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You Turns on the Causeway 
Sunday, March 11, 2007, 08:00 AM - Sermon
Luke 13:1-9

The announcement is made, “Bill's dead”. A friend known to all is gone. Someone asks the first question, “What happened?” and the answer is “Lung Cancer.” Silence hangs as all wait for someone to ask the second question. Finally, someone does, “Did he smoke?”.

We want the world to be cause and effect. Reward for the good we see and punishment for evil we perceive. Pushing that harder, we want to be in the good crowd: safe from disease, illness, accident by our goodness. Our brains are wired to make our choices seem good to us. Research suggest there is no “I”, a little person sitting in a control room in our heads making decisions and judgments, but rather a shouting mob that gradually settles on a common chant as one group wins out over others. Only after our decision, according to this theory, do we go back and create a rational and reasonable decision making process.

Both Jesus and brain research show we are not evil free. No one is protected by a shield of goodness. Not in the first century when folks believe that they are unlike those rebellious Galileans, (you know how uppity they are! No wonder Pilate had them killed!) nor today when we think that we are good and do not need to repent. Jesus says, we are all smokers, hooked on sin; the stink is on our breath and yellow stains are on our hands. None of us free of the habit of evil, we all need to quit, to turn away from the temporary pleasures offered by temptation, to turn toward God.

How?

Last month, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously voted to express “profound regret” for the state's role in slavery, the first state to do so. The resolution says government-sanctioned slavery “ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history, and the abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding.” Is sorry the way out?

Repentance is just beginning with Sorry.

Your boss says they have to reduce the head count at work. Your part is to write the poor job performance evaluations for all those who report to you, so they can be easily fired. You do your job, with a heavy heart to be sure, but you do it. You just write one bad one and copy it over and over, ending careers of one associate after another with the least keystrokes. They are fired and you are reassigned. You are okay most days, but walking by and empty desk, or getting email forwarded to you from the workers that are gone, brings a twist in your gut. Should you say you are sorry? What good would that do? Did you even do anything wrong? What is the way out?

None of us are free from such course corrections. We do not have auto-pilots keeping us on course. Accountability groups such as Bible study group or Kairos group are helpful. I've been active in Presbytery for two decades, involved with Permanent Judicial Commission in various roles. They are the ones called when a minister flunks a test, falls into temptation, fails a trial. One thing that has struck me is that anyone, even ministers, can go astray. And another is that the ones who do, are often the unknown in the Presbytery, they don't come to meetings or Presbytery events. We need others to help us turn again and again to the way of Christ. For temptation and testing is all around us. But so is God; and for me and others I believe, God sometimes comes in the form of other people who provide a way out, if we will turn toward God and God's people.

We are tempted corporately. To make the church our social club, or even our funeral society, investing in ourselves and for us instead of others. We need to turn. I would like every group to have child care at their meetings! Imagine if 60 advertised and provided child care at their meetings! We would be known as expecting young families…and we might get some interesting new 60 members. We need to turn. What if we directed staff and deacons not to just visit homebound but rewarded and celebrated their ministry with people who have no relation to this church? We need to turn. What if instead of viewing Color our Rainbow as tolerated squatters we welcomed them as partners in ministry to families and did joint programs with them, supporting the struggling families as an outreach? We need to turn and find our mission not just outside our doors but within our very walls.

Sorry never had much pull for me. Never impressed with the magic of the word. I guess I didn't want sorrow. Sorrow is plentiful. Change is rare. Sorry begins. Sorry for what I did in the past, a restitution or a repair in the present, and a change in the situation or myself for the future. In our reading about the garden today. We see not just sorrow for past barrenness, but a change in the present, the digging and fertilizing, and a promise for change in the future—bearing fruit.

Repentance is not saying I'm sorry, looking toward the past, but changes our present, and turns our path in the future. When new members join our congregation, we ask them to turn from evil and turn to Christ, to repent, to turn around, 180 from dark to light, from the path to hell to way of heaven.

A example of repentance moving beyond sorrow for the past into action in the present and change in the future comes from a man who was Muslim; but considered himself also a Hindu, a Christian. When the British left India, the Hindus and Muslims started killing each other. Sectarian violence within a country based on religion. Sound familiar? A Hindu man comes to Gandhi and confesses to him: “I will be damned to hell.” What did you do, asks Gandhi. “I killed a boy. He was Muslim, so I bashed his head against a wall” “Please! Tell me what I must do to stay out of hell!”

Gandhi told the Hindu man that he could stay out of the evil hell of his past by finding an orphan boy, whose parents were killed in the fighting, adopt him in the present and during the future in his Hindu home…raise him as a good Muslim. Turn around your past, change your present, turn to God for the future, for God will give you all the strength you need for the trials, testing and temptations that face you.
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