Emojis are pictures expressing words, ideas, emotions on electronic devices. Before the computer revolution of the 80s the peace symbol and the smiley face were popular in the 60s. These were emojis. Contemporary ones are on your bulletin cover. These are examples and aren't necessarily meant to reflect our text. The question is can this text be expressed with emojis?
The first emotional concept in our text is the German schadenfreude. This is literally joy in another's harm or distress. It's a German word and concept that has exploded in popularity to the point of trendiness. But it's a point in our text. It's a point in our lives as well.
Did you hear about those shootings in Kalamazoo? Imagine a guy driving around for hours shooting people at random. Oh the heartbreak of the father and son shot while looking at cars. Oh the inhumanity of women at their favorite restaurant being gunned down. Surely there has to be an explanation for such tragedy befalling apparently such good people!
Like in our text, I will go one better down the path of schadenfreude as Jesus does. From a tragedy inflicted by man, I'll go to one inflicted by God. Remember the Central Texas flood? Remember the family of 4 renting a house on the Blanco River? Remember them last being seen standing on the porch of their cabin holding hands as they was carried off to die in the flood? Who sent those deadly flood waters out of the heavens if not the God of heaven? Who pushed over the tower in Siloam that killed those 18 people if not the hand of God?
There are emojis for schadenfreude. And why not? Don't you have strong emotions in the face of tragedy? Mine are mixed. There is the better them than me or my family feeling. There is the thought that their secret sins found them out. There may be sympathy. Whatever our strong emotion we have the mistaken notion that it is an indication of piety. The reality is such emotions whether schadenfreude, sympathy, thanksgiving that it ain't me, or certainty that God wouldn't do this if they didn't deserve it, miss or mask the real point.
Jesus thunders the missed point in our text twice. It's not the pain of others or the sin of others that these Acts of God are to bring to mind, but your sins and yours alone. Neither the victims desperate last moments or their being taken unaware are to blossom in your mind but your guilt and the certainty that unless you repent you will perish. Jesus in effect says you can't say anything about others based on tragedy, but you can say the most important thing about yourself: repent.
Tragedy does for us what Moses says Yahweh did to the Old Testament Church in the wilderness. Moses in Psalm 90 says tragedy is God's way of setting our iniquities before us; our secret sins in the light of God's countenance. See an emoji for guilt here. It anywhere from a downcast smiley face, to one with a tear drop, to one with sweat pouring off of it.
Your Lord has been waiting and waiting for you to deal with your sin, sinfulness, and guilt. But all your concern, pain, worry has been wrongly and uselessly been expended on the guilt, the tragedy, the sin of others. He has planted you in the vineyard of His Church. Lent after Lent, Advent after Advent, service after service He has come to you looking for confession, for repentance. How many times do you tell a child to repent of misbehavior? Do you give them 3 years? Do you even give them 3 times?
You know what God Almighty says about the little fig tree of your sinful life? "You must cut it down. You must chop it out of My vineyard. It's just using up soil, wasting My ground, taking up My pew space." Didn't He just get done telling you in Advent that the ax is laid to the root of your tree and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire? It's worse than that. The insert leads you to believe that "you too will perish." No, it's "You will perish in the like manner." The lone gunman riding around in his car is going to find you at the car dealership happily shopping. The rising water is going to sweep you away unless you repent now, today, this moment.
There are emojis for forgiveness but most are indistinguishable from the ones for guilt and that is a theological point that bedevils many of you. You've gotten the reality that the Law whether by God's Word in Scripture or by God's actions in life is to expose your sin and guilt, to let you know that nobody gets away with nothing. But you connect having a continued sense of guilt with being able to be certain you're forgiven. Thankfully there are not just poor emojis for forgiveness there is real forgiveness.
You know what the Gardner actually says when the Owner commands, "You must cut that unfruitful tree out of My Garden?" He says, "You must forgive it." Let's drop the parable; drop the figures; drop the emojis. The Owner, God Almighty, says, "You must chop it down," and who dare respond, "You must forgive it?" Only Someone equal to God. Only Someone who has the right to command forgiveness for a fruitless sinner like me. And who can this be but Jesus the Man who is God?
He won the right to command my forgiveness because even though I don't deserve it, can't deserve it, He won it in My place. Why do you think He was born under the Law except to redeem those under the Law by keeping the Law in their place? Why do you think this holy One willingly climbed up on a cross to be nailed there to suffer the curses of hell if not to forgive those who are cursed for their not keeping the law?
"You must forgive them," Jesus says to His Father because He won forgiveness in your place. And by His command and in the place of Jesus, I forgive you, and your sins must go. They can't stay. They must go as far away from you as east is from west. They must be removed from your back, your heart, your mind, your soul, and dumped into the flood of Jesus' blood. Your sins say you must die. I in Jesus' name say what the Prophet Nathan says to penitent David, "Jesus has put away your sin; you will not die."
Did you feel the spade work around your feet as the Law turned over the hard-packed soil of your heart? Did the shovel of the Law reach all the way to your very soul as it turned over the dirt and showed the real dirt buried so deep you didn't even suspect it was there? Did the Gospel fertilizer feed the faith that though your sins be as scarlet, God for Jesus' sake has made them white as wool? Did the Body and Blood of the Gospel nourish the faith that where your sins did abound God's grace did much more abound? Did the Gospel fertilizer reach to the depths the Law spaded so that you might know beyond a shadow of a doubt your place is safe and saved in the Lord's vineyard?
If so, the miracle Isaiah prophesied over 2,800 years ago has happened today. The Lord promised that the Old Testament Church He had chopped out of His vineyard for their gross idolatry, unbelief, and hard and impenitent hearts would return. He promised "the surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward."
And what is that fruit? You saying "Amen" to my absolution. You believing "in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting." You saying, "Amen" to "Take eat this is Jesus' Body given for you; take drink this is Jesus' blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins." The fruit is the spontaneous, joyous thought leaping from your forgiven body and soul: Take my soul, my life, my all!
There's one more emoji for this text, and I couldn't find it. I looked for one expressing "gulp!" That's an onomatopoeic word. A gulp can be a dry swallow or a big drink, but it's also expresses a strong emotion. Gulp' is where this text ends. And whether you've correctly emoji-ed this text will be revealed by whose heart you see the gulp in.
In the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" the gulp is in Richard Dreyfuss when he finally sees the immensity of the alien ship. The gulp is in Adam when He hears God calling him after the Fall. The gulp is in you once you finally see your sins can't be hidden from God and what they really deserve. The gulp at the end of the text, however, isn't in you but Jesus.
Most translations hide the gulp. They ignore the Greek particle that the Gardner, the Jesus' figure, utters. This Greek particle isn't found exactly in Latin or English, and it's used much more in the Bible than in Greek writers. It indicates that the meaning of the word to which it belongs has greater emphasis then the rest of the sentence (www.blueletterbible.org). Here it's attached to the word not.' "If it bears fruit, fine! If not [gulp]." What Jesus does is suspend the sentence without finishing it. He can't bear the thought of you not bearing the fruit of His spading and fertilizing. He can't bear the thought that His Body and Blood would be anything less than for your highest good. He can't bear the thought that the ax would ever be laid to the root of your tree, and so He gulps.
Then He says and you have to think hard how you want to hear this then He says to His Father, "If not (gulp), then you will cut it down." Two things, the insert translates the future as a present. "Then cut it down," rather than "You will cut it down." Either way, you can't hear it as a rebellious teen might say: "You do it yourself." And you have to be amazed that you hear it at all. Here belong all the passages, hymns, etc. which say that God does not reward us according to our iniquities; it is not in his heart to harm us; He is not willing that any should perish; He doesn't desire the death of even the wicked.
That's the emoji to go out on. Not the one depicting pleasure in the pain of others; not the one depicting guilt that can be mistaken for an indication that you're forgiven; but the emoji that doesn't exist but is a real emotion in Jesus. A big gulp showing how desperately, how completely He wants you in His vineyard today, tomorrow, always. Emoji that. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (20160228); Luke 13: 1-9