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Who Sinned?, Jim Eby, 8/26/07 Who Sinned?, Jim Eby, 8/26/07

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   Discussion: Who Sinned?, Jim Eby, 8/26/07
Jeanne Gay · 10 years, 3 months ago

Summit/Mt. Airy Joint Worship Service               August 26, 2007

WHO SINNED?

Delivered by Jim Eby                                           Luke 13:1-9

Though the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting several of our Presbyterian Mission Workers.  Steve and Michelle Kurtz served in Croatia where they worked at the Evangelical Theological Seminary.  They told the story of one of their students named Jasmina.  She was born to an ethnically mixed family and married a secular Muslim (someone Muslim by family tie, but not practicing his faith).  With her mixed ethnic background, raised in a country ruled by atheistic communism, she was a typical modern secular person, though she was aware of a spiritual hunger in her life.  When the war came, she was in trouble.  Her Muslim married name made her an 'enemy' to the Croats, and her partly Serbian ancestry made her an 'enemy' to the Muslims.  So when food ran out, neither side would help her.  Her husband had to flee for his life, leaving her and her son to survive as best they could.  In desperation, she came to Agape, the humanitarian aid organization founded by the Evangelical Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Church.  She told them, "I don't know what side you're on, but I'm probably not eligible.'  What a sense of hopelessness!  What a feeling of helplessness!  Who sinned?  Jasmina or her parents?

 

There has been terrible loss of resources -- homes and crops -- hopes and dreams have disappeared in the horrendous rain and now wind storms in Illinois.  Fires haven’t helped much either, have they.  There have been those who died.  Who sinned?  Why do these awful things happen to people, so many of them good people?

 

The headlines last night read:

 

Greece in a state of emergency as fire kills 49.

Iraq body count running at double pace.

New Orleans still struggling two years after Katrina.

Two killed, eleven hurt in balloon fire in Canada.

Deadly bird flu found in southern Germany poultry farm.

Who sinned?

 

When Pilate retaliated against those who opposed his pet project of building an aqueduct to bring water 30 miles from Jerusalem directly into the city, he did so with a vengeance.  Folks were not happy that he was funding the project with funds they had collected to maintain the Temple.  So when Pilate came to Jerusalem to supervise the festivals, he was greeted by huge demonstrations of angry Jewish subjects.  Pilate disguised his personal body guards and sent them into the crowds to kill the Jewish ringleaders and the identified troublemakers.  The soldiers found the opportune moment to be that as the victims were offering their sacrifices in the temple.

 

Folks came to Jesus with the news, and someone asked the customary question: "Who sinned?"  Time after time we hear it, "Who sinned?  The man born blind or his parents?"

 

 

Ken Bailey, one of our mission workers who worked so faithfully for years in the Middle East, observes that those who brought the news to Jesus that day also wanted to hear Jesus denounce the Roman occupiers.  They wanted to be able to quote Jesus on the 11 o'clock news and to use his anger to fuel the revolution they hoped would sweep the occupiers from the land that God had given them.

 

But, Ken observes, Jesus would not.  Instead he opens the question of sin and suffering wider and ends with a call for them to repent.

 

And then, as if to be sure they understand that he will not play their game, Jesus adds the tower accident to the conversation.  Those who bring the news of Pilate's atrocities ask, "What about the suffering of these national heroes struck down by our enemy?"  Jesus answers, "What about the suffering of those struck down in the falling of a tower?"  Jesus will not allow them to focus only on the politically oppressed.  He asks them to consider all those who suffer, not just those who feel the thumb of the army of occupation the most.

 


He asks them to be concerned about all those to whom bad things happen, and then he calls them to repent, lest they also perish.  It's as if Jesus is saying: "You want me to condemn evil in Pilate.  I am not talking to Pilate.  He is not here.  I am talking to you.  Evil forces are at work in your movement that will destroy you, Pilate or no Pilate.  You must repent or all of you will be destroyed by those forces.  Among those who struggle for justice there develops the attitude, We are the angels and they are the devils.  Blessed is the movement that is willing to listen to a courageous voice quietly insisting, "There are devils among us and angels among them.  We must repent"  Jesus does not tell them to submit to Pilate.  Jesus is not acquiescing to Roman oppression.  Rather, Jesus bravely demonstrates a deep concern for the people in front of him who will destroy themselves and all around them if they do not repent."

 

It's a wonder that the crowd didn't physically attack Jesus right on the spot.  What did he mean calling them to repent?  In the face of the horrible atrocity that had just been perpetrated by the soldiers of Pilate?  There ought to be some justice.  God ought to punish those who killed good people right in the middle of their worship of God.  What kind of a God is this if evil is allowed to flourish?  And what kind of a leader and patriot is Jesus if he won't even denounce the horrible act?  They wanted him to consider the evil in Pilate, and he wanted them to see evil in their own hearts!  He wanted them to see it and repent of it, turn their backs on it and move toward a deeper relationship with their Lord and their God.

 

That doesn't sound very much like gospel, does it?  That doesn't sound like good news.  Gospel is supposed to bring us peace and prosperity, or at least peace and quiet, isn't it?

 

No, Gospel is supposed to bring us a growing relationship with our Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer.  And the issue Jesus places before each of his disciples today is whether or not we will repent.  Jesus makes that very clear as he declares, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."  In other words, the issue is not why those bringing their sacrifices to the Temple that day were massacred.  The issue is not why folks died in this flood or that earthquake.  God does not single out people because they were bad and needed to be taught a lesson.  The issue is whether or not we will repent.

 

Perhaps we need to consider our attitude toward our neighbor, toward other races, our use of money, time and energy.  Perhaps these are the things for which one should repent.  We must not treat those lightly.  All of us have specific ways we fall short of the glory of God, all of us are separated in one way or another from those we love most.

 

But today, let's get at the matter of repentance in a different way.  Beneath the specific sins which trouble your conscience or mine, there is a basic issue of loyalty.

 

Our baptismal vows and our vows as we unite with the church, the body of Christ, ask us to turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world.

 

At issue is whether we are willing to choose sides in that conflict and do it publicly.  The ancient baptismal question asks simply, "Whose side are you on?"  On the one hand there is God and all that God demands, expects and promises.  On the other hand there is a host of other gods, other claims upon our person and our substance.  To be a Christian is to say publicly that in this conflict, we are on God's side.

 

The issue, then, is one of loyalty.  To whom, or to what, do we make allegiance?  To repent is not so much a matter of giving up certain practices or habits as it is a matter of re-affirming our basic allegiance.  Repentance means we start right now with our choice of allegiance.  Repentance means we begin the day by renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways and by re-affirming our commitment to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

 


Jasmina, there in Croatia knew what it meant to have to choose sides.  She knew what it meant to feel like a person without a country, without an identity.  She came to the community there and said, "I don't know what side you're on, but I'm probably not eligible."  The director of Agape responded, "No problem, we distribute food and clothes in the name of Jesus without asking what side a person is on."  Jasmina was amazed.  She had to find out what made Agape different.  The director invited her to come see.  She came to fellowship with them and heard the gospel clearly for the first time.  That evening, she became a believer, and it changed her life immediately.  When she began to speak about her new faith to her neighbors, she soon discovered she didn't know much about the Bible or her faith.  Her pastor recommended she attend the seminary where Steve was a professor and the Acting Dean.  Not content to be just a student, Jasmina went to the nearby refugee camp regularly to share her faith and to encourage the people there who, like her, have suffered so much from that awful war.  She repented.  She turned around and walks with Jesus instead of away from God.  She continued to proclaim daily the one to whom she is loyal.

 

Of the barren fig tree the owner of the vineyard said to his vinedresser, "Cut it down; why should it use up ground?"  And the vinedresser answered, "Give it another year, sir.  Let me put fertilizer around it and if it bears fruit, well and good; but, if not, you can cut it down."

 

The good news is that there is still time.  Wouldn't this be a good time and a good place to ask ourselves whether we are bearing the fruit that Christ means for us to bear -- in our jobs, in our homes, in our communities, serving him?  We're not asked to be something we are not.  All Christ asks is that we be the best that we can be.  Completely dedicated in our work to renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  Completely dedicated to help others like Jasmina experience the life changing news that they too are valuable children of God.

 

Who sinned? 

 

 

 

God, you know how complacent we can become.  Startle us with the call to repentance.  Help us hear you call to ministry, and then empower us by your Holy Spirit and help us spend our hours and our days joyfully renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways.  Help us to live centered in the reality of the Christ in our midst who not only promises new live, but enables us to bear fruit.  In his name we ask it.   Amen.

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