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Sunday message: The tower of Siloam

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Third Sunday of Lent – March 24, 2019


Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8 and Luke 13:1-9

Some of us might remember that school assignment known as “current events.” As kids we were asked to cut out an article from the newspaper and write about it. 1.)

Nowadays one could see how students can go to a newspaper website and do their cutting and pasting electronically, but it’s still the same thing.

Current events. We can, similarly to Jesus’ audience, become hung up on current events, forgetting the wider, big-picture of life. 

In some ways reflecting on a “current event” is futile. We know what happened but it’s way too soon to know what it all means. It takes time to know if a “current event” is as significant as we think, and, with the passage of time we acquire perspec­tive to understand what they mean. 

I recall a church history professor of mine saying that his latest book went up to about 15 years prior to the present date at that time years ago, as he knew that it’s pointless writing about events upon which the proverbial dust hadn’t settled yet. You don’t have enough perspective on the progress of history in such a short range. 

Today’s passage involves Jesus and a question about a current event. Jesus responded by giving perspective to a political event — the rebel­lion of some Galileans, a common enough event in that time. Instead of giving a snap judg­ment we shall see that Jesus brought some real perspective to the matter.

He did this by pointing to another current event, the fall of a tower and the death of eighteen people who randomly stood near it when it fell.

Speaking about real perspective. Isn’t it amusing to see a raccoon’s activities? They can be a bit of a genius. I remember once watching a particular raccoon in a small town in Ontario about 17 years ago. This raccoon learned to climb up a telephone pole in order to get a better look. There’s no food up telephone poles as far as I could tell, but the raccoon regularly climbed up and I want to believe it was for better perspective.

How do we view tragedies such as the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand? This event just illustrates how desperately we need to repent; how determinedly we need to repent, especially in the midst of and in response to tragedies such as the shooting at the Al Noor mosque. In the many articles about and commentaries on the unspeakable horror at the Al Noor mosque, was the following analysis in the New York Times. 2.)

“Upon learning about the massacre in Christchurch, a Muslim friend messaged me”, the reporter writes “‘How will we keep our kids safe?’ I didn’t have a good answer. But I know the threat we’re facing isn’t just individual terrorists. It’s the global ideology of white nationalism and white supremacy.” 3.)

When we talk about repentance, it’s important to note that it’s not about moral categories such as “stop swearing” or “live a decent life”…it’s actually more about reading the times for what they really are. Do we see how prejudiced we are? 

Isn’t it about noticing that God is doing things around us, waking us up? The New Reality of God is breaking into our world. That perspective of seeing God’s work happening is a true repentance. 

When the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001, the world was reeling about the loss of around 3,000 souls. That was horrific. Do we realise how that pales in the light of the evil that went on when a few years before nearly a million Rwandans were killed one by one, largely with machetes, while the world at large did nothing?

We can merely let our minds go back to our service at the end of January this year, when we lamented about all the atrocities that go on and continue to go in Southern Cameroon, of the many lives lost senselessly, just because the French-speaking majority and the English-speaking minority don’t get along with each other. It’s all a political mess that needs to be addressed.

Is it possible to talk about the “idolatry of current events”? What happens to us now is more significant—in our minds—than anything else. 

That idolatry is demonstrated in Luke 13:1-9. Jesus and his listeners begin talking about current events. Some people bring up the topic of rebellious Galileans—whether they were freedom fighters or terrorists depended on your perspective—who were murdered by Pilate. Jesus responds that their fate was no different than those who died when the Tower of Siloam fell. 

Look again at the scripture text. Jesus said, “unless you re­pent, you will all perish…” (verse 3). Notice the “all”? It’s not just the ones who don’t repent who perish. We’re all in the same boat.

Finally Jesus speaks to another major misconception with re­gard to the current events in Galilee and at Siloam. There’s no escaping it. Some people think that only good things happen to good people and that bad things only happen to bad people. 

Every disaster, every act of terrorism, every genocide, every war, whether justified in our minds or not, is an invitation to see the world through God’s eyes. 

What are we making of these troublesome times, whether they happen in Biblical times or twenty centuries later in our time? Perhaps we’ll do well by noticing that God doesn’t want any single one of us to perish. Isn’t it God’s hope for humanity that all are ready when their time arrives? 

We are all part of this. There’s no point in trying to figure out why people die. We all will die. Do we see how, in the end, we need to repent for the ways in which we consistently take advantage of God’s patience and God’s grace, as the parable of the fig tree suggests?

The world cannot afford our barrenness any longer. What fruit do we bear?

1.) Parts of this message are inspired by the Lent Series “You Are Here” by Frank Ramirez on sermons.com (subsription required)

2.) Taken from “Fig Trees and Repentance” on Dear Working Preacher, by prof. Karoline Lewis, on workingpreacher.org. 

3.) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/opinion/new-zealand-mosque-shooting.html 


Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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