Written by Pastor Ed
What was she Wearing?
February 28, 2016
I Cor. 10: 1-13
Luke 13: 1-9
Over the years I have noticed an interesting pattern. When something bad happens to someone, people want to know all kinds of seemingly insignificant details. I think this first came to my attention in hearing and reading about women who were being assaulted. One of the first questions people asked was, “What was she wearing?” In other cases it was often something like, “Well, what was the person doing in that place to begin with?” Somehow those questions didn’t make sense to me, because it really doesn’t matter what a person is wearing or where they are, no woman should be assaulted, period.
But finally I came to see that those questions weren’t really about the other person, but about oneself. You see, if I know what someone was wearing when they were assaulted, then I can make sure I don’t wear that, and thus, I believe, can avoid being assaulted. Or if I just know where something bad happened and don’t go there, I’ll be safe. It’s an interesting way of thinking. If we can make sure that we are not in the same situation as others, then the bad things that happened to them surely won’t happen to us.
But the reality is that bad things happen, even to good people. People who have never smoked a day in their lives get lung cancer. People who are extremely good drivers get killed in automobile accidents. Yes, there are situations and actions that put us in more danger than others, but the reality is that just because we are good people or we don’t do certain things or go certain places doesn’t make us immune from disaster.
Thinking that it will makes us like those who questioned Jesus in the account we read from Luke 13. At the bottom of the question, that is never explicitly asked, is the question of God’s judgement and fairness. It’s the same kind of question as “What was she wearing?” The questioners wanted to know what specific sin those people had done that prompted God’s judgement, that they were killed by Pilate, or that a tower fell on them.
Because if we know how it works, we can then avoid those particular sins, and thus save ourselves. But Jesus refutes that argument. There is no quid pro quo with God. The people who were killed were no less righteous, no more sinners than anyone else. Avoiding their sins won’t guarantee that something just as bad might not happen to you. Were the people killed by a shooter in Hesston, Kansas this week worse sinners than everyone else in the factory? By no means. Were those caught in an avalanche last week worse sinners that anyone of us? Of course not.
In much the same way as Jesus, Paul in I Corinthians warns the believers to be careful, for just when they think they have it all figured out, that’s when things are likely to go wrong. And then we are left with all those questions which have no good answers. Why? Where did I go wrong? They are questions without answers because we simply don’t know the answers.
We live in a world tainted by sin and evil and it affects all of us, no matter who we are or how good we think we are. It’s part of our human condition, our human ability to make choices both good and bad. We live in a world where disasters happen, where people turn violent, both as individuals as well as corporately and resort to oppression and war. Accidents happen, even to the best of us.
So what does that mean for us, sitting here today? During my readings this week, I ran across this quote from Mark Searle.
“The purpose of the first part of Lent is to bring us to compunction. ‘Compunction’ is etymologically related to the verb ‘to puncture’ and suggests the deflation of our inflated egos, a challenge to self-deceit about the quality of our lives as disciples of Jesus. By hitting us again and again with demands which we not only fail to obey, but which we come to recognize as being quite beyond us, the gospel passages are meant to trouble us, to confront our illusions about ourselves. ‘Remember, you are dust…’ From this perspective, Lenten penance may be more effective if we fail in our resolutions than if we succeed, for its purpose is not to confirm us in our sense of virtue but to bring home to us our radical need of salvation.”
Jesus tells his questioners, “If you think those people who died were somehow worse than you, then you need to think again. No one is immune and therefore you need to think about your own salvation and repentance, for you never know how much time is left.” And to illustrate the point, he tells the story of the barren fig tree, which after not bearing fruit for 3 years, is slated for removal. After all, why would you have something in your garden that doesn’t produce and only takes up space? But the gardener pleads on behalf of the tree. Let’s give it one more year. I’ll fertilize it, prune it, and give it one more chance. And then, if it still doesn’t produce, then we can chop it down.
In reality, we are all being given that second chance. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring and we can’t avoid the possibility that today may be our last. While we are confident that nothing bad will ever happen to us, the reality is that life is fragile and uncertain. And so each day provides us with the opportunity to respond to God’s invitation, voiced in Isaiah 55.
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
It is an invitation, not a threat or anything forced upon us. But it is a reminder that while God will continue to place the invitation before us, we don’t know when our time to respond may run out. And we are invited to respond over and over again, for each of us comes face to face with the realities of life daily. God’s ways are not our ways, and so we are left with those unanswerable questions. But we do know that God has provided a way, through Christ, to affirm our relationship to him and thus be assured of life everlasting and salvation in his name.
During this season of Lent in particular, we are called to examine ourselves and decide on our response to the invitation. And lest we think, oh, I did that once, remember Paul’s words that when we think we are standing, be careful lest you fall.
And so, as part of our individual and corporate response, I invite you to join in a prayer of confession, which includes a time of silence as you make your own personal response to God’s invitation to new life, whether that be a first time response, or a reaffirmation of your desire to follow in the way of Christ.
You can find the prayer at #690 in the Hymnal if you prefer, or it will be projected on the screen.
Leader: Have mercy on us, O God, according to your unfailing love
People: Blot out all our transgressions, according to your great compassion;
Leader: Wash away all our iniquities and cleanse us from our sin.
People: For we know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us.
Leader: We have sinned against you and done what is evil in your sight.
All: As a sacrifice we bring our broken and contrite hearts.
Leader: God will create in each of us a pure heart. God will not take the Holy Spirit from us. God will restore to us the joy of salvation and grant us willing spirits to sustain us.
All: Praise to the God of mercy who loves and forgives us. Amen