The Wooly Truth about Calamities
The earthquake in Chile and the plane crash in Austin are calamities. They do mean something from God's point of view, but what? Our text gives us the wooly truth about calamities. I mean wooly in two senses of the word. The roughness of something and it relating to sheep's wool.
The wooly or rough truth about calamities is that they don't say much about the victims but about those telling and hearing of them. The text says "at that time" some told Jesus about Galileans that Pilate killed while they were sacrificing in the Temple. The "time" being referred to is the end of chapter 12 where Jesus warned of approaching judgment. They tell Jesus of this calamity thinking it indicates those who died were jugged.
Jesus reacts by putting before them a greater tragedy. The tower of Siloam fell on 18 people. The first tragedy you can trace back to evil men, but what but the hand of God pushed that tower over when and where it did? Surely that shows the judgment of God, right? Nope, it shows exactly what the first calamity did: It shows that those who tell it and those who hear it ought to repent or they will likewise die. And that's what an earthquake 5,000 miles away or a plane crash 5 miles away show you. Each Sunday I'm here proclaiming "repent," but not even a 100 are here to hear. Calamity is God's megaphone. You woke up Saturday morning to God screaming "Repent!" 17 days ago God boomed from Austin news reports "REPENT!"
Do you honestly think because you can hide your sins from me you hide them from God? Do you really think because no one in Austin knows what you are doing God doesn't? He does and from Chile and Austin God spoke to you about it. He wasn't showing what a great sinner the Chileans are, Austinites are, or even the IRS is. He was showing what a great sinner you are and that unless you repent you will likewise perish.
You are mistaking God's forbearance of your sins for forgiveness of them. You are mistaking His toleration of your pet sins for acceptance. You think the great patience He shows by not striking you down for your secret sins is permission to continue in them. It isn't that the secret sins of the people in Chile or on 183 suddenly found them out; no, yours did. Though you might have been avoiding my weekly and now biweekly calls to repent, God has put His megaphone to your ear and blasted.
The wooly truth about calamities is they don't say much about the victims but about those who tell or hear of them. And the wooly truth is that the God who brings them doesn't have feet of wool. An old saying has it that "The gods have feet of wool" (Trench, Parables, 356) meaning you don't hear them coming and suddenly judgment, wrath, calamity are upon you. Not so the true God; He announces His judgments loud and long before. Since Advent I've been telling you the ax is laid to the root of the tree, and those not bringing forth fruits of repentance will be chopped down. For 10 years I've been preaching what David did in Psalm 7:12, "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready." For 10 years I've preached what Moses preached for 40, "God has set your secret sins in the light of His countenance."
What happened in South America and Northwest Austin shows you the cats out of the bag. Those sins you hide so well from everyone else, God sees, and by these calamities He is warning you that deferred judgment doesn't mean uncertain judgment. God gave Noah's generation 120 years. He gave the Amorites 600 years. He gave Jerusalem 40 years; He only gave Sodom one day and one preacher whom they laughed at.
The true God doesn't have feet of wool. He thunders His approaching judgment through preachers, through calamities, and ironically through making grace even more available. Read your Bibles; when do Elijah and Elisha show up? How about Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel? The cataclysmic fall of Jerusalem is proceeded by 40 years of ministry by the apostles. In the darkest times. when people have the least use, appreciation, or respect for His grace, God sends the most. This is the what the 3 years stands for in the parable. God does everything divinely possible to lead sinners to repent of despising His Word and Sacraments. He preaches sin and grace, Law and Gospel, repentance and faith through the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and now in the Person of His Son.
The God who walks not on wool but on horseshoes does this for you individually. In your life, hasn't there been times in childhood, adulthood, and old age where God's grace to repent and believe touched you? Yet you defended your sins; you excused your sins. O you had your reasons. There wasn't enough proof for God's existence. You were too busy. You weren't as bad as other people. You didn't feel guilty. Calamities were about someone else not you; they spoke to you perhaps of randomness, perhaps of human misery, perhaps of the lovelessness of God, but they didn't speak to you about your sins. God didn't approach you with feet of wool; you put wool in your ears so as not hear. And that's as foolish as the child who sticks his fingers in his ears and says to another child, "I can't hear you," as if that nullifies whatever the other said.
The wooly truth about calamities is they say more about us who tell and hear them than they do about the victims; they show the true God behind them doesn't have feet of wool, and they show that the true God is nevertheless a Lamb.
Calamity should befall everyone of us for our sins not 40 years from now, not a year from now, not a day from now but today. Earthquakes should level our homes and planes should crash into where we work. How long has the Lord borne our unbelief, our pride, our despising of preaching and His Word? For 3 years, for 10, for a lifetime? We have no excuse. But what does the text show? Jesus on the way to Jerusalem to be slaughtered for those sins. For that sin you are so careful about indulging, for that sin you defend or pretend is no big deal, for that sin of failing to hear and learn the Word, Jesus, the Lamb of God, is being led to the cross. And don't think you can even begin to imagine the pain, suffering, hell and judgment He will endure there. No one, not even those stricken by a calamity know. Jesus only knows, but we do know two things: it was so great that He cried from the cross for mercy and that He got none.
The Lamb goes to the cross to bear the judgment and punishment you deserve, and rather than protest His unjust slaughtering, He protests your just one. Don't bring the earthquake on them; don't hit their house with a plane. Give Me more time; let me dig around in their heart with My Law to prick their conscience; let me fertilize them with the grace of God I won for them on the cross. Note well: Jesus pleads for more time for you, but He doesn't plead for your tree to stand forever barren of the fruits of repentance, faith, and a changed life. As an anonymous poem has it: "There is a line by us unseen/ That crosses every path,/ The hidden boundary between/ God's patience and His wrath."
That's Law, but there's Gospel here even as I tell you the day of grace does end. In this text, God shows us His heart. He shows that His mercy endures forever. He shows that Law, wrath, judgment, and punishment are His foreign work while redeeming, restoring, forgiving our His proper work. He does this two ways.
First by the catch in His throat when He talks about the day of grace running out. Jesus does not say, "If it bears fruit next year, fine!" The Word "fine" is not there. Jesus' voice breaks off at even the possibility that it won't bear fruit next year and what that means. A lump rises in His throat and His voice breaks. How little does your Savior want you to continue on the path of impenitence; how little does He want to bring upon you the judgments you deserve. How much rather He would have you take advantage of what He suffered in your place. How much rather He would have you plunge into that baptismal font filled with His blood to wash away all your guilty stain.
But there's more. Here we must be careful. Jesus doesn't say to the Father, "If not, then cut it down." He says, "If not, then You will cut it down." It would be wrong to find a difference between the Father and the Son. It would be wrong to say the Father is wrathful; the Son loving. All judgment is given to the Son, and it is He who will send people to the eternal calamity of hell. What this parable illustrates is the impossible, unbelievable Gospel that no one could imagine and can hardly be pictured. God in Christ doesn't delight in judgment; doesn't delight in cutting you down anymore than a loving pet owner delights in putting a pet to sleep.
No, He delights in saving you. That's His end goal. That's what He gave His holy and innocent Son for; that's what He made Him suffer and die for. To save you is God's eternal will. He sends calamities so they might do for you what an airline safety briefing did for a little boy. As the flight attendant was going through her safety schpiel, the boy became increasingly bothered by the calamities. At the mention of the emergency exits, he said, "Mom what emergency?" At the mention of the oxygen mask coming down, he said, "Mom are we going to have to wear masks?" When the flight attendant ended with "in the event of a water landing," the fear in that little boy's voice was palpable. While the rest of us passengers were ignoring the words about calamites, this little boy took them seriously.
Then we took off. It was a clear night in Chicago and for miles yellow lights ran out in intricate geometric patterns. I heard the little boy exclaim, "Mom the lights; they're everywhere! Mom! Mom! It's so beautiful!" You've been saved from the very real calamity of an emergency exit, an oxygen mask, and a water landing to see the beauty of God's day of grace, mercy, and peace paid for and given to you by the Lamb of God. Like the little boy: if you take the calamities you've been spared from seriously, what you've been saved for is all the more appreciated. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (20100307); Luke 13: 1-9