THE 3RD SUNDAY IN LENT AD 2022
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
"So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
 "And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: 'Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?'  Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
 "And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins.  Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die.  Again, though I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right,  if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.  None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
 "Yet your people say, 'The way of the Lord is not just,' when it is their own way that is not just.  When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it.  And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by them.  Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways."
1 Cor. 10:1-13
I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  and all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."  We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
 And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  And he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?'  And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.  Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
Missiles raining down from the sky, randomly killing innocent women and children as buildings collapse on top of them. Families running for the border caught in the crossfire and killed by mortar blasts. It’s all happening half a world away, but it’s all unfolding right before our eyes on our TV screens, smartphones, tablets and computers. Senseless, random, violence and death, just like a tower collapsing on some innocent people and pilgrims being slaughtered in the temple with their sacrifices.
All the terrible things going on in the war in Ukraine are upsetting to say the least, even for those of us who don’t personally know some of those who are caught up in the midst of it or have never lived through such a horror ourselves. How can one man cause so much suffering for so many? What kind of monster must he be to do such monstrous things? How can he so heartlessly displace and kill so many for his own gain?
Questions. Yes, there are lots of questions with this awful war, not the least of them being -Why? Why are these things happening to these people? If it’s not a question on your lips, it’s certainly one in the back of your mind. Why are these people suffering at this time in this way? We want a reason, need a reason. Why does it matter? In part I think because we need to know why it wouldn’t … couldn’t happen to us.
Some people take comfort in the idea that it is all just bad luck. These poor people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. To believe that though, you have to believe that there is no God in heaven, or if there is one, He really isn’t in control of anything, or at least not bothering with it. If He did make the world, He’s a hands off kind of guy, who’s just letting it all play out on its own. Not the most comforting thought.
Others grab on to the idea that these people must have somehow deserved it, or at least done something that put them in harm’s way. Hard to imagine how you could convince yourself of that, when little children are lying dead on their school ground or bombs are falling on a maternity hospital. Being born in a country that shares a border with Russia may not be a good idea, but it was hardly something that any of them actually chose to do.
Some may hold on to the idea that the Ukrainian government or the U.S or Nato are somehow to blame for pushing Putin too far - but what has that got to do with those dead women and children? Some may try to find some moral in all of this, some lesson that they can put into practice to avoid such terrible things happening again and especially not happening to them. But what other than never to live too close to Russia can we really draw out of all this? Not much to take away or go with, is it?
We know it’s not just all bad luck. There is a God in heaven and He without question is in control. We also know that it’s not just really bad people who have bad things happen to them, or people who make mistakes or bad choices, because there are plenty of people like these poor Ukrainians who seem to be in all the right places, doing the right things, and still things go terribly wrong for them.
But meaningless? No, it’s not all meaningless, as Jesus tells us today. There is a reason for it all - a purpose behind it. Repentance. Repentance for you and me. Yea, that’s right. Not just repentance for all the Godless people out there who are doing all kinds of Godless things, although it is for them too, but it is meant for Godly you and me, Godly you and me who are doing our best, or at least, trying to do what is right.
Were the people who had all these bad things happen to them worse sinners than you? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Were these people any worse than you? No, they were just as bad as you are. They were sinners as you are sinners. And so they died as you will die. Why them and not you? God alone knows. That’s a mystery of His Divine will - a part of His being God. He knows what He’s up to even if you don’t get it, and believe it or not, He doesn’t owe you any answers.
It could be you but it isn’t, by God’s mercy. But these tragedies are happening as a Word to you, a Word of warning, a call to return to the Lord your God each and every day. They are a call to remember that the Lord is God, that He takes sin seriously, that its wages are death and that you need a Saviour. You need a God to rescue you from you. They are a reminder that you can’t keep yourself alive, that without the Lord you’re in big trouble and so you’d better keep your eyes on Him.
Manure. Yes, it’s all manure, manure heaped on this world to try and get it to sit up and take notice, to stop fooling around and look up to heaven for salvation. Manure to bring about the fruit of repentance and faith, getting us to give up on the whole being our own gods bit and put our trust in the Lord instead. Many use it as a reason to get mad at God (that’s how it goes with sinners - it’s never our fault, it’s always God’s) but it is sent for our good.
Believe it or not, it’s the mercy of God that heaps on the manure, that allows the tragedies. His wrath, His judgement, would just cut the whole tree down. His mercy allows the world to keep on spinning, while He allows trouble for some to try to wake up the rest. No doubt in our corner of the world, the Lord is going to be allowing a tonne more manure to be spread around, because the way things are going we sure could use it. The more Godless we become the more manure we need.
So where does this leave us? Living in this world in these days? Where life under sin always leaves us, with no hope except in Christ Jesus. Yes, there will be trouble, and yes, it may come to us. Do we deserve it? Our sins without question have earned it. We die after all, because we sin. But God in His mercy has provided a new life for us - a new life in Christ … a new life that has already started and will never come to an end.
Whether it’s trouble in the life of others or trouble in my life, the Lord is at work through it all to turn my eyes and the eyes of others to Him. God may ask me to suffer, as He did five years ago today. He may allow me to go through some hard things, like a massive stroke, but He won’t leave me alone in them. He will be with me every step of the way. I may have many questions that will go unanswered, but He will be my answer in the midst of it all. I might wrestle and struggle. I may even fall apart but He’ll hold on to me through it all.
You won’t be asked, beloved, to face anything that the Lord Jesus hasn’t already faced for you. He knows the cross’ way far better than any of us ever will. We suffer justly because of our sins, while He did nothing wrong. After three years of working and being fruitful in every way He was cut off for us on Golgatha. He was chopped down, so that there could be mercy for us. Mercy with manure, yes, but mercy all the same, that allows us to know trouble now that we might know joy forever.
Repentance, yes, all the terrible stuff is for repentance, for yours and for mine, that we might be turned to Christ. All the manure that you’ve heard about in these past weeks … all the manure you’ve had to deal with in your own life, yes, it was all meant to bring you here - to Jesus, for forgiveness and life, for hope and for strength, for peace and for joy, in Him and Him alone forever. Amen.