or another, whether unexpectedly when they are young or in a ripe old age.
What difference then does repentance make? Repentance does not mean feeling particularly bad about one’s failures. It simply means changing the direction of one’s looking from faith in this world and what it offers to faith in God’s world and what it offers. If our only faith is in whatever security we have in this life, inevitably we sense we are in danger of a sudden accident of fate. The danger is constantly in the back of our minds. Anytime we could get hit by a car, a brain aneurism, a heart attack, a stray bullet, a house collapse, lightning, or whatever. We can never feel secure whatever precautions we take.
But if we have turned to put our faith in what God has in mind for us in this life and in his heaven beyond death, there is still the danger of sudden death but death itself has lost its sting. Death is not the end, only a gateway into the perfect love of heaven.
The third word that is important is FRUIT. "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none" (13:6). The point is that we are designed for bearing fruit which will be a joy to God and a joy to others. As Jesus explained at the Last Supper, "You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last" (John 15:16). Whether we die young or middle-aged, or very old, and whether we die from a stroke of fate, or we are martyred, we can bring forth fruit each in our own way.
God delights in a huge variety of different kinds of fruit in his children. There is "the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good fruits" (James 3:17). Paul wrote about "The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true" (Ephesians 5:9). For the Christians in Colossae he prayed that "you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fulling pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work" (Colossians 1:10). And he commended the ninefold spiritual fruit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control"(Galatians 5:22-23). God even views thanksgiving as a beautiful fruit. "a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name" (Hebrews 13:15).
When we discover that the Holy Spirit can empower us to be fruitful in any one of hundreds of different ways, our life takes on a quality that is totally different from merely existing to beat fate until we die.
Prayer : Lord, I know I live in an uncertain world. When I am fearful about the hazards of fate and sudden death. help me to look beyond to your eternal purposes. And help me to bring forth the abiding fruit that will be a joy to you and to others.