Another Chance for Who?

2 Peter 3:3-17
Luke 13:1-9

A priest and pastor from the local parishes were standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that read, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!”

“Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” yelled the first driver as he sped by.

From around the curve, they heard screeching tires and a big splash. The Priest sheepishly looked at the Pastor and asked, “Do you think our sign should have simply said, ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”

How many of you wondered with me last week whether or not the world was coming to an end? I mean, can you recall another time when so many natural disasters were occurring so close together? There were hundreds of people in Texas clinging to rooftops waiting to be rescued as the waters from Hurricane Harvey threaten to engulf them; wild-fires burning out of control in several western states prompting warnings to stay indoors to avoid breathing toxic air; an 8.1 earthquake in Mexico toppling buildings and spawning tsunamis and five unusually strong solar flares spewing a torrent of electromagnetic radiation toward our fragile planet. And then came Irma.

It is times like these that make us who believe in God to wonder, where is God in all of this? Does He not see what’s happening? Does He not care? Is He the one who we should hold responsible?

Not according to actress Jennifer Lawrence, who said last week that the two devastating hurricanes in Texas and Florida are expressions of Mother Nature’s wrath and anger over the election of Donald Trump. I didn’t know the Donald had that much power!

In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus perceives that His listeners are grappling with similar causality questions concerning a natural disaster.

Perhaps an earthquake, perhaps faulty engineering, perhaps a combination of both caused some sort of tower to collapse in the Village of Siloam killing 18 people and doubtless injuring others. The prevailing thinking of the day is that things of that nature were God’s justice meted out toward evil sinners. Jesus quickly nixes that theology:

And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No. (vs. 4)

And then just when His listeners (and us) were hoping for a sermon on the topic of God’s sovereignty, Jesus ignores the question of “why” associated with disasters. And He punches right through to the heart of the issue by focusing on the potential disaster that threatens everyone who ever lived: the day they meet God face to face:

And I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too. (vs. 5).

We may not like His advice, but that’s where Jesus went in the face of disaster, so we would do well to go there with him. When we do, we realize the good news of II Peter 3:9 that God is

patient toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Along with His patience, we discover that God will use everything He can to get our attention, even things He might not have caused, like the devastation that often follows natural disasters.

C.S. Lewis, in his fine little book, The Problem of Pain writes:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. 1

Thursday evening, the television was tuned to The Weather Channel show where people who have been caught up in tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and mudslides and have had the presence of mind to turn on their cell phone camera’s and record the events. As they are occurring, people are saying over and over things like, “Oh God, Oh God help me, Oh God save me.” When we see human beings helplessly fighting nature’s wrath, according to Jesus we should contemplate the day when we will all face God and answer for how we responded to the gift of his Son. On that day, we will only escape the storm if we have already thrown ourselves on the mercy of the only One who can provide the eternal shelter our souls need in this life and the next.

In other words what we have in Luke 13:1-9 is a passage in which Jesus is offering people another chance to get their lives in order before God . . . before it’s too late.

He follows with a parable that expands on that teaching.

It is clear that Jesus has cast God as the owner of the vineyard, while Jesus Himself is the keeper of the vineyard, and the fig tree represents primarily the nation of Israel, but also anyone who has rejected the offer of God’s Son. And the question is, What does one do with a fig tree that uses up scarce nutrients but does not yield fruit of repentance?

The owner desires to chop it down because it has had the necessary time to bear fruit, but has failed to do so. But the vineyard keeper begs for just a little more time. Perhaps extra care, a little loosening of the soil; fresh nutrients will do the trick?

It is always the way of Jesus to give people another chance to get right with God.

The Bible is full of people who get another chance, a new beginning, a fresh start: Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Job, Jonah. The list is long that contain the names of people who failed God many times and yet received another chance.

Chances are there are some of us who don’t think we deserve another chance for our failures. And I suppose the truth is . . . we don’t. But the good news is that God delights in giving people like Moses and David and you and I . . . second chances.

Chances are that there may be some here today who would love nothing more than another shot at being the kind of person that God wants us to be. But we feel that we’ve blown it big time, that we have done something so far out of line with what we believe God wants that He would never extend us grace like that. But that would be a fatal mistake. Because this passage teaches that God in His amazing grace excels at offering us another opportunity to make things right with Him.

And not only us who happen to be sitting in this congregation this morning, but also many folks who are not. We know people who are in need of what God in Christ offers. And when they are asking questions about what in the world is going on we can partner with Jesus in pointing them in His direction and assuring them that it matters not how long or how far they have strayed, God is expectantly hoping to offer them another chance.

Doctor A. J. Cronin tells a story from his own experience that catches the wonder of the gift of another chance.

Dr. Cronin was a friend of the Adams family who lived in Hartford Connecticut. At the close of the WWII, Mr. and Mrs. Adams decided to open their home to a little Italian refugee by the name of Paul Piotrostanalsi. The Adams had two daughters and a six-year-old son named Sammy. Sammy and Paul became inseparable friends, but little Paul was a difficult child and often disobeyed Mr. and Mrs. Adams.

One day, Paul went swimming in some contaminated water and became very ill with a high fever. Dr. Cronin was called and suggested Paul be quarantined in the attic bedroom. But Paul missed his friend Sammy so much that one night he crept downstairs and into bed with Sammy. Sure enough a day later, Sammy had the same illness. Paul recovered, but Sammy died within three days. It was a terrible tragedy for the Adams family.

A year later Dr. Cronin decided to stop by the Adams home. But as he pulled into their driveway, he was at first amazed and then angry when he saw Paul working in the garden with Mr. Adams. He got out of his car and approached Mr. Adams. “What’s this Paul Pio . . . whatever his name is still doing here after what he did to your family?”
Mr. Adams looked at the doctor for a few seconds . . . and then said quietly, “Dr. Cronin, you won’t have any more trouble with Paul’s name. You see . . . his name is now Paul Adams . . . we’ve adopted him.”

That story reminds us of exactly what today’s passage from the gospel according to Luke is saying to us. “Cut him down!” “But no, let’s give him another chance.”

Let us also be aware that the parable also makes it quite clear that when it comes to turning life Godward . . . that there will come a time when chances run out.

If we refuse chance after chance, if God’s invitation is given again and again, in vain, the day finally comes not when God has shut us out but when we by deliberate choice we have shut ourselves out with a hard heart.

Last week a minister who was attempting to get out of Florida ahead of Irma was waiting in line at his regular gas station to have his car filled with gas. Finally, he was successful at filling up and went inside to pay. The clerk who attended the minister’s church, said, “Sorry about the delay Rev. it seems as if everyone waited until the last minute to get ready to go.”
The minister laughed, “I know what you mean. It’s the same in my business.”

The clock is ticking. God is watching over His vineyard. How many people do you know who need to know that there is still opportunity?

And so when people who know that you are a Christian ask you about where God is when disaster strikes, I encourage you to steer them in the same direction Jesus went. Not to grapple with issues of who caused or allowed what to happen, because in the end that’s not what’s important. What is important is whether or not the natural disaster on earth is going to help you avoid the greater disaster of losing out on heaven.

 


1 Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. [San Francisco: Harper, 1940] page 91.

Randy K'Meyer

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