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Posted: March 5, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Grace Notes: God’s grace to deal with bad things

As if it wasn’t bad enough that an earthquake devastated Haiti, now Chile too. What’s going on? Why did so many people have to lose their homes, their stuff, their lives? Or I suppose we could make it more personal: Why did my loved one have to die? Why did I have to get sick? Have you ever asked questions like that? How you ever lamented that things just weren’t fair?

People have been asking why since things have been happening. But where the problem comes is that people have been trying to answer that question, and we haven’t always done such a great job. All too often we humans try to play judge, like the recent comments that the Haitians were to blame for their earthquake.

In our text, Jesus gives an answer to that. In Luke 13, Jesus tackles the questions of "why" when it comes to tragedies happening. God’s own Son spoke clearly when it came to why those Gentiles were massacred or why those Jews died in that tragic tower collapse in Jerusalem. He starts by rejecting the idea that so many were holding: "Do you think they were more guilty? …I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish!" Do you see how he turned the question? Rather than evaluating whether they deserved it, he tells us to ask whether we deserve it. And the answer is "yes." The only "unfair" thing in all of this is that a tower hasn’t fallen on us or we haven’t been massacred. You see, it is fair when bad things happen, because that is the result of sin. You know the passage, "The wages of sin is death." Sin in this world and in our hearts means that bad things will happen — and since we are sinners, there is no way out of that.

He says the only thing we should judge when we see those tragedies is that we deserve them. We need to repent. Do you know what that means? The word itself pictures a change of mind, a complete turnaround — changing from one that sees things through the sin soaked goggles of our natural reason and this world’s opinion — to one that sees things through the love of God and an understanding of his work in our world.

Repent! It sounds good, but it’s a tough thing to grasp — so Jesus tells a story. Read Luke 13:6-9. There’s a fig tree that doesn’t produce figs. So the owner makes a business decision: "Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?" That tree was planted for a purpose. It wasn’t accomplishing it.

Of course, this is more than a story, so where do we fit here? God created us with a specific purpose — to bring him glory — and when instead we focus on ourselves, or our selfishness, or our bickering, slander, greed, or whatever it is — we are not producing the fruit of the glory of God. "Cut it down!" he should say. That would be fair.

But into the story jumps that gardener. Look at what he says: "Sir… leave it alone… and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it." Out of nowhere comes this Savior, this intercessor for the tree that deserves to be cut off. You can’t help but see who he’s talking about. It’s Jesus; the one Paul calls "the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men."

Jesus, the gardener spoke up, putting himself on the line. As that ax was raised, ready to come down on us for when we are unfruitful — suddenly, this Savior jumps in the way of all its piercing sharpness. Even when we don’t deserve it — he did what it took to save us and to make us fruitful. Think of that suffering and death of our Savior and you see a small picture of the things of which that ax is capable. Jesus willingly stepped in front of the ax of punishment, the ax of those betrayals and rejections. He took the full brunt of the beatings and mocking and scourging. He let the nails pierce his hands and allowed the ax of God’s law to cut off his very life, because we had earned that punishment.

And all of this — for a tree that wasn’t producing fruit. Why? Because he loves us. He loves you enough to want to keep giving you that one more chance to be what he has made us. He loves us enough to prune us with those tragedies and trials, using them as tools to drive us back to him, to cut off our reliance on this world and strengthen our attachment to him. So whenever you see bad things — praise God that you can repent and run to him!

The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.

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