Lent 3 (2007) Year C RCL Principal
It doesn’t stop with being saved!
People have some pretty strange ideas about what it means to be a Christian… Quite often I hear the words ‘well, I don’t go to Church, but I try to be a good person’. Or ‘I’m a Christian, I’m interested in spiritual things’.
I’ve said it before, but trying to be good, or even coming to Church or reading the Bible doesn’t actually make a person a Christian – any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a car. There is something more to the way we live, the way we are, when we are followers of Jesus Christ.
Over the past few sermons I’ve said that being a Christian involves cost, sacrifice, struggle. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Jesus talking about following him being like a king sending his armies into battle and deciding whether or not he has the strength and manpower to engage in a war. It is a costly business.
Jesus reminds us again in today’s reading that being a Christian is not about the easy route, or that it is just a matter of saying ‘it’s OK, I’m saved’ and leaving it there. Being a Christian must make a difference – to everything.
Now let me re-iterate, that the forgiveness that is offered to us by Jesus Christ comes without cost to us. The sin which afflicts our lives, and indeed the whole creation, has been ultimately defeated by Christ through his death on the cross and his resurrection to new life that first Easter Day. That sacrifice was offered with no strings attached on our part, God’s love is unconditional, his grace freely given.
Yet in order to receive that freely given, freely offered grace and forgiveness we have to turn away from sin and turn to Christ. That wonderful old fashioned word ‘repent’ means just that ‘turn around’. In today’s Gospel we are told in no uncertain terms
‘unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did’
Those who perished were those who were crushed by a tower that fell down in a place called ‘Siloam’. But Jesus is drawing a parallel between their physical death and the spiritual death of the sin filled life.
And Jesus has no time for sin. It is a cancer, and evil that afflicts the soul. Sin is the reason for his death, and ultimately the reason for the death that comes to all life. Sin eats away at reality, it draws us away from God. We cannot follow Christ and live in our sins at the same time.
Now I’m not known for being the ‘repent or die’ kind of preacher – fire and brimstone’ or ‘turn or burn’ preaching seems to be to be used too often to try and frighten people into becoming Christians. And we are told in scripture of God’s perfect love which casts out fear.
But I do believe that we have to take sin seriously, and to ask questions of those who claim to be Christians yet are not living up to the standards that Christ proclaims and indeed demands of those who follow him.
To follow Christ isn’t to amble about mindlessly generally hoping we are going in the right direction, to follow Christ means to keep him in sight, seeking his guidance, following his way, being willing even to follow him to death.
I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating! The word disciple – which is the proper name for all those who seek to be Christ like and to follow Jesus – is a word that comes from discipline. We are called to the discipline of Christ. As St Paul says ‘we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ’. (2 Corinthians 10 v 5).
And a life which doesn’t, with God’s help, seek to deal with sin and its destructive effects isn’t seeking to follow Christ. It cheapens grace and the sacrifice made by Christ.
This may seem rather strident, and not in keeping with my usual softly, softly approach, but I think we all need to be reminded that our faith must make demands on us. We cannot take God’s grace and mercy for granted.
Jesus illustrates this vividly in the parable he tells in this morning’s Gospel passage. The fig tree that bears no fruit is given the opportunity to grow, with nurture and care, but if there is no response to that nurture and care it will be chopped down and burned.
Interestingly, Jesus most strident and striking imagery of eternal death or divine punishment isn’t directed at non-believers, but against those who claim to follow him and yet don’t live up to that calling. Now we can argue about whether these are literal images that Jesus sets out or whether they are forms of story which seek to spur his followers into action – but if we take Jesus’ teaching seriously we must note this – that being a Christian must make a difference to our lives. It must make a difference in the way we speak, act and even think. In the choices we make, in what we do with our money, in the way we spend our time, in the priorities we have in our lives, in our attitudes towards others, in our moral and social lives. As a follower of Christ we are called to be like Christ.
Earlier in this Gospel we have strong warnings on the same theme – chapter 3 verse 9 says that ‘the axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire’. In Chapter 6Jesus points out that those who live up to the values of the kingdom will bear good fruit, and by the fruit of our lives we are known.
So what is that fruit? Well the fruit of the Spirit is summed up beautifully in the letter to the Galatians, where Paul writes:
22…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control.
This is the kind of lifestyle that repentance and the discipline of Christ will bring about.
And though it may seem that I have been rather negative through this whole sermon, I do want to end on a note of grace!
We can’t live up to these standards alone, but we have the promise of the Spirit to help us in our struggling. Our life as a disciple will not be an easy one, and we will need to work at it. We cannot expect God to do all of the work for us, nor can we take God’s forgiveness for granted. If we are to live life to its fullest degree we must open ourselves up to God’s Spirit working in us and through us. This means making the effort to live better lives, but this should be the result of the Spirit living in us, not an attempt to be better people for the sake of it.
We pray for God’s grace to inspire, transform and guide our lives, that we become the people that Christ calls us to be. Amen.