Summary: Repentance is an unpopular and misunderstood topic today. Many live in denial of the need to repent. God graciously provides us with opportunities to repent now, before it is too late.
Sermon for III Lent, Year C
Based on Isa. 55:1-9 & Lk. 13:1-9
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Repentance…. This is one of those familiar Christian words, often spoken by the so-called fanatic, fire-and-brimstone preachers on T.V., who try to literally, “scare the hell out of you,” so you qualify for heaven. Repentance…. Who wants to talk about such a subject? Even some recent surveys of Christians seem to indicate that there’s really no need to repent, for we are all basically good anyway. Therefore, the subject of repentance and even the word repent are rendered “relics of the past, obsolete, meaningless.” After all, “I’m OK and your OK.” Who needs repentance?!
However, both the prophet in our first lesson, and Luke in our gospel today beg to differ! The prophet, writing to the exiled Jews in Babylonia and Jesus in our gospel; both insist that repentance is indeed relevant and necessary; repentance is not an option. Both the prophet and Jesus say that right now, today is the time to repent. Repentance is not a back-burner matter, which I’ll get to eventually only after I’ve done everything else. No! Rather, it’s an urgent matter, which I need to attend to right now, today. Martin Luther had it right when he said that every day is a day of repentance.
One of the major weaknesses of us sinful human beings is that we love to live in denial; we are experts at the art of procrastination; we can put-off that which is unpleasant with the hope that it will look after itself or just go away if we delay it long enough. Our first lesson and our gospel today both tell us that we cannot procrastinate, we cannot put on the back-burner what needs doing today. The prophet says: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Jesus, in answering the question about whether the Galileans killed by Pilate while they offered their sacrifices in the temple; or whether the 18 killed by the falling tower of Siloam got what they deserved because they were worse sinners than other folks; Jesus says: “No way!” God doesn’t work that way. He then goes on to tell them to look at themselves and their own lives, rather than the lives of others, he says: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” The parable of the barren fig tree is but a reiteration of this same point. After three years of not bearing fruit, the gardener appeals for a second chance, by giving the tree one more year to bear fruit, after which if it fails to bear fruit, then it can be cut down.
Our lives are like that fig tree; God gives us only a certain amount of time to live on this earth. We don’t know when we are going to die. Therefore, we are given the opportunity right now, today, every day, to repent—to make peace with our God and one another and be prepared to meet our Maker, if our time is now.
The following story, by writer Andrew Greeley, illustrates quite well, how important it is for us to do what needs doing right now, rather than procrastinating:
Once there was a couple who won a great prize, a two week trip to Ireland. They had a whole year to make the trip. Well, said the wife, “Let’s not do it this summer, because we don’t want to interfere with our summer at the lake. And we can’t go in September because that’s when the kids go back to school.” Then it came to be late October, before anyone knew it, and the husband said, “Well we can’t go over the holidays.” “That’s right,” his wife agreed. “Let’s wait till after the first of the year.” However, someone told them that the days were terrible short in Ireland in January and February and besides the weather wasn’t very good (as though it is predictably good any time!) So they said, “Well, let’s wait till spring when we know there’ll be good weather and we don’t have to worry about the snow closing airports in this country.” So finally they made reservations for the first week in May. The weather was supposed to be good in Ireland and the days were long and it was the best time in the year to go (and if you believe there is any best time, you’ll believe that chickens have lips!). They admitted that they were cutting it close because their prize ran out on June 1, but they were sure nothing would go wrong. Then the husband had a gallbladder attack and required surgery. The doctors said he would be able to travel, oh, by the middle of June. 1