Monday, March 8, 2010

Another Year of God's Grace

Today as some of you know is my birthday.
I was reflecting on the passing of another year of my life.
Here is what I think a year is a long time.
A mean a lot can happen in a year.
For me this year was filled with change.
This year my children grew in leaps and bounds.
For example, Charlie now talks in complete sentences that are understandable.
That was not true last year.
Phoebe, is able to get up and get herself dressed, including be able to zip her own coat.
That was not true a year ago.
In this year our family has moved….my wife and I both got new jobs.
So a lot can happen in a year of our lives.
It has also been a long year for Concordia.
There has been a pastoral transition.
New people have come, some have been baptized…some people have moved away, died, or left.
A year can be a long time.
For some of you personally I know this year has also brought many changes.
Some good some bad.
Kids have grown, people have graduated and moved on to college, some people have loss jobs, some have started new ones, some have lost people they loved.
A lot can happen in a year.
We can change… we can gain new insight.
So today I am thankful for this past year, for the growth and change it has brought.
What I am also aware of as I pass into another year of life is what has not yet been done.
All the things that I still need to work on or change about myself.
As much as I have changed I have also stayed the same.
I am still a sinful person…I am still imperfect…I am still just a little off in the head.
But this year…well this year I have the opportunity to change that all around.

That is what Jesus gives us all in the Gospel for this morning, another year.
Jesus gives us more time to repent, to grow, and to bear good fruit.
This morning Jesus talks to the crowd about two instances of suffering that were hot topics of the time.
They were interpreted by some to mean that bad people get what they deserve.
That the reason people perished at the hand of Pilate and in disaster at the tower of Shiloam was because they were sinful.
Jesus rejects this theological insight.
“No” he tells them they were not any more or less sinful than anyone else.
We don’t always suffer because we deserve it, or maybe put in a different way we do suffer because we deserve it.
We suffer because we cannot avoid the effects of sin in the world.
Our sin is too great to be overcome.
And as a natural cause of that people die.
But it is not that God desires this to be so.
It is not because God causes these things.
Instead what God offers us is a life of repentance and forgiveness of sin.
What God offers us is more time to bear fruit.

I can tell you that there are many people out there who we would say deserved to die who keep on living.
There are many people who we would say don’t deserve to die and well they do.
That is just life.
Death is in some ways random.
We don’t like to think that of course.
We like everything to make sense, we like for everything to work in order.
Maybe even more we like to think that we can somehow control everything.
I am here to tell you it does not work that way.
This is why a year is such a long time.
Because every day we are alive it is a gift.
None of us is promised anything but today.
And today is the day that God has called us to repentance, to bear good fruit, and to live in the kingdom of God.

That is what Jesus invites the crowed into this morning a life of repentance and forgiveness.
Not because it will guarantee them that nothing bad happens to them.
But so they can receive the benefits of living with God right now.
Imagine living a whole life without God!
It might be ok I guess, but to do so would mean that we would miss out on all the benefits of knowing God in our lives.
Especially when the time came for us to die.
How would we know God’s grace and eternal life.
That is why Jesus tells us “or you will perish like they did.”
Meaning we will perish without knowing God’s goodness and mercy.
What we will think is that God is vengeful.

This is the paradox of faith.
That our lives are not perfect.
That we are judged by God and found wanting.
But that God is also merciful and loving.
Jesus tells us this morning that God does demand of us that we bear fruit, but also that God is merciful and patient with us.

Jennifer is a woman who has been living with guilt her whole life.
When she was pregnant with her first baby she was an alcoholic and drug addict.
And even though she wanted to stop she drinking when she was pregnant she couldn’t.
Her child was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and addicted to drugs.
You might think that this woman is horrible, because what she did was horrible.
But you know what she has been clean and sober for 18 years.
She made amends with her life, and her kids who are now healthy and relatively productive members of society.
You see God gave another chance.
Did this person deserve that chance probably not, but God gave it anyway.
And God gives that same chance to each and every one of us.
Every day is an invitation from God to grow, to bear good fruit, to repent, to change.

That in and of itself is a miracle.
But Jesus tells us this morning that God even does more.
God cultivates us, God digs around us, and puts new fertilizer under us, and cares for us so that we can grow.
I believe everything in my life is God somehow helping me grow.
That every day I am given a new chance to do better, and be better.
But it is only with the help of God that I can grow and produce better fruit.

Jennifer realized this while in recovery.
One night she was in her room, and for no reason she can explain she got down on her knees and surrendered her life to God.
She gave up the illusion of control.
She asked God to be in her life, for forgiveness, and to help her every day.
Now every morning she gets up and gets on her knees and prays for help from God.
Her friends and family will tell you she is a completely different person now that she is clean and sober.
Jennifer will tell you that is only by the grace of God that she is different.

Maybe your story is not so dramatic as Jennifer’s and maybe you are thinking that you are a better person then her.
But this is Jesus point, we all need to repent, we all need to change, we all need to bear better fruit.
And that only happens when we are able to surrender to God.
It is only when we come to see that it is only by the grace of God that we live another year.

And so here I am this morning another year older.
And what I pray this morning is that God will forgive my sins that God will help me to grow and bear better fruit.
I am thankful that today I have another year of living in God’s grace.

This morning may all of us repent, grow in our faith, bear fruit, and be thankful to God for his grace that gives us more time.
Let us give thanks to God that he has planted us, dug around us, and given us the best fertilizer to grow and bear fruit.
Thanks be to God for another year, and for the grace he gives us as we grow. Amen

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