The 17th Sunday After Pentecost September 27, 2009
2 Corinthians 1:8-11
38(1-3, 5), 785 [TLH alt. 428], 370, 45
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
In Christ Jesus, our Savior and deliverer, dear fellow-redeemed:
It has been four years since Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans and other Gulf State areas. At that time we saw the massive destruction and heard the stories of disaster and hardship. Even now, the occasional story surfaces of how those who were displaced by the storm are still struggling to get back on their feet.
Thankfully, this year the tropics have been relatively quiet, but there is always the potential of a major hurricane. There is always the potential of disastrous earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and even volcanoes; and these are just the natural disasters without even including the disasters of human origin.
Natural disasters tend to bring out differing views concerning God’s role in them. There are those who do what they can and then in trust say, “This is in God’s hands.” Others question, “Why? Why would God in heaven do this?”
For our part, we know that God is in control. We know that nothing takes place without God allowing it to happen. So today we ask the question: WHAT IS GOD’S MESSAGE WHEN DISASTER STRIKES? I. Jesus directs our thoughts to a proper understanding and II. Jesus provides shelter from the storm.
Some people came to Jesus and brought up an incident about which we know very little. It is simply described as the time when Pontius Pilate mixed Galilean blood with their sacrifices. Based on what is said and from what we know about Pontius Pilate, we can conclude that Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, ordered that some Galileans be killed while they were offering sacrifices to God. Jesus used this example as well as another incident—a tower falling and killing ten—to illustrate His truth and to give us a proper understanding regarding disasters.
The question is, were those who died in these disasters worse sinners than anyone else? Was God judging those who died because of their extraordinary sin? Jesus’ short and unqualified answer is, “No.”
If we consider the lives and activities in the areas affected by any disaster there are certainly many examples that would provide just cause for God’s anger and judgment against sin. We know from Scripture how God feels about sin and we know that He does at times bring judgment against sin—for example, destroying the world at the time of the Flood, destroying Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin, and about 40 years after Jesus’ life and ministry destroying Jerusalem because the Jews had rejected Jesus as their Savior.
In these examples we know that the destruction is God’s clear judgment on the people’s sin because He tells us. But Jesus says, “As you witness these disasters in your daily life, such as Pilate killing the Galileans or the tower falling on Siloam, don’t suppose they are worse sinners than you.”
Does God speak against sin. Absolutely, Yes! Does God judge sin here and in eternity? Yes! Can we say that a hurricane in New Orleans or an earthquake in San Francisco is a specific judgment of God against the peculiar wickedness of that region? No! We cannot say this because the sins in New Orleans or San Francisco can be found in Minneapolis, the sins in Minneapolis can be found in Mankato (and your own home town), and the root of those sins can be found in our own hearts.
We are not exempt from the same sins that we see across the world. Rather than look for God’s judgment and say that He is judging certain people when He allows certain things to happen, we should look at our own hearts. As soon as we say that God is judging a certain set of people because of what they are experiencing, we are putting ourselves in the place of God. We are then deciding what His will is, and we are ignoring the sin that we ourselves are guilty of committing.
Rather than finding someone upon whom we can attach responsibility for disaster, we do well to hear Jesus’ explanation. After both of the examples, Jesus said, “Do you suppose that these [who died] were worse sinners than all others…I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Whether it is a natural disaster or other catastrophe, they are reminders to all of us—ALL of us. Disasters are reminders of our sinfulness, our frailty, our need for repentance, and our need to rely completely upon God. If there is one message that is loud and clear in every disaster it is how fragile and how fleeting everything is in this life. It doesn’t make any difference whether the home was large and owned by the rich and famous or the poorest and simplest of dwellings, the wind blew, the rain fell, the flood rose and destroyed it all. It doesn’t matter how much you accumulate of the things in this earth—the things that moth and rust can destroy (cf. Matthew 6:19)—they are passing. So when we see natural disasters and other catastrophes taking away all those earthly things we are reminded of Jesus’ words, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possess” (Luke 12:15). Our life, our value, and our being are not tied to this earth. If you need a demonstration of this just look at what a storm can do! Just like that, it can be gone. There is no lasting value in the things of this earth. Every time we see a disaster we are reminded where our trust rightly belongs and where true value lies.
When we see disaster, God’s message to us is “Remember your frailty, remember what is important, remember where true value lies, and take stock of yourselves and repent.
Introspection and confession is important for each of us individually and on a daily basis. We are sinners who by God’s grace have all our sins forgiven. As such we can take for granted the magnitude of what Jesus does when He forgives our sins day after day. It can be so easy to confess our sins and simply pray: “God, forgive me all my sins. Thank you for forgiving me for Jesus’ sake, Amen.” This is a proper prayer. It is a prayer that if spoken from a heart of faith is expressing repentance for sin; but it is also a prayer that has the potential to simply skim right over the top of what our sin really is. Rather, at Jesus’ urging, we do well to repent by looking more carefully at the specific sins in our personal lives.
When Martin Luther explained confession in his Small Catechism, he asked: “What sins should we confess?” He answers: “Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments.”
Consider whether you are a father or mother. If so, what does God expect of you? As you catalog and look at your lives and practice that introspection for confession, where have you failed? Where have you failed in providing the godly instruction and leadership for your children, the care, the love, the support, the discipline? Where have you set a poor example by your own sins?
Are you a son or daughter—consider your station according to the Ten Commandments. What does God expect? Have you always honored your father and mother as God desires? Have you followed their direction and guidance willingly and humbly.
Consider your station as a husband or wife—where have you failed and done wrong?
Considering our station as friends, have we loved one another as we love ourselves? Have we sacrificed ourselves for the blessing of others? Have we been more focused on ourselves and on our lives than on Jesus, our Savior? Have we been pursuing what we want instead of what God wants? What has been the goal and focus of our lives? Where have our energies been going this past day as we confess our sins? Step by step consider all of the roles God has given you. Consider all of the expectations. As we look at our lives in this light, we find plenty of reason to repent.
There is reason to repent for words we have spoken that perhaps have not been cursing, perhaps have not been evil at all, but have not been as love-filled or encouraging as they might be. Perhaps it is in what we do, how we act, how we spend our time and other resources. Step by step we will find plenty of reason to repent. Then there are all of those thoughts that don’t even produce words or actions but are equally sinful. Add to this all of the things we don’t even know we have done and the reasons for repentance seem overwhelming—at which point we come to the cross of Christ, trusting in His forgiveness and say: “God be merciful to me a sinner. Lord, cleanse me from all these faults including the ones I don’t even know.”
If we take anything less than this serious approach in our introspection and confession, we have missed the gravity of our sin. If we do not carefully compare our lives to God’s will and repent, we will lose sight of the great gift that God has given us.
When disaster strikes, let us use them to realize how frail we are, how sinful we are, how much we need to rely upon our Savior in this life and for the life to come.
What a glorious comfort we have because Jesus does provide shelter from the storm. Not always will He shield every home from hurricanes, or tornadoes, or thunderstorms. Not always will He stop every car from hitting the guardrail and killing the occupants. Not every time will He stop disease with the medicine He provides, but in every condition—sickness or health, poverty or wealth—Jesus is shelter from the storm.
Because our life does not consist in the abundance of the things we have here, our life is tied to our Savior. We have an inheritance in heaven that is incorruptible and undefiled and does not fade away (cf. 1 Peter 1:3ff). Our inheritance was described in the Old Testament reading as the wonderful food and nourishment that gives satisfaction to sin-wearied souls, that comes freely from God’s Grace. It is the blessing of salvation that can change a desolate desert of thorn and briars (our sin-deadened souls) into a thriving lush meadow of everything that is green and good (forgiveness of sins and life everlasting).
Even when God was bringing His judgment on the sin of His people in the Old Testament, it was so that they would see the message and repent so they could enjoy the life and salvation and the thrill of knowing that those sins were all washed away.
In Ezekiel God says, “‘Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:31-32). God does not want us to die eternally. God never wanted death to come into this world. He never wanted sin. We—mankind—brought sin and death, but now God provides rescue. Jesus provides shelter from the storm.
We have the promises of God to give us shelter and refuge. When we are in trouble where should we look? We look to the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will watch our going out and our coming in from this time forth and even forever. God promises that He will preserve our soul—there is the shelter (cf. Psalm 121). What comes to these bodies and this life is passing regardless of whether it is good or bad, but our soul is where the true value lies and God promises to preserve it—to give shelter from the storm.
When facing disaster there is confidence that God will work His will. Those who put their trust in Christ have the promise of God and the assurance such as is expressed in Psalm 46, “…though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea…God is still our refuge and strength.” Or the confidence Paul expressed to the Romans, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life…nor any created thing can separate us from the love of God which in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:38f).
The forgiveness we have in Christ is sure and solid, the flood waters can’t take that away. Those who put their trust in Christ have confidence, they have a shelter and refuge in whom to trust and receive the strength to weather the earthly storms and circumstances.
For those who face catastrophe without Christ we have an opportunity to say: “Here is shelter. The true and satisfying answers to your questions are with Jesus. Your true value lies with your Savior.” In this way, the disaster becomes a mission opportunity. It becomes a soul strengthening opportunity. It becomes an opportunity for those who have to supply the need of those who have not—just as Paul said in the New Testament reading.
What is God’s message when disaster strikes? It is a message to take stock of ourselves and to repent, and then to run to our Savior. There unload all the burdens of your sins, rejoice to know that He is your shelter from the storm—a rock and a refuge who forgives all your sins and will guide you from this life to life eternal. Amen.
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