Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke, chapter thirteen.
Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s the question that is asked of Jesus in our text. What did these Galileans do to deserve having their blood mingled with their sacrifices? Or why, as Jesus then asks, did a tower fall upon those 18 people in Siloam, outside Jerusalem?
Our questions today are often not that different. Sandy Hook Elementary School. The theatre in Aurora, Colorado. A tsunami in Japan. A meteorite in Siberia. Our stories can go back even farther. I remember preaching on this very text after 9-11. The Twin Towers. With each passing generation we have our Federal Building bombings, our Kent State or Berkley riots, our own Hiroshima or Pearl Harbor.
Each one of these disasters, either natural or man made, asks the question of why. Why this person and not that person? Who, we might ask, is at fault? Was it the person or the nation? Or perhaps it is more serious than that. What if it isn’t our fault at all? What if it is God’s fault? Could God really do such things? Those are the questions of the day.
These questions, as serious as they are, cannot be asked apart from one more thing: the cross of Jesus Christ.
It’s like this: The only way you and I really know anything about God is through Jesus Christ, his birth, death and life again for us. That’s it. If we look for God anywhere else, we will be seriously disappointed and even misled.
So what happens if we look for God apart from or out outside of the cross? It starts, so often, with finding God in beauty, the sunset, the love of family, flowers, and the like.
But it can’t stop there. Sooner or later we end up at the tsunami. And there we find the God of disaster. This God, so it seems, is arbitrary and, well, just plain mean. This God doesn’t stop with beauty. For this God, things get ugly pretty quick.
In all honesty, this is the God that we see and feel and know, or think we know. With this God it is dog eat dog. With this God it is survival of the fittest. With this God we live and die the divine “if/then” statements. If you do this, then you will live. This is the covenant of the Law we talked about Wednesday night. If that is all you think God is about, then your God is pretty tough.
So this is what the people were asking Jesus about that they didn’t get or understand.
Jesus answer is both disturbing and comforting. His answer for them is that no one sinned more than another. As St. Paul would later put it, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and a little later “the wages of sin is death”.
This is why Jesus answer to the question of why bad things happen is repentance. Repent, Jesus says! Jesus calls you to not think so highly of yourself, and to recognize that you live by the mercy of God. This is not a bad thing, because frankly, God’s mercy is far more reliable that our own ability to do well at anything.
Let me say that again, because it needs to sink in. God’s mercy is far, far more reliable than anything we say or feel or do. That’s what makes it God’s mercy, and not our own works. That is why we need the cross of Christ.
So teach us how God uses these disasters and hardships of our life, like the Tower of Siloam in our text, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree.
This fig tree story, we have to admit, is as disturbing as the Tower and all the repentance talk. First, there is a warning. The warning is that trees that don’t bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. The second disturbing thing is the fertilizer. Let’s talk about the warning first.
The warning and the fire at its simplest is judgment. Each tree of the vineyard must produce good fruit. At first glance, this sure sounds like good works, doesn’t it? If you don’t do good works, God is going to judge you. There is a warning here to recognize that we never do enough, and to recognize this all the time. But the problem is as long as I am focused on the fruit, things will never change.
It’s like this. When a tree isn’t bearing fruit like it should, you don’t start yelling at the fruit: “Get better! Grow more! Be more fruity!” How well would that work? Not very well.
No, if a tree isn’t bearing fruit, it is because it isn’t getting enough sun, or water, or nutrients in the soil. It may need pruning or some other kind of care. The fruit is the end product, and when the fruit isn’t growing, you look to the tree, not the fruit.
The warning Jesus gives to you and me is that if we aren’t bearing fruit in our lives, it is a faith problem, not a good works or fruit problem. That’s the warning God gives you and me. Examine your life and conduct and ask yourself if you are bearing fruit in your life. Fruits of love, patience, kindness, mercy and long-suffering. You know the fruits. If you aren’t bearing the fruit you ought to bear, then it is time to repent and trust in the mercy of God once again.
But guess what. You never bear enough fruit! Not by yourself, that’s for sure. The only way you bear enough fruit is by being connected to the tree, and that tree is Christ. Not bearing fruit, therefore, is a faith and trust problem. It isn’t a good works problem.
That’s the warning. Now let’s talk about fertilizer.
What is the fertilizer that God piles upon you so that you might grow and bear fruit? What is it that will show you your need for your Savior? The fertilizer is the trials and suffering you endure in your life. Faith rarely grows from success and victories in life. Faith thrives and grows when there is lots of, uh, fertilizer piled on it. These trials force us to examine our lives, repent and trust that God will take care of us, because we cannot take care of ourselves. St. Paul helps us out with this in Romans chapter five:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:1–6 ESV)
God uses the Towers of Siloam in our lives, the fertilizer that piles up all around us. He uses these things for you and for your benefit. The towers hurt when they fall. The fertilizer, truth be told, the fertilizer stinks. We should never pretend it doesn’t. As St. Paul said, while we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly.
This is what happens, beloved. God uses these trials and hardships for you. He feeds you and waters you. The trials show us our great need for God, and God longs to serve you and care for you.
Today God longs to be with you, to be your God so that you may be His child. It is easy to get stuck in the why questions. It is easy to get distracted by the fertilizer in our lives. Why did this happen to me and not someone else? You can’t answer those questions, because they are unanswerable. Our Heavenly Father, however, longs to feed you and care for you, to water you with His Word and Spirit as only He can do. The fruits of Christ’s work in you for for you rise up to heaven, where God says, “Ah yes, that is my tree, my beloved. That is just the way things ought to be.”
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.