Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mid-week service, Holy Week,

First UMC, Hayesville, NC

Sermon Texts: Luke 11: 1-4; Luke 23:34
Title: On Forgiveness

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Pray with me please: "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight oh my rock and my Redeemer."

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus' students ask him to teach them to pray, and half of the lesson is about forgiveness;

Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.

On the cross, Jesus lives out what he taught, praying for those who killed him, and for us; Father, forgive them;

Forgiveness is at the very heart of the Christian gospel,

and it is quite possibly the most difficult thing we are asked to do for our LORD because

it is the thing that most goes against our natural inclinations.

Clara Nun, a SS teacher in OK City told a story in LEADERSHIP Magazine.

She asked a boy in her class "Billy what must we do to be forgiven."

Billy thought about it a minute, "Well, first we have to sin."

Billy is right. Without sin, there would be no need for forgiveness.

And that is the way God originally designed the world, according to the creation stories in the book of Genesis.

Perfect world, perfect people with perfect lives.

And for perfect people to be truly perfect, God had to take a chance and give us free will.

Without the ability to choose our behavior, we would all be robots and we wouldn't like that and neither would God.

And, as we all know, with that free will came the opportunity to choose badly; which Adam and Eve both did, and with that act of choosing badly Sin came into the world.

St. Augustine called it Original Sin and talked about it in ways that were very close to saying that sinfulness is genetic, that we're biologically born that way.

I don't think we have to go that far to observe and admit that the world is full of sin and that all of us, in one way or another, participate in it.

A friend of mine says that Original Sin is the only Christian Doctrine that can be proven empirically;

he says, "I have four children and six grandchildren, I know what original sin is."

If we're honest most of us will admit that this is true, not only about our children and grandchildren but about us.

We all know how far, in Paul's words, "we fall short of the glory of God."

Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, was unintentionally funny and cranky on this point.

He wrote, almost 500 years ago, "We still stumble daily and sin because we live in the world among people who sorely vex us and give us occasion for impatience, anger, vengeance, etc."

I served as a small 3-point parish near Burlington, NC over 30 years ago. One night I took Miss Sallie Spoon, to hear her great granddaughter sing at a Revival Meeting.

The little girl sang beautifully; then the evangelist preached a fiery sermon about sin, yelling and haranguing the crowd. On the way home, Miss Sallie said to me, "I know I sin. What I want to know is what to do about it."

That is the question, isn't it? We know, in our heart of hearts, that we, all of us sin.

And even more, we feel guilty for how our sins harm others and we feel resentment for the way the sins of others hurt us.

And, as Miss Sallie said, "What can we do about it?"

How can we stop messing up our lives and the lives of our neighbors; with bad behavior and hurt feelings, with deeply buried guilt and long-held resentments?

Well, Jesus says FORGIVENESS is the only way.

God's forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of one another, which are deeply, inseparably, tied together; these are the only things which will rescue us from ourselves.

But we hesitate over this forgiveness business, don't we? Those of us who recite the Creed and the Lord's Prayer in our worship every week say we believe in it;

I believe in the HS, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins. . .

Forgive us our sins, debts, trespasses, . . .as we forgive those who sin, trespass against us, our debtors.

We say it, but oh, so often, it is so hard to live out.

One day on the Duke campus, a person I know ran across a seminary professor who shall remain nameless. He was a good man, but a bit stodgy and old fashioned.

They stood together on the steps of a classroom building and looked out at the Duke undergraduates celebrating a basketball victory.

They were "drunk and disorderly," and in various states of undress and publicly affectionate behavior.

The professor looked at them and said to my friend, "Well, I have come to accept the idea that Jesus died for me, but I have a hard time believing that he died for these people."

Sometimes, way too many of us are way too much that way.

We have accepted the idea that Christ died for us, and if we're not careful, we'll begin to believe we deserved it.

"Of course he forgave me," we think, "I'm really sorry for what I did.

And really, it wasn't all that bad, just a little sin. Nothing like THOSE people and THOSE things THEY did."

And it is when we begin to think that we have earned God's love, that we deserve God's Grace and forgiveness, and that the things we do aren't so bad, but those other people, they are really bad and sinful and undeserving,

It's when we begin to think like that that we begin to withhold forgiveness of others.

In Jesus' prayer, it is not by accident that he ties God's forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of one another. You cannot have one without the other.

The only way we can dig down deep enough to genuinely, completely, totally, unreservedly, with no ifs ands or buts, forgive someone else,

is if we realize how very much undeserved love and grace and forgiveness we ourselves have received, from God and from one another.

As long as we believe that we are in some way better than anyone, anyone else on this planet and that we, therefore, have in some way earned God's love, we will be incapable of true confession and forgiveness.

Holy Week is about finding that place within us that knows our failure and our need.

Holy Week is about following Christ to the Cross with our hearts in our throats, realizing that his suffering and death are the result of our sin, our fault, our evil ways and deeds.

Holy Week is about dying to our pride so that we can live in Christ.

It is in Christ that we know ourselves undeserving yet fully loved.

It is in Christ that we discover our true self, fully loved and fully loving others.

It is in Christ that we find the strength to confess our faults to others,

It is in Christ that we find the love to truly, completely forgive one another.

One of my favorite writers, GK Chesterton, once observed,

In one place, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors.
In another place, he orders us to love our enemies.
This is because, generally speaking, they are the same people.

I invite you now to stand and turn and face your neighbors across the aisle as we confess to and forgive one another, as Jesus taught us when he taught us to pray, and as he showed us when he forgave his killers from the cross:

Join me in the prayers printed in your bulletin.

RIGHT SIDE: I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed. I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.

LEFT SIDE: Almighty and merciful God grant you healing, pardon, and forgiveness of all your sins. Amen.

(A short period of silence is kept)

LEFT SIDE: I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word and deed. I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.

RIGHT SIDE: Almighty and merciful God grant you healing, pardon, and forgiveness of all your sins. Amen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Palm Sunday

I'm not preaching this week. (Why? Nobody asked me.) So I didn't write a Palm Sunday sermon. I have a group of pastor/preacher friends with whom I share sermons. One of them, an old Duke Div. School classmate, sent me this one I thought you might find either interesting or helpful or both. The author/preacher is the Rev. Dr. Warren Casiday, Pastor of St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ in Kannapolis, NC. By the way, I edited it a bit for length ( Those Reformed; less Liturgy, more preaching, but I left in his manuscript short-hand.)

To The Edge Of Night

Luke 19.28-40
H. Warren Casiday
March 28, 2010

It’s not quite Easter yet, but it will be here very soon. Just 7 days away.And what a joyful day that will be for us – as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

But we have a problem in moving from today – Palm Sunday to Easter.

We must walk through a graveyard in the dark of night that is called Good Friday.

That walk takes us from a Joyful Celebration To The Edge Of Night to total darkness to the light of the Resurrection.

We simply cannot get from PS to E w/o going through GF.

There are many churches who never observe the major event of Holy Week.
They do not have Maundy Thursday Communion Services. They never have GF services.

They rush from PS to E – neatly avoiding the unpleasantness of the week – so they can get to the trumpet sounds of E morning.

In some ways, it is easy to understand this desire to skip the events of HW.

J on the cross means death – and we don’t like to confront death. But J risen from the grave is life!

A sanctuary stripped bare for GF is can be very bleak and even depressing.

A sanctuary with Lilies and an E cross covered with flowers is uplifting & encouraging.

Why not skip through HW as if you were tiptoeing through the tulips, OR walking softly beside the graveyard at night so you don’t disturb the dead.

It is understandable.

Yet, when you read the Bible, rather than rushing through HW, to get through it quickly,the B slows down and walks very slowly through that week.

What we had just as soon get through quickly, the B takes very slowly.

In fact, in Matthew alone, nearly 30% of the book is devoted to HW.

PS is such a powerful story and so memorable that it is the 3rd best known story
after the birth narrative of J and the crucifixion/resurrection narrative in the B.

We know the story. We’ve heard it year after year. We can almost tell it verbatim.

PS is a story that leaves us spellbound with its wonder and beauty.

The borrowed Donkey. Our Lord. The Crowds. The waving of the Palm Branches. The cloaks on the ground.

The cheers and cries of the crowd:“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

And your mind comes alive with that scene – as if you had actually been there.

What a wonderful story.

But it is more than just a story.

That is the story that sets in motions the events that lead to J becoming our salvation. J shows up ready – and willing – to be our Savior / the Messiah.

What does PS mean to us today? I can think of three things.

Palm Sunday Means A Time Of:


How can PS not be a time of celebration! It is a parade for J – welcoming him to Jerusalem – especially as the Messiah.

There were three groups of people who mingled together along the road that PS.
A. The disciples of J
Who had put their cloaks on the borrowed donkey
Who had followed J into Jerusalem.
Who were leading the cheers for J.

B. The Jews in town to celebrate the Passover – who came out to see J.

C. The Jewish leaders – who were there to keep an eye on J

The palms that were waved and laid on the ground for the donkey carrying J to walk over.

Palms had become a symbol of Israel’s nationalism and hopes.

And now their hopes were being focused on J.

The cloaks were spread on the ground and the donkey walked over them; welcoming a new king and acknowledging his power over them.

In a real sense, the spreading of their cloaks on the ground was their Red Carpet for J.

The “Hosannas” that were shouted out were a Hebrew word that meant: Save us now!
Or as they would have understood it: Save us now from our political enemies.

“Blessed is the King of Israel” OR “Welcome to the Kingdom of our father David.”

These were greetings called out to who they assumed was to be their national liberator.

The response of the Disciples and much of the crowd was: J is the Messiah

The response of the Jewish leadership was: There ain’t no way!

But... The crowds – And the Disciples – had misunderstood J’s purpose on PS

They were looking for the conquering king to set them free from Rome.

Instead, they got J riding on a donkey – a symbol of a servant king – a humble king.

Not everyone was thrilled by the celebration – the PS parade.

The Pharisees certainly weren’t happy about the attention J was getting.

While it is not recorded here, the Roman soldiers couldn’t have been happy either.

In fact, they probably went on heightened alert for a revolution led by J.

But... The celebration ended. And the parade stopped.

The people realized that J had committed an unpardonable sin – in their way of thinking – by not being the kind of Messiah they were expecting.

Not only was PS a time of Celebration – a wonderful parade in J’s honor – it was a time of:


We are told in the B – in the stories before PS – that the Pharisees just didn’t like J.

In fact, they were plotting to find a way to get rid of him. They wanted him dead.

Now there are probably all types of reasons for this:

Jealousy – Envy – Pride – Arrogance

But it is very likely that the primary reason was their concern that J would upset their apple cart w/ Rome.

The Jews had a tenuous truce-like relationship with Rome.

With Rome’s permission, they were able to continue their worship of Jehovah.

This was a privilege Rome rarely granted to a conquered people. You must worship our gods.

But the Jews had been allowed to worship their G.

In their thinking, if J kept stirring things up, that freedom could be taken away from them. And they certainly didn’t want that.

So J rode the donkey into Jerusalem and the crowds praised him and celebrated his arrival.

And as they shouted out their praises to G for J, the Pharisees confronted J:

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

Our as we might put it: “For G’s sake, man – and ours – be quiet!”

And J replied: “If they (the crowds) keep quiet, these stones will cry out.”

IE: Somebody has to praise G for J

Isn’t it ironic that even today there are times when people confront J – especially when they find out J is not who they think he is.

Not only was PS a time of Celebration – and Confrontation – it was a time of:


The B simply slows down considerably during HW. Even Mark – the fastest paced Gospel – slows down for HW.

In fact, much of the Gospels’ writings are about the events of HW.

Many of the stories and parables that we love and have heard so many times were told by J during HW.

And, in one way or another, many of them dealt with the theme of our Commitment to G.

The parable of The Two Sons

One said he would work in the vineyard – but he didn’t. The other said he wouldn’t work in the vineyard – but he did. It is a story of obedience and commitment.

J told the parable of the Tenants who beat up and killed people so they wouldn’t have to give up what rightfully belonged to the Owner.

And the Pharisees understood that J was talking to them about their commitment to G.

J told the parable of the Wedding Banquet where everyone who had committed to come to the banquet backed out of their commitment. They even killed some of the ones who had been sent to invite them.

And the king brought in people from outside the wedding invitation list. Again, it is a story about commitment.

The story about Caesar’s coin – Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to G what is G’s.

The Great Commandment to Love G with all your heart and soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The parables of the 10 Virgins and their lamps / The Talents that were used and hidden / The Sheep & Goats

The story about J’s being anointed with oil.

The story about the Vine and the Branches.

All these parables & stories are in one way or another about a person’s commitment to G

In the midst of HW, J calls us to be committed to him.

There is a strong belief among many Xns that J got himself crucified because he refused to be the kind of Messiah the people expected him to be.

They wanted a revolutionary, didn’t they? someone who would come in and free the Jews from Roman occupation. someone who could be a great king like David.

They just didn’t understand the type of Messiah J was saying he was.

The belief is that it was just a case of mistaken identity. J was just not who they thought he was – therefore, he was crucified.

But I believe that the truth of the matter is even more basic than that.

The crowds went from welcoming J on PS to yelling for his death because they knew –
just as we know – exactly who Jesus was.

Before HW is up, ALL of the people there would be united in their ultimate rejection of J.

And it wasn’t just the Jews that were united in their actions against J. It was also the Romans.

It wasn’t just the religious leaders united against J. It was also the ‘common people’ of J’s day.

It wasn’t just Judas – whom we can write off as corrupt and evil. But it was all of J’s Disciples.

Peter – the Faithful Disciple – one of the inner circle of Disc – would deny him three times.

It was all the others Disciples – who fled and hid out of fear for their own lives.

It seemed as if everyone was united in their rejection and abandonment of J.

But J had a different reason for appearing in Jerusalem.

He didn’t come to set up a rival kingdom to Rome.

He came to be crowned with thorns.To be enthroned of a cross. To bring peace between G and humanity.

J came to be our Savior

PS confronts you and me with one more thing.

It says: There Is A Decision WE Must Make.

Today, on PS, as we pause at the doorway of HW, we see the scenes of Celebration and Confrontation and the call for Commitment.

We look through the dark edge of night to the cross. And we can see the entire story of the suffering and pain and death of J.

As we gaze upon our LORD– his arms spread wide in forgiving love –

We must decide: will we accept that Love, will we live in that Love, will we share that Love?

Amen and amen.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lent 5, March 21, 2010

Lent 5, March 21, 2010
TEXTS: Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4-14, John 12: 1-8

(A sermon preached at the Installation of the Rev. Phil Harkey as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran church, Elberton, GA)

In an odd sort of way, today is a day of mixed emotions, of conflictual feelings.

It is the Fifth Sunday in Lent and we are nearing the end of Jesus' journey to the Cross.

As the world emerges from the dark and cold of winter into the light and warmth of spring, our religious tradition calls us deeper into the darkness and gloom of Jesus' suffering and death.

Deepening this feeling of dissonance is the fact that we have gathered here to celebrate the new thing God is doing in Elberton by bringing Pr. Harkey and Holy Trinity Church together in mission and ministry.

Sadness and celebration; darkness and light; the cold of winter and the warmth of spring, the death of Christ and the birth of new hope, all mixed up together in one day.

Just like in our Gospel Lesson.

Here we find Jesus at a meal celebrating the raising of Lazarus, a feast in honor of the fact that Lazarus has been returned from the dead.

Into the midst of this party, Mary comes and anoints Jesus' feet with perfume and wipes them with her hair; an act that symbolically prepares him for death and burial, an act which also upsets everyone present.

It is a complicated story. Let's look at it carefully.

This story is in the beginning of chapter 12 in John. In chapter 11 Jesus is out preaching and teaching when he gets word that Lazarus, his dear friend, is ill. Later he learns that he has died.

The rest of chapter 11 is about how Jesus delayed in going to Lazarus and about how Martha fussed at Jesus for not coming sooner and how when Jesus saw Mary and all the others weeping, he started weeping too, and finally, Jesus went to the tomb and cried out, "Lazarus, come out."

And Lazarus came out, bound up like a Mummy in a bad horror movie; stumbling and smelly but alive.

Chapter 12 opens with the story of a dinner that took place a few weeks later to celebrate Lazarus' amazing return from the dead. Make no mistake about it; this was a party, a fiesta, a banquet.

Where I come from we would have had a pig-picking, a fish-fry, a keg party with fireworks. Pastor Harkey, you're from Charleston, right? We're talking a Low Country shrimp boil. Out on the deck, beach music playing, couples dancing the shag, little kids running around under the boardwalk chasing fireflies, old people sitting in corners talking and watching young people;

And into the midst of this joyous frivolity Mary comes with a gallon of perfume, expensive stuff, worth thirty or forty thousand dollars. And she plops down in front of Jesus and pours this rich and costly perfume all over his feet and then wipes his feet with her hair.

And the music stops, and the dancers freeze and and the old people hush talking and the children stand with their fingers in their mouths and stare while Jesus smiles and lifts Mary up and thanks her for her generosity and her love.

There are a couple of reasons for the stunned reaction on the part of the group, one that is spoken of in the text and one that is not.

1) In the text, Judas says that which everyone else is thinking, "My God, woman, what are you doing? You could have sold that and given the money to the poor."

Jesus reply here is very important. Many times people have used his words, "the poor you always have with you," as an excuse for not helping the poor.

That is definitely NOT what Jesus meant.

Jesus meant that Mary understands his immediate present and near future better than any of them.

She bought the perfume, the nard, for a specific purpose; to anoint his body when he died, and she more than anyone else, knows that Jesus is soon to die.

Her anointing his body at this time shows that she recognizes that by coming to Jerusalem and raising her brother from the dead, he has angered the people who run things and they intend to kill him.

She knows, even if the others don't, that by coming here to this place, at this time, and working this miracle, he has sealed his fate, he has signed his own execution order.

In giving Lazarus life he has assured his own death.

Mary pours out both her gratitude and her grief when she pours the perfume on Jesus' feet.

And when Jesus reminds them that they always have the poor with them, he is reminding them, and us, of our ongoing call and duty to serve the needs of what he calls elsewhere "the least of these my brothers and sisters."

Indeed what he says elsewhere is that when we serve "the least of these," we are personally and directly serving Christ. Rather than being the end of our duty to the poor, this moment with Mary at his feet is really the beginning of a higher call and a wider duty for all of us.

2) The second reason people reacted with shock and dismay is not spoken of in this text, but is easily understood.

Jesus was a single man and a rabbi; "decent women," and "decent rabbis" just didn't touch each other like that. But in her gratitude and her sorrow, Mary had thrown caution to the wind and gave vent to her deepest and most honest feelings about Jesus, her savior and her Lord.

This text calls us to do the same.

It calls us to a deep, deep grief for the death of Jesus; a profound and abiding sorrow for our faults and failures, our evil deeds and iniquitous acts; in a word, our sins, that put him on the cross to bleed and die to save us from ourselves.

It also calls us to a full and rich and sober joy and gratitude for the new life that Christ won for us there.

Martin Luther called it a "sacred exchange," a "divine trade."

On the cross Jesus took on our sins and gave us his holiness.

Upon the cross Jesus died our death and gave us his life.

There on that tree, Jesus accepted our fate and gave us his future.

And in response we are called to weep for our sins and his death and then to pour out our lives in service of Christ through service to the poor and needy of this world.

And Pastor Harkey, it is your particular call, in this place and in this time, to lead these people in doing just that.

In the midst of all the list of things a pastor does; of teaching and preaching and giving the sacraments and visiting the sick and the healthy and involvement in community affairs and bringing new people into the church; underneath all that,

your true call is simply this; lead these people in knowing that Christ has died for them and that in response they are called to die with Christ, pouring out their lives to serve the poor and needy of the world.

Amen and amen.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lent 4, March 14, 2010

Well, I've been on a Continuing Education trip to a retreat center near Austin Texas and I'm not preaching Sunday, so I haven't written a sermon this week, which feels very strange. I would like to suggest you go to the menu on the right of this page and click on 2007 and then click on March and then go to the sermon for Lent 4 on this text. It was tolearably good, I think.

New one next week,



Thursday, March 04, 2010

Lent Three, march 7, 2010

Lent Three March 7, 2010
(A sermon preached at Trinity Lutheran Church, Tullahoma, TN)
Text: Luke 13:1-9

Seminary professor Haddon Robinson tells the story of a young woman who talked to her pastor about her sin of pride.

She says, "Pastor, every Sunday I come to church and look around and think to myself that I am the prettiest girl in the church. I try to stop but I just can't. Am I horribly sinful?" Pastor looked at her and said, "No dear not sinful; just horribly mistaken."(1)

In today's Gospel lesson, some folks come to Jesus to talk not about their own sins, but the sins of others. And Jesus tells them that they, like the young woman, are horribly mistaken.

It's important to remember that Chapter 12 of Luke ends with several judgment stories in which Jesus warns his hearers to watch out for signs of the last days.

So it is natural that they should wonder, "Hey Jesus, did you hear about how Pilate marched into the Temple and killed those pilgrims from Galilee because he thought they were rioting? Why did God let that happen? Was it because those people were sinful and were being punished?"

We all understand this question. All pastors have gone to visit the hospital after someone has had a heart attack or a terrible auto accident or a diagnosis of cancer and the question comes, "What did I do to deserve this?"

Just this week my mother called me with what she calls "a preacher question." She has a pastor, but since he's a part-time, retired interim, she doesn't want to bother him, so she calls me, assuming I have more free time.

She said, "Help me know what to tell Roger Culler's grandsons. He was 61, died this week. They're 6 and 9 and want to know why God killed Grandpa. What do I tell them?"

My son, who is a very smart recent college graduate, told me over dinner this week that God was punishing him for going off his Lenten discipline. He had given up fast food for Lent but had dinner in a Burger King on the way to a ball game and got food poisoning. I really couldn't tell if he was serious or not, but told him his worst sin in this case was blaming God for fast food.

In the wake of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, some TV preachers decided they had to figure out what sins the Haitians and Chileans had committed that caused God to punish them.

And to all of this Jesus says, "You are horribly mistaken." Or as verses 3 and 5 put it, 'No, I tell you; but . . ."

Those "buts" are probably the most important words in this text. They signal a turn. A turn away from worrying about the sins and fate of others, and a turn to thinking about our sins and our own fate in life.


Jesus turned the crowd away from a discussion of other people's sins and turned it to a focus on their own need for change and repentance.

The theme of our text and the theme of Lent is "turning to and fro with God; turning from fear to faith, from sin to grace, from the world to God.

And focusing on the sin or saintliness of others distracts us from paying attention to our own journey with God.

In the early Twentieth Century, The Times of London, a newspaper read all over England, indeed all over the world; invited famous writers to answer the question: What is wrong with the world?

In response, they got many long essays spelling out both the problems and also, as a bonus, the writer's assessment as to who was to blame.

God, the Devil, the Church, the Communists, the Fascists, White people, Black people, Asians, Hispanics, the Jews, the Germans, the Italians, the Chinese, the Moslems, and the Americans.

It was women, men, the Older Generation and These Young People Today.

GK Chesterton, who wrote the father Brown Mysteries and books on Christianity and published many magazines on culture and politics, wrote:

Dear Sirs,
GK Chesterton (2)

Jesus call to us today is to turn from blaming God, or the world, or others, for what's wrong with the world.

Christ invites us to turn to look at ourselves instead, and then to turn and look to God for help and salvation.

That is really what the word we translate into English as REPENT means; it means to turn, to turn from one way of thinking to another, to turn from going one direction in life to going in a new and different direction.

Luther said that the life of the Christian is a life of daily repentance, a life of constant turning from the world to God and then turning back again from God to go into the world.

The result of this turning is the fruit we bear, the acts of love and kindness to others that our lives produce.

Jesus' parable of the fig tree reminds us that a life of turning to God and then back into the world will produce fruitful lives of generosity and love.

The reprieve given to the unfruitful tree reminds us that God is a God of grace and forbearance and steadfast love, a God of the second chance.

And we all sometimes need this reminder, because all of us are sometimes "horribly mistaken" about the sins of others and the sins of ourselves.

We have an unfortunate tendency to believe our sins are easily forgiven, but those of others, well, "…not so much."

In his series of novels about the small town of Harmony, Indiana, Phillip Gulley's Quaker preacher often reminds his parishioners that, "every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." (3)

Though we Lutherans remember Luther's words about being "saint and sinner at the same time;" we often act as though our saintliness is better than that of others and our sinfulness is not as bad.

We act as though, if it were only our sins that mattered, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross; just a good, stern talking to would have taken care of it. It was the sins of others that caused Christ to die.

But we are "horribly mistaken." Jesus says to us, "No, I tell you"

Lent is the time to repent of our own sins, not the sins of others.

Lent is a time to plow up the ground, prepare the soil, heap fertilizer onto our souls; seek the Lord's will and way and trust in the Lord's love and forgiveness, love and forgiveness of us and of others.

Lent is also a time to turn from our time with God and to go back into the world bearing fruit, spreading that love and forgiveness to others.

Victor Daley was an Australian poet who died of tuberculosis in 1905.

During his last days he called to his bedside the Nuns who had nursed him.

When he thanked them for their kindness to him, the head nurse, speaking for the others, said, "Don't thank us. Thank the Grace of God."

He looked around the room and smiled and said, "But, aren't you the grace of God!"


1 - "Let My People Laugh," p. 68; Christianity Today, 2009

2 - cited in Phillip Yancey's "Soul Survivor," p. 58; Zondervan, 2001

3 - "A Change of Heart" p. 129; HarperSanFrancisco, 2005

4 - Heard in a preaching student's chapel sermon at Duke over 30 years ago