Repent With All Your Heart
For the past few weeks, we have been spending time outside of the gospels but that does not mean we have spent time away from the Gospel. The beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is it is spread throughout the entirety of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible points to the coming of G-d’s kingdom, to be revealed fully by Christ (the gospels), and the Epistles look the fullness of Christ’s ministry and how the ancient church was shaped by this Good News. So while the gospels may be a familiar space to spend our Sunday mornings, the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the entire Bible.
Last week Abram and the week before that Paul. This morning we find ourselves in the midst of the parables, stories used by Jesus, utilizing familiar objects and people, to explain what G-d’s reign looked like and will look like. The following four chapters of the Gospel of Luke are littered with these stories.
As Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem he continued to minister and point to the coming fulling of G-d’s glory. All of Jesus’ teachings and healings pointed to one thing: the Kingdom of G-d.
As Jesus faced towards Jerusalem, we will arrive there with him in four weeks to shout Hosanna, he was told of the mixing of blood in the Temple along with the death of 18 people who died in the collapse of the tower of Siloam. Prior to this scene, Jesus had been teaching about settling disputes with an opponent:
“when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
Jesus was talking about the wrongs done by those who were listening to his teachings and not a hypothetical group of people not present. After he finished his teaching on the matter, the question of blood and falling towers were presented. It is almost as though, after hearing that perhaps those listening to Jesus’ teachings were not blameless, to deflect attention away from themselves, two groups who had died in tragic manners were dragged into the conversation as though to ask, “didn’t they get what they deserved?”
Jesus, is it obvious they died in these ways because of their sin?
If you have kids or have ever cared for more than one kid at a time you may have experienced a similar situation. You catch one child in the act of breaking a rule or doing wrong to someone else and instead of accepting responsibility for the act, the child defects attention toward a friend or sibling who has also broken a rule or done a wrong.
This behavior continues into adulthood. Politicians are really good at this but Christians, we are the best.
We will see a group of people and declare their sins, or what we perceive to be sin, as greater than the sins we have committed, and they, not us, need to correct their lives.
How many of you have ever been told, “You ain’t livin’ right” by someone you know to be a sinner as well?
I would be willing to imagine some of us have thrown that phrase - You ain’t livin’ right” - at someone, meanwhile our own sin continues unchecked, unacknowledged by ourselves.
So back to the original question Jesus is about to dodge - did those groups of people perish because of their sin?
Can we make sense of the complicated and unclear matters by examining the actions of those who have died?
The real question: “Did G-d kill those people? Did G-d deal out punishment for their sin?”
It is a tough and complicated question.
We can look to the Hebrew Bible and see G-d striking down the unjust, those who perhaps stood in opposition to Israel. But we can also see in the ministry of Jesus healing and mercy where there had once been suffering and exclusion.
So, to the question Jesus would dodge, I am inclined to agree with Archbishop Michael Curry. If G-d dealt out punishment - judgment, and curse - in relation to sin, there would not be anyone left on the planet. All sin is against the will of G-d. All sin is incompatible with G-d’s command to love G-d and love one another.
Yes, in Jesus dodged the question in his response but he had been teaching and exhibiting healing and mercy - grace - since he picked up the scroll in his hometown synagogue and declared the scriptures fulfilled. Since the manger, Jesus’ life has been pointing to the healing and mercy of his kingdom. Where we expect, and at times demand, judgment curse, the Kingdom of G-d offers something quite different.
G-d’s kingdom is different from Pilates. G-d’s kingdom is different from Rome, and friends we live in Rome.
Pilate and Caesar ruled by muscle and fear while G-d rules with grace. Those listening to Jesus’ wanted to talk about the sins of others and instead Jesus offered them the opportunity to repent of their own sins and to reorient themselves toward the kingdom he had come to make known and fully realized.
At its most basic level, repentance changes the way we behave in and view the world. Instead of our own perception, we begin to see the world as Christ does. When we want to focus on sin and judgment, Jesus invites us to look at the world differently.
Jesus had/has a Kingdom view of the world and in his invitation to repent, he is extending citizenship in his kingdom to us, the citizens of Rome.
When I was in St. Louis a few weeks ago the Westboro Baptist Church was there to greet us as we entered and exited the Dome at America’s Center. Their least offensive sign extended an invitation to repentance. The problem with their invitation is the invitation is not theirs to make. The Kingdom of G-d belongs to Christ and it is his grace inviting us to change our orientation, even if it takes more time than others think it should. An invitation to enter into this grace and be completely transformed.
For Jesus - his life, death, and resurrection - the Kingdom of G-d is always at the forefront. The Kingdom of G-d is priority number one for Christ.
When we accept Christ’s invitation to repent we are intentionally turning towards his kingdom. In this turn, we begin to see, experience, and become a part of the healing, liberation, and compassion extended to all of creation by G-d through Jesus Christ.
The Good News is that in five weeks, through the emptiness of his grave, we see the healing, liberation, and compassion of G-d in its fullest. In the empty tomb we find the extravagant grace of the Gardener - G-d Almighty - as the healing grace of Christ is extended to us regardless of our ability, and willingness, to repent with all our heart.