In our Scripture passage today, Jesus is in Galilee, speaking to a crowd of people. He’s been teaching them about what it will really mean to follow him and the narrow road that will be required. But they have some questions for him…
2 terrible tragedies had occurred recently that had impacted the people. The first was an act of terror. Pilate, the governor of the region, had entered into a temple where the Galilean Jews had been worshipping and he killed all of them.
The second tragedy was at the Tower of Siloam, in the southern part of the city of Jerusalem, there was a group of men helping to build an aqueduct, and while they were working – the tower came down – and crushed the 18 men. One act of terror and one horrible construction accident.
The memory of these events are surely raw in the people’s lives -
And so the crowd wants to know how Jesus explains such events.
The truth is that it isn’t a bad question. The question really is – why do terrible things happen? Is it God that makes these things happen and is it because of something we have done?
We’ve certainly asked these questions today – both about big tragedies and the frustrating things we deal with on a daily basis.
And some people as they wrestle with this question begin to get a bit jaded -
Some people have this idea that
God is somehow keeping score of our lives.
That everytime God sees our reflection in the mirror – he sees all the bad stuff that we’ve done and God is keeping this list and then one day – smack. We’re going to get it.
And Jesus’ words get at the heart of the matter –
And what I appreciate about his response is that he doesn’t try to give them easy answers about why such things happen – because there are parts of the human experience that simply cannot be explained by asking the question – why?
but he does address their underlying fear -
v. 2 – Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than other Galileans?
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?
NO. he says. That is not what happened here. This was not a punishment. It wasn’t an act of anger – God was not mad.
And then he uses this opportunity as a teaching moment.
Now, when some of us hear this word, we sometimes recoil a bit.
Because you’ve been preached at when it comes to repentance.
You’ve been told that
You are a terrible sinful person and you need to stop sinning or you are going to hell.
Repent – and flee from the wrath to come!
I was talking about this with someone this week and she said that when she heard this word – she had this image that she had to be down on the ground prostrate – beating herself because she was such a bad person =
How many in the room, tell the truth – were taught that this was true?
Well, I’m here to tell you what repent really means. To reclaim this word that’s been co-opted by people trying to scare you into the kingdom.
When Jesus tells these people to REPENT.
He uses the Greek word, “Metanoia” –
I want you to hear me when I tell you what - Metanoia means – to change one’s mind for the better.
To change one’s mind for the better.
You’ll notice that there is no mention of sins here –
Repent means – to change one’s mind for the better.
So, I want you to really hear what it is that Jesus is saying to the people on this day.
He has rejected this idea that God is keeping track of our sins and waiting to befall some tragedy on our lives.
He is rejecting the idea that when God looks at us and sees us – that he is looking and watching for all the bad things we will do.
Change your mind for the better.
Jesus has been teaching the people about the kingdom. About what God values, and about how much each of them matter – earlier in his time with them, he spoke – You are of infinite worth – but you’ve been living as if you are not my children. You’ve been living as if you are a mess – as if you don’t value yourselves or others, you’ve been betraying the very identity of who you were made to be –
do not live and behave as if you are afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Change your mind for the better.
Because when I see you. I do not see all the things you have done wrong – I see the person of infinite worth, the person I created you to be.
And so I invite you to repentance -
So, see instead – what I see – when you look at yourselves and then live as though it were true, because it is.
Change your mind for the better.
Repent or you will be lost.
Now, something very powerful happens to us – when we look in the mirror and begin to see what God sees.
I’ve seen it happen for people over the years, time and time again.
They’ll walk into my office – very skeptical and very hesitant – not sure if I’m a safe person or not – and then the story will begin to unfold.
The hurt, the heartbreak, the mistakes, the bad choices, and the disaster that ensued that has led them to this place.
And I’ll hear them say – I’m such a mess. I’m not sure I want to even keep going. It’s too painful, there’s too much sadness, it doesn’t make sense. It’s a mess. I’m a mess.
We live in the mess. That’s just true. And sometimes the mess is our own doing and sometimes it’s been thrown on us – usually a bit of both.
But the mess – the mistakes -
Don’t define us.
They are not our identity.
And my job in those moments – is to hold up the mirror and remind them – that they are a beloved child of God – that they have been called by God, the living God – to claim that identity and live in the world every day as if it were true – because it is.
Now, I’m going to be honest – some people do not want to look in that mirror – they can’t do it – it’s so painful – it’s hard to see…
And there have been times in my life where I’ve felt the same – but I have to say – that the thing that brought me to transformation and new life in those moments – was never knowing how bad I was.
The thing that brought me out of that place – was the voice of God – usually through others saying to me how good I was. How loved I was. How much I mattered.
And when I could glimpse that – that’s when the change happened.
And then Jesus –tells us a parable.
It’s of a fig tree. A Fig tree that hasn’t been the best fig tree around.
You could say this fig tree is kind of a mess –
Because a fig tree – the purpose of a fig tree is to produce figs. And this one hasn’t.
The parable says that the man owning the vineyard has been expecting the fig to bear fruit for 3 years now with no success.
Cut it down he says!
But the wise gardener cautions him – wait, give it one more year.
See – here is the interesting thing about fig trees.
It turns out this problem with bearing fruit is a pretty common problem.
Most fig trees don’t begin bearing fruit until the 3rd or 4th year of their life.
The first few years, the plant is growing and maturing
So the man probably didn’t come to this tree expecting fruit until year 3.
Then year 4 and now year 5.
But this wise gardener knows something about fig trees.
This gardener knows that each tree will produce fruit on its own timeline, and there’s no clear understanding or even way to know when it will happen - a tiny fraction of them even produce fruit in the 2nd year. Most in year 3 and 4, a few in 5, and then a tiny fraction in the 6th year.
There is still time.
There is still time.
Can you see what this gardener is doing? I can see what this fig tree can become.
PICK UP THE FIG TREE
So, I am going to give this tree every opportunity to be the tree is what made to be – I’m going to plant it in good soil,
I’m going to give it the fertilizer it needs,
because I can see it.
And there is still time.
What you need to know about yourself – if you really want to walk in step with God – is that when God looks at you – he doesn’t see the mistakes and the mess – he sees the person you were always meant to become.
And that there is still time for you to become that person.
And my hunch is – that if you can start to see just a glimpse of what God sees in you – If you could just entertain for a moment that God sees you as a child of God – a person of infinite worth – of beauty – a person who was created to bear the fruit of the Spirit in the world -
– then you will stop settling for a life that is surrounded by the mess…
When you can see who you really are – when you can see your life in Christ –
When you repent –
When you can change your mind for the better and believe that you are worth it and that you’ve always been worth it
And that you were made to bear fruit – fruit of love and kindness and joy and patience in the world –
Then your heart will start desire to start moving toward God
Part of this repentance thing is once we change our mind –
It doesn’t just stay up here – there is some movement to this thing.
We change our mind and there is a turning toward God that changes our direction.
And this turning toward God begins to connect our hearts and our minds and our spirits –
In such a way that we desire to
Stop spending time with people who suck the life out of you and tell you that you aren’t worth it.
Stop spending all your money on food and alcohol and drugs that are destroying your life instead of building you up and making you whole.
Stop spending your time gossiping and worrying about everybody else’s business instead of looking within and trying to find honesty and healing.
Stop building your life about what everybody else thinks – only to be crushed when the tides shift and instead root yourself and ground yourself in what God thinks about who and whose you are.
Stop trying to numb the pain and hurt in your heart with alcohol, or by spending all your time at work, or on the computer… distracted by technology… instead of seeking out the help you really need to be the person you were called to be.
Stop wasting all your time and energy being mad at the world as if you are all alone and instead seeking to find ways to heal and build community.
When we know who we are and who God says that we are –
When we turn from this idea that we are so bad – and begin to see how deeply we are loved – When we can change our minds for the better
THAT my friends is repentance.
And the scripture is right – without it – we will perish. We will be lost.
But if we can change our minds for the better –
And see what God sees – then we can find freedom…
And God says – there is still time – if you woke up this morning – there is still time –
SOMEBODY SAY – there is still TIME!!!
if you walked into this room – there is still time –
And if you have breath – there is still time.
Repent – Change your mind for the better and SEE what God sees in you.
So you can become the fig tree you were always meant to be.