Sermon by Nnorom Azuonye
On reading the gospel of Luke 13: 1 – 9, the work of grace in our lives is immediately clear. This passage from the scripture is in two parts. The first part; verses 1-5 deals with the consequence of sin. Simply put – repent or die. The second part (6-9) is about the unfruitful fig tree that the owner considered cutting down but was persuaded to give it more time. For you and I, we have received many additional chances to bear the right kind of fruit, but only because the grace of our Lord says yes.
We are aware that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). While this is perhaps the obvious message, what comes out powerfully from the questions Jesus asked is that those of us who live today are not in any way better than those who have died. Again, the reason we live is that the grace of our father has said yes.
At that time some people were there who told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices to God. 2 Jesus answered them, “Because those Galileans were killed in that way, do you think it proves that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No indeed! And I tell you that if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did. 4 What about those eighteen people in Siloam who were killed when the tower fell on them? Do you suppose this proves that they were worse than all the other people living in Jerusalem? 5 No indeed! And I tell you that if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did.” (Luke 13:1-5, GNT)
First, let’s get something clear; it is not true to assume that every time somebody dies suddenly, or young, or in terrible circumstances, it is as a result of sin. We can replace the Galileans killed by Pilate with the 26 people killed in the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Do you think they were worse sinners than all other Americans? The Cyclone Idai in March 2019 claimed over 400 lives in Mozambique alone. It could have happened in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. Those of us alive here today are not alive because we are better than those poor souls wiped away by the cyclone. What about the 58 Muslims shot dead in New Zealand recently? They have not lost their lives because of their sins, but as a result of somebody’s evil ways.
The reason Jesus points out that those who died at the hands of Pilate or as a result of the collapsed tower were not worse sinners than those who survived is that there is this unfortunate tendency for people to link deaths like those as payback for sin. There are terrorists among us. There are sociopaths among us. There are despots sitting in power across the world who drive state-sanctioned homicide. Accidents happen. Natural disasters happen. When any of these things happens to somebody or people we know, we carry our heads in our hands and ask why. God, why? Jesus, why? What did we do wrong? Why did that person deserve this kind of end? We may never know. We can not tell what God is thinking, or why he permits certain things.
What we know is that Jesus mentions these sudden deaths and says we must repent or die like those people. He is not saying if we don’t repent of our sins, we will meet violent or sudden death. No. He does not say that. He is saying that if we do not repent and walk away from our sinful ways, if our souls are suddenly required of us, we would not get a chance to make things right between us and God, and that, is when we would then die the worst kind of death – spiritual death.
One positive thing though that comes from learning of the unexpected death of somebody we know is that we consider our own mortality. For a while we focus on putting our own houses in order. We think of improving our relationship with people. That is a good thing, because by improving our relationship with people we are performing an act of love, which is what a good Christian life is about. Let us dare to be Kingdom-ready. Let us run away from sin and live within the life-giving light of our Lord Jesus.
In verses 6-9 of Luke 13, Jesus told this parable:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. / So, he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. / If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Our God does not desire the death of the wicked, but that he repents and does what is right. He gives each of us the space and opportunity to make things right. Take that unfruitful fig tree as a metaphor for your job. Are you like the owner of that vineyard fed up with your job? Is the job not bearing the fruit you expected when you took it on; good earnings, learning, and fun? Before you request your P45, ask yourself, honestly, if you have given it your best, if you have fertilised it, if you have just been praying and expecting favour from God without putting in the right efforts. If not, give it another year and work like there is no tomorrow. Learn the best practices from those in your job who are performing better than you. If you do everything right and after one year you have not seen the desired increase or favour, take it to God in prayer, maybe you are in the wrong job.
Apply this to everything; your friendships, your marriage, the relationship with your children and members of your family, and indeed your life itself. Before you bring out that axe to give up on any of these things, stop and ask yourself how you may fertilise it and make it bear the right fruit.
Friend. Our God will lift you up. He will bless the work of your hand. Go on now and grab His guiding hand and never let go. Claim your moment of mega elevation and fruitfulness. The Lord will do it for you. May His holy name be glorified. His grace says Yes.
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©2019 Nnorom Azuonye. First preached at Belvedere Methodist Church on Sunday, 24th March 2019