About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Luke 13:1-9 Tower of Siloam, Parable of Manure
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
March 14, 2004

If I were going to come up with a catchy title for the sermon today, it would be, “Murder, Mayhem, and Manure.” Wouldn’t that look good on the sign out front. “Today’s Message: Murder, Mayhem and Manure.” (“Uh-oh, Myrtle. Let’s go see what the Baptist sign says. “Be Prepared to Stop?” Well, that’s the same sermon as last Sunday.”)

On the Third Sunday of Lent, there really isn’t any way to make the scripture sound cute and cool. There’s nothing but bad stuff on the Bible News Network. In Galilee today, worshippers were slain by government troops while bringing their sacrifices to the synagogue. That’s the murder. In Siloam, a tower fell without warning, killing 18 pedestrians and wounding untold more. That’s the mayhem. The manure is the good news, which gives you some idea how bad the news around Jesus was getting.

In our home, we don’t watch the news very often. At least we wait until after the girls go to bed. Why? Because we feel confident there’s going to be enough murder and mayhem for them to see when they’re older. Shoot, we can’t even let them watch the Super Bowl anymore. You never know when someone’s going to have “wardrobe malfunction.” And then there’s the ads for “CSI” and “Fear Factor” pressed between the scenes of wedded bliss in San Francisco. Omigosh. It’s happened. I’ve officially become my parents. Where did these tickets to Burt Bacharach come from? And why is the print in these Bibles so small? What was I talking about?

The truth is the news has always been bad. Worshippers are slain at the altar. Towers fall. The date might be September 11th, but the year could be 2004, or 2001, or ’04, or ’01 A.D. The magnitude of scale keeps increasing, but the evening news pretty much looks the same for us as it did for Jesus. Murder. Mayhem. And manure.

Where is God in all of this? And why can’t the world ever seem to get a break? When the people run up to Jesus and ask him, “Have you seen the news, Lord?” does he care? Or has he hidden his head beneath the soft pillow of heaven’s glory?

There’s hardly a night that goes by that a person couldn’t watch the news and wonder the same things today. Where is God? Why can’t the world get a break? Does Jesus even care about this world and all its mess?

There’s a show on Friday nights called, “Joan of Arcadia.” According to TV Guide, lots of people are watching it. Like the original Joan of Arc (who was not, by the way, Noah’s wife), Joan of Arcadia gets messages from God. Except that Joan of Arcadia is an obnoxious teenage girl and if I were God and she talked back to me that way, I’d smite her with acne the size of golf balls. Not that God would ever wish acne on people with attitudes. Which brings me to the reason I brought this up. In an episode a couple of weeks ago, God appeared to Joan as a Jamaican emergency room doctor. Joan had sprained her ankle doing laundry (it’s a long story) and had to get it fixed. As God the Jamaican Doctor is applying the Ace Bandage, Joan says, “Is this some sort of punishment? Are you punishing me for my sins?” And God says, “I don’t need to do that. You people punish yourselves. You’re getting so good at it that I might retire.”

Last week, a government-sponsored report announced that overeating will soon overtake smoking as the #1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. Last week also, the government-sponsored Congress passed legislation protecting the fast food industry from lawsuits relating to death by super-sizing. That kind of stuff makes me think God the Jamaican Doctor is right. Galatians 6:7, “God is not mocked: for you reap whatever you sow.”

Last Sunday we read Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” God cares. God cares so much that God gets sick to death of seeing us punish ourselves. Sick to death on a cross. God cares. Jesus cares. The Holy Spirit cares. But the care of God the Father, Son and Spirit will not be mocked. While parts of the world are starving we can obscenely super-size ourselves to death, and God will watch in disgust as we reap what we have sown. God cares enough never to turn away.

So when we find ourselves asking, “What did I do to deserve this?” sometimes we can point to an answer; we punish ourselves pretty well. But a lot of times there is no answer. Calamity shows no favorites. You filled up your gas tank when John Allen Muhammad was aiming a rifle. You had an annual exam. Your sins or lack of sins had nothing to do with the tragedy that befell you. So Jesus can answer that the people slain in worship, the people the tower fell on – they weren’t any worse sinners than anyone else. They were just people like you and me, people that Jesus cared for, people that Jesus cares for – people that Jesus died for.

Life is short.

But life goes on.

After hearing about the murder and mayhem, Jesus tells a parable.

“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

That’s it? From a preacher’s point of view, Jesus’ little sermon illustration leaves a lot to be desired. What happened? Did the fig tree shape up and repent of its fruitless sins? Did it turn its life around? Did it start listening to Dr. Phil? Did it cut its carbs and start spend more time with its kids? Or did it waste its extra year?

In a world with more than enough murder and mayhem, this is the good news. There isn’t any resolution to the story because the story keeps repeating itself. No matter what we deserve or don’t deserve, the good news is that God has given us this extra year, maybe this extra day, as a reprieve. Until we get it into our heads that every year is a wonderfully unjust gift of pardon, we run the risk of dying too soon.

God cares. God cares enough to replay this scene of revisiting the fig tree, over and over again. And even if we aren’t as fruitful as we’d like to be, or could be, God lets us live. God doesn’t send the murder and mayhem to punish us for our sins; God sends another year of manure in spite of our sins. Another year to keep digging out. Another year. Another day.

Turn on the news, and it’s not good. But let your days turn on God’s news, and it is good. You have today; I have today. Praise God for that.