“Sweet Potatoes in my Coffee” Luke 13:1-9
The memory of one particular evening when my wife and I lived in Florida remains fresh in my mind. We were invited by some friends to listen to their children’s contemporary Christian band play some of their new songs at the “Coffee Spot” in New Port Ritchie, Florida. It’s a little coffee shop with a stage for live bands and Christian performers. We would later question the wisdom of having brought our then eighteen month old son, Sebastian.
Sebastian has always been an active boy. Before he grew to over twenty four inches, I would often say that he was very much like a 2 foot tall tornado! At first everything was fine. Sebastian was entertained by our friend’s youngest daughter for a while and then he took a few bites of his dinner. Once the opening act started is when everything fell apart. The opening act was a miming evangelist who garnered an unfavorable amount of attention from my son.
The “Coffee Spot” is a fairly intimate place which did not work in our favor. When mime was introduced everyone in the room got quiet – everyone except for Sebastian that is. He spent the first ten minutes of the mimes performance doing everything he could to escape my grasp and place that mime within his grasp!
After I realized that my little boy was gaining ground on getting away from me, I looked for a fast get away. I found relieve in the form of a back entrance way several feet away from the mime. It was at this point that I realized my only recourse was to tickle Sebastian into submission, and that is exactly what I did. His laughter was probably distracting to the audience and it surely it was distracting to the mime but at least this stopped him from attacking the mime!
I wish that I could say that this was the end of this affair and that after the mime finished his act sanity was resumed. Unfortunately that was only to be the beginning. Wrongly assuming that Sebastian would sit in our laps and listen to the music we sat down at a table in front of the stage, I ordered one of my favorite treats in all of the world; a frozen-blended-vanilla-late-frapachino with whipped cream and a straw. I placed Sebastian on my lap as his mother prepared to feed him from a jar of delicious looking sweet potato baby food.
Eating his dinner was not at all what Sebastian had in mind. The activity of the evening had placed him on sensory overload and he surely did not have time to stop for food!
With each spoonful of sweet potato placed to his lips came a firm shut of his mouth and a twist of his head from one side to the other, causing a splash of sweet potatoes to land near, around and very often, on me! By this time in the evening, the mime had left and our friends “Truth Bomb” had begun to play. Sebastian now wanted their guitars and laughed hysterically each time he believed himself to be close to freeing himself from my grasp. This went on for some time with moments of peace while this child regained his strength for the next attempt at freedom from his father’s embrace.
Finally the show was over and I realized that I had yet to take a sip of the wonderful frozen-blended drink I had purchased only an hour ago, though it felt as though much more time than that had actually passed. As I picked up my cup to take a drink I realized, much to my surprise, that where only whipped cream had once topped my coffee now there was a big splash of sweet potato which had become entangled with the whipped cream. There I sat, Sebastian on my lap looking up at me with his infectious smile, with sweet potatoes in my coffee.
As I sat there in this moment that seemed to last forever, I realized that I had a decision to make as a father. On the one hand, I could have chosen to be upset that Sebastian had caused so much turmoil that evening. Oh, I could have sulked over the sweet potatoes that had found their way into my coffee; I could have even become angry. On the other hand, how could I allow any form of anger to flood my soul when this precious little child was looking at me with a truly rare and beautiful smile which pours from not only his facial expression, but his eyes, and indeed his very soul?
It occurred to me in that moment that God is very much like a loving father with sweet potatoes in His coffee. I make no claims to comparing my love as a father with that of God, nor do I mean to trivialize the reality of God’s love. I mean only to submit to you that the God of the Bible is not a vengeful, wrath-filled God of destruction and judgment, inasmuch as He is a loving Father who cares for His creation and is thoroughly concerned with every one of His children.
Promise of Grace in the Old Testament
There is perhaps no greater culprit for having filled our minds with a picture of God that is at odds with knowing God as a loving father than finger-wagging preachers. In our times, just as in the days of old, finger-waggers abound! We all know the type. They terrorize us from pulpits with images of a Sodom and Gomorrah. They sit in rocking chairs and fill the minds of children with the idea that if they are not good enough then God will not love them.
These finger-waggers come in a variety of shapes and sizes but they all have one thing in common; in an effort to honor the holiness of God they forget about His loving nature. In an effort to please God and encourage us toward the same, they have only told a part of God’s story. God is holy and just, He does demand holiness in us, but that is only half of the story!
In the Old Testament we see God revealed as what some have described as a God wrath and vengeance. In God’s dealings with humanity He often is seen dealing with human sin. In Genesis chapter eighteen and nineteen we see the account of God having destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorra because of the grievous nature of their sin. Ultimately God, in this account, does destroy these wicked cities by raining down what was likely burning sulfur upon the cities.
Though finger-waggers use passages of the Bible like this to justify their conviction that God is primarily or even mostly vengeful, when read in the full context of what God has spoken to humanity, that is not what this passage or others like it are saying at all. The message for us from this passage is twofold. First, God is holy and can not look upon sin with a passive eye. Second, God loves His creation so much that He is willing to get involved with it; even in its ugly parts.
In the Old Testament we see God dealing with the sin of His creation and in the New Testament we see God doing the very same thing. In the Old Testament God dealt with sin on an individual basis as He interacted, often as divine judge, with humanity. In the New Testament God, acting as gracious redeemer, offered His son, Jesus Christ, as a final expression of His willingness to deal with his creation; even in is ugly parts.
Manifestation of Grace in the New Testament
In the first half of Luke 13:1-9, Jesus is questioned about the nature of the truth about what happened to some Galileans who were killed by Pilate when they were offering sacrifices. As Jesus answers those who questioned him he goes on to teach about eighteen people who were accident victims when a tower fell on them. In this passage of Scripture Jesus deals with two very practical questions that are asked of and by Christians every day.
When someone is the victim of maliciousness or when someone is the victim of a terrible accident, is their sin to blame? Do terrible things happen to people on the basis of the degree to which they have sinned in this life? These are good questions which proceed from the depths of our hearts in our times of greatest need and they deserve honest consideration.
Jesus answer on both accounts is sobering and compelling. During his earthly ministry, Jesus never shied away from a difficult question. Nowhere in the New Testament do you see Jesus saying, “Whew, gonna’ have to get back to you on that one!” The truth that Jesus reveals is that in this life anything can happen at any time. This is not because of God’s Judgment, but simply because that is the nature of the world we live in.
All of us have a sense that the world isn’t quite all that it should be and that is because it is not! We live in a world which is decaying and dying, where sin, pain, and weakness are the order of every day. Sin has corrupted this world. While we look forward to the day when God will restore His creation, that day has not yet come. In the meantime, we live in a world without absolutes in which every day matters since we do not know what tomorrow will bring.
“Jesus answered, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:2-5)
Given this reality, Jesus explains that it is best to repent today, to live for God today. It is better to get things right with God and with each other sooner rather than later. So many people put off making things right, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. The best day to make things right is today. The best day to seek and offer forgiveness is today. Right now is what we have.
In the second half of this passage, Jesus explains to depth of God’s unending grace. God is like the gardener in the story who, rather than destroy the fruitless fig tree, refuses to see it cut down. He will help it grow into what it was meant to be. God is a God of grace. He doesn’t give up on us in spite of our inadequacies, our sin, and our shortcomings. As our loving father, God keeps at it; He continually offers us His love though very often we can not or will not accept it.
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The central theme of the New Testament is the forgiveness that is found only in Christ. In Christ we receive forgiveness for our sins and as we are in Christ we find the ability to forgive ourselves and others.
You and I have largely been conditioned by the finger-waggers in our lives to carry the burden of sin and guilt alone. We have been told that God will only love us to the extent that we can work to please Him but that is not the message of Christ because that is not the message of the Cross. In John 14:7 Jesus says, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
I grew up in Northern California and to this day one of my favorite places in the entire world is the Yosemite National Park and surrounding mountainous area. Inside of Yosemite is a lake called Mirror Lake. It is an amazing thing to see Mt. Hood reflected in Mirror Lake as your senses are flooded by the smell of pine, the sounds of wildlife, and as your soul is filled with the wonder of God’s creation.
We are given a very similar picture of God in Christ. In Jesus we see reflected the beauty and depth of God’s grace. In Jesus we see the fullest expression of God’s willingness to get involved with human sin and imperfection. In the Old Testament we see God judging humanity because of its sin while in the New Testament we see God’s glorious nature fully expressed as Jesus lays down his own life before us.
If you want to know what God’s love looks like you need look no further than the life and work of Jesus Christ. That is the message of the cross! Stop carrying your heavy burden of guilt and shame. You and I have been invited to lay down the heavy yoke of bondage and condemnation and pick up the radiant yoke of freedom and forgiveness. At the Cross God highlighted the ugliness of the domination systems of this world, the ugliness of human sin, and also the beauty of His willingness to deal with all of it!
Galatians 4:4-7 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”
Abba is an Aramaic term that compares to our word for Daddy, a term used to describe a very personal and loving relationship. I am increasingly convinced that he the major motif in the Scripture is that of God as Father in His relationship to his son Jesus and in His relationship with humanity. Though God is infinite in power and love, infallible in wisdom and holiness, exalted in honor and majesty, He chose to reveal himself as Abba; Father; Daddy!
I once heard the story retold of a blind girl, whose eyes had been opened by a surgical operation. After gaining sight she delighted in the sight of her father who had a noble appearance and presence. His every look and motion was watched by his daughter with the keenest delight. For the first time his constant tenderness and care seemed real to her. If he caressed her or even looked upon her kindly, it brought tears of gladness to her eyes. “To think,” she said, holding his hand closely in her own, “that I have had you for a father all these years, and never really knew you.
How many of us are just the same way as this little girl in the story? Do we really know our Heavenly Father? How many of us are like those in Luke chapter thirteen, seeing God as a God of vengeance and wrath, having never learned to truly experience the grace of God in our lives? God has already dealt with our sin at the Cross. Why do so many of us live as though we must carry the burden of our sin with us day in and day out? Why is it that so often we find hold on to guilt and condemnation for which God has already forgiven us?
Allow me to encourage you to see God for who He really is and in the process learn to see yourself the way that God sees you. When God looks at you He does not see a defeated person, full of doubt and discouragement. He sees the wonder of His creation! He sees your infectious smile as you gaze into His eyes with childlike wonder at the power of His love for you.
Seldom, if ever, do we take the time to consider just how magnificent we are to God. Imagine, the God who created the universe created you, the God who created the butterfly and the diamond created each one of us. The God who created the universe with just a word calls you precious child with the same breath. The God who is all powerful and all knowing invites you to call him Abba! Daddy!