1. Lent 3.19 “Bless Their Hearts!” Luke 13:1-9

We live in a literally crazy world. The vast majority of people are completely stark raving bonkers. Christianity alone sees the world as it really is, people as we really are. But, IT doesn’t go over too well in a mad, mad world. Now when I say “Christianity” I have in mind the actual holy, catholic, apostolic, scriptural Thing—not the sanitized for your protection, happy-clappy, goofy, mission-minded counterfeits you find in your big box nondenom; not the Hufflepuff-embracing, politically correct mainline liberal swindle (despite their tasteful architecture and genteel membership), and certainly not the “Don’t Google Us!” Fortress Rome ruled by the Emperor Palpatine clone in the big white hat. No. I have in mind Christianity as the Apostles handed it on from the Lord Himself, as Athanasius and Augustine confessed long ago, for which the Emperor Justinian bent the knee in Hagia Sophia, that Martin Luther rediscovered after centuries of neglect—the Christianity that knows and follows the actual Jesus Christ of Holy Scriptures rather than one of the many fantasy versions concocted by human delusion.

And real Christianity, as the Lord Jesus Himself proclaims it for us in our Gospel today, exposes what this world calls sanity and reason as crazy delusion. This expose didn’t go over well—then, or now. Among the many diverse elements of Jesus’ Word that seriously annoy, probably worst of all would be the Way He connects sin and death—and how He does it with a cheeky yet troubling insouciance that I adore and that the crowds really hate—and that shows the big bowl of crazy we all feast on every day.

You may be wondering: “What’s the madness Jesus exposes here? I don’t think I’m quite seeing it.” Oh, OK. We’ll cut to the chase. It’s the Denial of Death and sin as the sole cause of our death. That’s the human craziness we all have, but rather few fight it successfully by Faith in Christ Jesus alone. One of the rare good books I was assigned to read in college was “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 (ironically, right after the author died). The book relentlessly demonstrates a simple thesis: we are all in denial about the reality of our own death. We have literally crazy coping mechanisms that society forces on us all to keep the fact that we’ll die from affecting the way we live; and so we live lives of not-so-quiet desperation and madness. The problem with the book is that it misses the connection between sin and death that Jesus makes. But it throws a bright light on half the problem which is a lot more than most modern people can see…

Jesus shines the brightest light on our mad denial of death and sin this morning. But He does it smoothly, gracefully, indirectly. Like a magic trick that you can’t quite figure out. Some people come up to Jesus during a little lull in His teaching/healing thing He’s always doing and go…

“Did You check Your Facebook feed this morning, Jesus? No? Oh! Then maybe You didn’t hear about the terrible, terrible tragedy in Galilee? It’s so awful! Worse than one of those mass shootings we’re always having these days. The Governor, the Governor if you can believe it! (how anyone ever thought a Roman real estate tycoon and reality TV star would make a good Governor, I’ll never understand! I liked that nice lady who was former Secretary of State and would have voted for her, if we could vote) but anyway: that horrible pompous man has come completely unhinged and descended into the worst kind of authoritarian horror! Some orthodox Galilean Jews were offering sacrifices, and Pompous Pilot sent his storm troopers with the PETA protesters and killed them all! Then he had the soldiers mingle their blood with the animal sacrifices they’d offered! So tasteless! Those poor, poor people! Now, I’m against animal cruelty myself—what kind of religion condones that? A medieval one without all the foolishness reformed out of it! But still, Governor-condoned killing? So intolerant, don’t You think, Jesus?! Next thing you know, he’ll build a wall to keep those lovely Gothic people out. Anyway, You’ll come to the candlelight ecumenical prayer service tonight, won’t You, Jesus? Everyone woke will be there!”

And Jesus replies, without a tear in His eye, and with a wry little smile just barely turning up the corners of His mouth, “You think those Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans because they died horribly, like that?” [This, BTW, is exactly what they think, exactly what we think, and exactly why tragic death gets so much news coverage. It’s where the phrase “Bless their hearts!” comes from. It’s an expression of outward sympathy that really expresses the conviction that being morally superior, such terrors will never happen to us or our families, because a loving and fair-minded God simply won’t allow it!].

Jesus continues, “Or those 18 who all died in that tower collapse in Siloam [was that Pilate’s construction company that built that?] Do you think they were worse sinners than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? [Again, that’s exactly what we think, deep down!]. I tell you, no; but unless you rethink you will all likewise perish, and probably in more grisly ways than they!”

Bless their hearts!—means, at some deep level, they deserved to die. But since we’re good people we don’t, so somehow, miraculously, surely, we won’t. Thus the Denial of Death is the cornerstone of our civilization. We all go around acting like it won’t happen to us. But Jesus draws a straight line between sin and death. Unlike our modern faith (from Darwin!) that death is just a natural process for biological beings, Jesus teaches the Truth that if we had not sinned we would never die. But having sinned with our first parents Adam and Eve, death is inevitable—the wages sin fully pays, yet also God’s programer’s back door to fix a failed state…

I always ask catechumens, “If Adam and Eve had not sinned, they’d still have died eventually, right? Because they’re human?” And 90%+ say “Oh, sure!” Which is the denial of that connection between sin and death that God clearly makes in His Word. To deny that death is unnatural punishment, to deny that it will come to us because of our sin—is literally crazy. But we do it all the time. I know someone who texted her daughter who was getting on a plane, “I hope you make it!” She got some ridicule for this from her family. But she’s seeing things as they are. The Sword of Damocles is close as a Max 8. Because we sin, we’re all just a heartbeat away from death…

Jesus plugs the stunned silence that ensues from His tactless exposure of the Lie that keeps polite society polite with a little parable of a fruitless fig tree. Man tells His Gardener: “Cut it down! Why does it use up the ground?” The Gardener goes: “Sir, let it alone until I dig around and dung it (Literal translation!). If it bears fruit, great, if not… cut it down.”

Here is the programmer’s back door! God’s solution to failing crops? A big old, heaping helping of sh… uh, dung. Dig around and dung it! No problem that a load of crap can’t fix. God’s solution to death? More dying! We run into a paradox: living prudently, sensibly, carefully by our wits is deadly. But dying with Jesus is the Way to Life Eternal. Like dung on fruitless figs, the suffering and dying of Jesus is the Miracle-Gro of Eternal Life. Sounds weird, but death wipes our dirty slates clean so God can re-Image us with Jesus’ Body. Quit denying death! Embrace it by Faith in Jesus. Come to His Table, get filled up with Him by His Cross, and Peace, surpassing understanding, guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.