LENT 3, C – February 28, 2016

SCRIPTURES – Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9; Psalm 5

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13

I have with me several things to show you. I apologize if they upset you (they often have that affect). Brace yourself! Here they are:
 (A scale) Who wants to stand on this every day? Even if it has no voice, how loudly it accuses!
 (A full-length mirror) How would you like to stand in front of this every time you get out of the shower?
 Matthias Grünewald’s painting, “The Crucifixion.” It was over 8’ high and 10’ wide and was displayed in the front of a chapel. How vividly shows you what your sins have done! How would you like to see this every time you came to church?

No one likes to be the focus of attention, especially when it’s for something bad. But, today Jesus puts the focus on you. “Unless you repent, you will perish.” So, we must repent! But… what does this mean? What is repentance?

Repentance is taking responsibility and admitting guilt. This is something that we do not like to do. We’d rather point the finger elsewhere; which is very easy to do.
 Are you tired of listening to politicians right now? They love to point out the failings of others. But, what about their own?

Well, their dodging and denying is nothing new. “What about those Galileans?” Jesus was asked. We all do this. In order to get the focus off of ourselves, we put the focus upon others, especially when bad things happen.
 What about that mean kid at school?
 What about that lazy co-worker?
 What about those church members who rarely come to church?
“What about you,” Jesus says. Don’t compare yourself to others, so that you think you’re ok if you’re better than someone else. Are you following what God says, doing what He expects? His Law, and not the lives of others, is the standard. Are you learning and following His Law; and doing so now? “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses,” God tells Ezekiel. Don’t rely on the good you did in the past. God is looking upon you now. Are you serving Him now?

Jesus says you are to focus upon yourself, even when it seems there is reason to focus elsewhere. What about those who are suffering? In His day people connected suffering with sin. if you were suffering, it was because of something you had done. “What about those Galileans?”

Jesus does not allow such thinking. Those Galileans who were killed: they were killed, it seems, while they were worshiping God. Pilate had mixed their blood with their sacrifices! “Do you think these were worse sinners?” asks Jesus. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” We are all sinners. No one is good. Tragedies and death come to all, for all are sinners.

According to Jesus, the correct response to sufferings and death — whether because of disease, natural disaster, or even because of sin — is not questioning God, or seeking the cause within the sufferers and so seeing yourself as somehow better, less worthy of suffering. No, the correct response is repentance, saying: “I, too, am a sinner and am deserving of God’s judgment for my sins.” Remember: suffering and death are not the worst things that could happen to you. Damnation, being condemned to eternity in hell, is the worst thing that could happen to you! This is what Jesus means when He says, “Unless you repent, you will perish.”

Repent, therefore! Admit your sins, and that you are deserving of punishment for them! But don’t stop there. Cry out to God for mercy! Ask Him to deal with you according to His mercy, not according to your righteousness! This is the heart of repentance.

God deeply desires your salvation. “’As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’” God wants to forgive your sins. Don’t be afraid, therefore, to admit them to Him!

God’s mercy is especially seen in Jesus. In Him you most clearly see God’s desire to forgive you and help you and save you. Above all, behold Him on the cross. There God says, “Your sins are not upon you. I have placed them upon My Son. He bears the responsibility, and is punished for them. You are free!” This is what Matthias Grünewald had in mind with his painting, “The Crucifixion.” Completed in 1516, it was painted for the Antonites, a hospital order of monks that mainly treated patients who were afflicted with a terrible skin disease called “St. Anthony’s fire.” The disease caused serious convulsive symptoms including painful seizures and spasms, as well as painful pustules and open wounds. Grünewald showed Christ splayed on the cross, his hands writhing in agony, and his body marked with livid spots of pox – the same as those afflicted with St. Anthony’s fire endured. At the foot of His cross stood a Lamb, its side pierced and its blood pouring into a chalice. And so, when the patients entered the hospital chapel and saw the painting – it stood in the front of the chapel – they saw that Christ not only took their sins upon Himself; He took their painful and deadly disease as well. They saw that as they received His body and blood in Communion they received His healing forgiveness into their very flesh. Even if they died, then, they would be raised in their very flesh to life eternal, for Jesus overcame His wounds and on the third day rose without them, completely healthy and sound!

This is what repentance holds to and confesses. This is the great blessing of repentance. What is the advantage of admitting to God that you are a sinner, that you have disobeyed Him and deserve His punishment? Jesus tells us in His parable of the fig tree that wasn’t producing fruit. You get His attention! You get fed with His fertilizer! You get His forgiveness! Those who cry out to God for mercy receive His mercy in Christ, and in great abundance.

Look unto Jesus, then, and not to your own goodness. Confess your sins and cry out to God for mercy, and hold onto that mercy in the crucified and risen Jesus. This is repentance! By this repentance you shall surely live; through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 
Matthias Grünewald’s “The Crucifixion,” painted in 1512-1516, is part of the Isenheim Altarpiece. It was commissioned by the Antonites, a hospital order of monks that mainly treated patients who were afflicted with a terrible skin disease called “St. Anthony’s fire.” It caused serious convulsive symptoms including painful seizures and spasms, as well as painful pustules and open wounds. Grünewald shows Christ splayed on the cross, his hands writhing in agony, his body marked with livid spots of pox. Mary, dressed in a nurse’s garb, swoons into the arms of the apostle John. Mary Magdalene is kneeling in front. John the Baptist gestures towards Christ and holds a scroll which reads, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” A Lamb is at John’s feet, its side pierced and its blood pouring into a chalice. Grünewald’s 8.9’ x 9’ painting portrays a visceral and emotional intensity. As the patients entered the Antonites’ hospital in Isenheim, they saw that Christ was not only taking their sins upon them, but also their painful and deadly disease, as well.