READING: I Corinthians 10:1-13 and Luke 13:1-9
SERMON : "The Sense of The Senseless"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
for the upcoming Sunday. Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
It seems from today's gospel reading that people haven't changed
all that much over the two thousand years since the death and
resurrection of Jesus.
People, then, as now, avidly discussed the latest news of death
and destruction and tried to understand its significance.
We do not know precisely what tragedy some people told Jesus
about on the day that our reading originally took place,
all we know for sure is that several Galileans were killed in or
near the temple by Pilate's soldiers as they prepared to offer
their sacrifices to God.
Nor do we have a record of the tragedy involving the collapse of
the tower in Siloam that killed eighteen people.
All we know for sure is that then, as now, tragedy struck and
people died and still other people talked about it, and tried to
make sense of it.
Whenever bad things happen,
whenever senseless things happen,
the human instinct is to try to make sense of it.
Why did my father die now --
Why was our son taken from us,
Why did God allow that mother of three children die of cancer?
We all want to make sense of the senseless,
we want to know why certain things occur,
and that is often a good thing.
For example - when buildings collapse, like the tower in Siloam
collapsed, investigations are done to find out why so that, just
perhaps, such a tragedy will not occur again.
Generally speaking wanting to know why is not a bad thing,
but sometimes the urge to figure out why leads us astray,
it leads us into assigning blame and guilt to people
that do not deserve it,
or who at least do not deserve it any more or less
than do we...
I recall a young man who was killed outside a bar in 1976.
Neil was the brother of a friend of mine.
He was out with his girl friend for a quiet evening.
He was minding his own business when he got assaulted.
People, talking about the incident, were heard to say things
like: "Well, if he hadn't gone to the bar he wouldn't have been
killed." and "People who drink deserve everything that happens to
Some people, in their quest to understand, reveal that they have
all the compassion and sensitivity of a dead toad.
The implication was that Neil somehow deserved what had happened
to him - just as in today's reading, the implication is made by
the people talking about the Galileans killed by Pilate that
they somehow they deserved to die.
Why else would Jesus have replied
"Because those Galileans were killed in that way, do you
think it proves that they were worse sinners than all other
Galileans? and What about the eighteen people killed when
the tower fell on them in Siloam? Do you suppose this proves
that they were worse than all the other people living in
Jerusalem. No indeed, and I tell you that if you do not turn
from your sins, you will all die as they did."
There is a way to make sense of the senseless,
but that way my friends is not to blame the victims by suggesting
that somehow God brought about their death, or whatever other
mishap has occurred to them as some kind of punishment.
By that standard no one should be alive today, for all have
sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Jesus suggests that we make sense of the senseless,
not by condemning the victims of tragedy for their complicity in
their own deaths -
but by considering our own mortality, and our own sinfulness,
and working to produce fruit befitting our salvation
before we are called to account for our lives
before his eternal throne.
The message of Jesus, like the prophets before him,
is that all of us deserve to experience the wrath of God,
but that God does not seek our deaths,
nor does he delight in our suffering,
rather he calls us to live by his gracious law,
and by the power of his Spirit
and the wisdom of his living word,
so that we might be able to stand before him at the end as one
whose work in this life has been well and truly done.
As the parable of the unfruitful fig tree in verses 6-10 of
today's reading tells us
-- God expects us to be fruitful for him,
He expects us to produce that which is pleasing to him, lest
we be cut down and perish like those we think have somehow
deserved their deaths.
That same parable, my friends, tells us that God is in the
business of giving us second, third, and indeed even fourth
chances to get it straight,
and do that which is pleasing to him,
but that, when all is said and done,
there is a time of reckoning that we must all face.
That same parable also tells us that God actively labours over us
to make us fruitful before making his final judgement.
We are not only given time to get things straight,
we are also given the care and attention that a good gardener
gives to his plants - the raking and the fertilizer and the
nourishment that anything requires if it is to be fruitful.
I can not tell you why some people die at certain times and
others do not. I can not make sense of the senseless in this
fashion. But I can and do tell you what Jesus had to say about
our making judgements about those who have died, and judgements
about God's intention in allowing those deaths to occur as they
I can tell you that all of us are in need of the gracious
forgiveness of God, that all of us deserve to die as much as
anyone else deserves to die,
to die without hope of redemption,
without hope of seeing the face of God smiling at us
and the hand of God giving us the eternal crown of victory
and life evermore in his kingdom.
And I can tell you that it is not God's purpose or intention that
this should happen to us - but rather, through the labour of his
Son - Jesus - he works to make us all that we should be in this
life, and that he gives us every chance we need.
God gives us time to repent on one hand
and what we need to become productive for him on the other.
Jesus calls us to make sense of the senseless by giving our own
lives meaning before we are called home to God.
Do our lives count for anything?
Are we fruitful for God?
Do we make a difference?
Or are our branches bare,
and our limbs naked?
There is an old story told about little Johnny
Johnny was going home one day past his grandfather's house
with a couple of his chums. As they passed the house they
spied the old gentleman out on his sun porch in his
rocking chair with a big black book on his lap reading
"What's your grandfather doing", asked one of Johnny's
"Oh - grandpa - he's cramming for the finals", Johnny
Our Lord and Saviour is patient with us my friends. He
cultivates us and tends to us, even when we ignore him, even
when we fail to trust him, even when we produce nothing for him.
But not forever can we put off the day when we are called home
for the finals - home to account for what we have done and what
we have not done.
The question is not
whether or not other people's death make sense,
whether or not they have deserved their deaths at the time
and in the manner that they came to them,
but whether or not our lives make sense,
whether or not they are fruitful for God
and we are ready to meet our maker.
Let us Pray -- Dear God, we hear today pray for all people and
their families who are caught up in senseless tragedies - those
who are killed on the roads and highways, those who fall victim
to diseases and crippling conditions that severely affect their
lives, those afflicted by fires and floods and other
catastrophes. Help us O God, to be especially sensitive as to
what we can do to help those who are afflicted, and help us too O
God to consider our mortality, our own fragility, and to use the
time you have given us to take action to make sure that our lives
today are as we and you truly want them to be.... DEAR GOD HEAR
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1998 - 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.