Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
March 24, 2019
Scripture: Luke 13:1-9
I don’t know about you, but there have been times in the past couple of weeks when it has seemed like the world has been falling to pieces. Airplanes falling from the sky with hundreds of people on board. A person armed with guns entering into a place of worship and killing 50 people who had gathered there. Cyclones and floodwaters that have left vast swathes of countries under water, killing hundreds and leaving thousands stranded and waiting for rescue. Climate change that is such an imminent threat that children are walking out of schools to try and get us adults to pay attention.
Closer to home, I know that we have families in our communities who are dealing with serious medical conditions, with the loss of loved ones, with family challenges.
I don’t know about you, but I get upset at the senseless randomness of things. Why did that gunman walk in and start shooting? Why was it my loved one who got sick? Why is it the most vulnerable people on our planet who are the most impacted by climate change? I get upset; I get angry; I get sad.
Bad theology sometimes tries to give us answers. Bad theology might tell us that everything happens for a reason. Bad theology might tell us that what goes around comes around, and everyone gets what they deserve. Bad theology might tell us that if you are good, then blessings will shower down upon you; and that bad things happen because you didn’t pray hard enough.
But none of this fits with my understanding of a God who is, by God’s very nature, love. I can’t imagine a God who is love wanting bad things to happen so that we can learn from them. I can’t imagine a God who is love zapping people on a whim. I can’t imagine a God who is love doling out violence and cancer and grief as a punishment.
And Jesus says pretty much the same thing in today’s passage, when people came to him with questions two tragedies that had just happened; tragedies that still resonate with us today. Some people were worshipping at the temple when Pilate had them killed. A tower in Jerusalem collapsed, crushing 18 people under the debris.
It is our human instinct to try and make sense of the world, and so I can imagine people coming to Jesus trying to make meaning out of these two tragedies. Why did this happen to them? Why were they killed? They must have done something to deserve it!
But Jesus is clear in his response to these questions. Did the worshippers do something wrong that they deserved to be killed? Jesus says, “No, I tell you.” Those people crushed by the tower, were they sinners, and was this God’s retribution? Jesus says, “No, I tell you.”
It is our human instinct to try and make sense of tragedies. We long to find some explanation for these events, so that we can feel safe knowing that it can never happen to us.
In today’s reading, I can hear echoes of the people in John’s gospel who brought a man who was born blind to Jesus and asked, “Who is the sinner in this situation? Was it this man’s or his parents’ sins that led to him being born blind?” But to those questioners, Jesus gives the same answer as he gives in our Luke reading from today. Neither. You’re asking the wrong question. Bad things don’t happen as a punishment for sin.
Bad things just happen. Bad things happen to good people. Our world doesn’t make sense. That was true in Jesus’ time, and it’s true today. 2000 years later, people are still being killed when they gather to worship. This is part of the tragedy of our broken world.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to point out that what matters is how we respond to these tragedies that we face. We can’t stop bad things from happening to us by being good people. We can’t control the evil in the world. But what we can control is how we respond to them.
When tragedy touches our lives – whether it’s tragedy on the other side of the world or tragedy in our family, how do we respond? Because we have a choice here.
We can choose to respond with retaliation, with fear, with hatred, with violence, with shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world.
Or we can choose to respond by doing what we can to spread God’s love in the world by being peacemakers, by offering our support to the vulnerable, by building relationships with our neighbours, by allowing the peace of God which surpasses all understanding to overwhelm our hearts and our minds.
Jesus uses the word “repent” when he is talking to his listeners, and “repent” is one of the churchiest church words out there. One of my professors at AST, Dr. Alyda Faber, likes to talk about “theological F-words” – those words that are part of our theological vocabulary, but that make us uncomfortable to hear or that we aren’t comfortable saying. I think that “repent” might be one of these “theological F-words” for many of us.
But the root of this word doesn’t have to do with condemnation, it doesn’t have to do with a threat, it doesn’t have to do with so many of the ways that we often hear it. The Greek word that Jesus uses here refers to a "metanoia" – literally a change of heart, a change of path, a change of our ways.
With repentance, with a change of heart, a change of actions, we have an opportunity to change the story line, to change the ending. Tragedy still happens in our world, but the result of tragedy no longer has to be fear and escalating violence – the result of tragedy can be a shift towards love and goodness in the world.
And so when a shooting in a mosque in New Zealand results in people of different faiths coming together to pray and support each other and learn about each others’ faith, we can shift the story just a little bit towards love.
When a health crisis draws a family together, and friends and neighbours offer practical and emotional support, we can shift the story just a little bit towards love.
When an accident leads to people opening their doors to strangers, we can shift the story just a little bit towards love.
And we can believe this because we are an Easter people. We know that on Good Friday, death tried to have the final say and violence tried to lead the world towards fear and chaos; but we also know that on Easter, the story shifted again towards love and joy and a confidence that resurrection is possible.
On Friday evening, I heard an interview with a woman who was present at St. Joseph’s Basilica in Montreal when a man came in and stabbed the priest. Reflecting on this, as well as the shooting in two mosques a week before in New Zealand, she said, “There is so much hate in the world.”
There is hate in the world; but I believe that there is also a lot of love. We can choose to change the story line, we can shift the story towards love and hope and joy; we can choose to live the Easter message every day.
And may it be so. Amen.
“Unconditional Love – Agape”
© Zerovina, CC BY-SA 4.0