How NOT to Read the Newspaper

reading-newspaperLent 3C: How NOT To Read the Newspaper
Luke 13:1-9
Isaiah 55:1-9
March 2-3, 2013

That’s how Isaiah gets our attention… Ho! Listen up! I have news for you!

It’s no surprise to any of you if I say that the way we get our news is changing…fast!
Not too long ago, this was my routine….
Every morning, I read the local paper which came to my door.
And every evening, I tuned into the evening news with Tom Brokaw.
Twice a day.
That was about it.

Now I get news all day long.
My laptop scrolls through headlines throughout the day,
turning them to bright yellow when there’s “breaking news.”
If I want to know more than the headlines,
I don’t need to wait until the evening news or –
“God forbid “– wait all night for the morning paper !

All I need to do is to click on the website for one of the news outlets 24 hours/day.
And opinions about the news?
My phone notifies me of opinions and comments
via Facebook and Twitter by professional commentators
as well as the amateurs (who are my friends and family)
virtually as soon as they happen!

I am bombarded by the news…
and for better or for worse, this has been a big change over the years…

But despite the fact that the way and frequency we receive news has
changed drastically,
I would suggest that our interpretation of the news
– and in particular the way we interpret how God is acting in the news events of our lives — has not changed very much.

In our Bible reading for today,
a group of people come to bring Jesus the news.
And it isn’t good news.

Apparently Roman forces have slaughtered a group of religious pilgrims.
They’re killed in the middle of worship.
Luke says euphemistically that ‘their blood is mingled with their sacrifices.’
The question the group brings to Jesus is “Why?”
Why were they slaughtered?
Was it because of their sin?
Was it because they were worshipping the wrong god?
Did they deserve it?

Jesus says, “No.”
They were no worse sinners than you….

They have another example
(unfortunately it seems that there is no shortage of examples of tragedy in any age!)
How about those 18 people who were killed
when the tower of Siloam fell on them?
Was it their fault?
Was it their punishment?

Jesus says, “No.”
They were no worse sinners than you either.
Jesus says that it isn’t right to ‘blame the victim.’
It isn’t their fault.
The tower didn’t fall because of the 18 people who died.

The 570,000 people in the US who get cancer every year?
It isn’t their fault.
The 170,000 people killed in the tsunami in Indonesia?
It isn’t their fault.
The 130,000 people who will have a stroke this year?
It isn’t their fault.
The 46.2 million people living in poverty?
It isn’t their fault.
The 350 soldiers who committed suicide in 2012?
It isn’t their fault.
The 12.3 million people in the US who are unemployed?
It isn’t their fault.
The 20 million people in the US with depression?
It isn’t their fault.

Jesus says, “No.”
They were no worse sinners than you.
As we hear Paul say later in Romans, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

God doesn’t punish people by striking them down with illness or disaster or hardship.

(And the corollary is also true by the way…
God doesn’t reward people for good behavior with good health or favorable weather or riches.)

But in response to our human tendency to distance ourselves
from tragedy by attributing blame to the victim,
Jesus says it doesn’t work as neatly as that.
Karma (what comes around goes around) is not the rule of the universe.

And then Jesus dispels another myth-
it’s the myth that if God doesn’t send these things as punishment,
then these terrible things happen totally at random.
That there’s no connection between the sin we commit
and God’s actions in the world.

Jesus says that that’s not right either.
There can be a reckoning.
Illness can result because of our poor choices!
I know – I’ve made some of those poor choices!

But God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours.
We make a mistake both when we assume God always punishes sin with disaster
and when we assume God never does.

Jesus says ‘those bad things didn’t happen because those people were more sinful than you…
But also …In fact…they could happen to you too!
All of these things – a tower falling, cancer, a flood, a hurricane, a stroke, the loss of a job, depression, suicide – all of these things could happen to us.
(Jesus isn’t at his most comforting here…)

Then he tells a parable – a story with a twist.
It’s a story of a fig tree.
By all accounts, the fig tree looks like a fig tree should.
I don’t know how to describe it…it has a strong trunk and branches and leaves.
But of course a fig tree is supposed to do more than look good –
it’s supposed to bear fruit – produce figs!

The landowner is a shrewd man.
He tells his gardener to get rid of the tree –
if it doesn’t bear fruit it wastes valuable resources.

The gardener protests.
He asks for one more year,
one more year in which to tend the tree
by loosening the soil and spreading manure around it.
And if it does not respond, the gardener agrees, then, yes, after the year, cut it down.

Jesus uses this story to remind us that life is a gift that is all too fragile.
Tragedies happen unexpectedly all too frequently.
None of us knows where we will be a single day from now, let alone a year from now.

But in the meantime we have today.
For today we have been spared that axe .
Today the gardener tends to us, nourishes us, fertilizes us
so that today we may yet bear fruit.

Those disappointments which came or those mistakes we made yesterday?
Those are yesterday’s news – and the rest of the world moved on a long time ago.
We have been given the gift of today.

We could go back and do things the same way we did things yesterday.
Or we could be bold and turn to the new day that God has given us.
Jesus calls this repentance.

So Ho!
Listen up!

Don’t be frightened by the headlines in the newspaper,
or the online news feeds,
or by posts on Facebook or Twitter.

Today God gives you water!
Come and drink!

Today God gives you bread!
Come to the table!

Today God gives you – gives you – no strings attached – God’s self!

And then go!
Go forth and bear fruit.
You may only have today.


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