Sunday, February 28, 2016

when all time runs out ...

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

We have now reached the third Sunday in the Holy and penitential season of Lent. How time flies, as the saying goes; barely yesterday, it seems, we were beginning this special time of preparation for Easter … and already we are close to being half-way through it. The time for taking advantage of what Lent offers us, the great gift that God has given us through his Church of having a time set aside to reflect deeply where we have most particularly gone astray from the path he has laid out for us, is passing; a time of encouragement and support for the prayer, fasting, and other means of self-discipline we may and should engage in so that we not only show that we are sorry for all that we have done wrong, that we truly repent of our sins, but also so that we may gain the strength, with God's help to do better in the future.

But, as I said, the time is passing; Lent does not last forever, even if there are times when it seems as if it might, particularly to those who engage with it fully; all too soon it will end. The time to take advantage of its blessings will be gone; and who is to say whether those opportunities will be offered again? For Lent is not the only thing that is passing; as our Lord told us 'we know not the day nor the hour'; and who is to say that this Lent may not be our last chance to prepare ourselves to stand before the throne of glory … a place that no one wishes to stand in a state of unreadiness or unworthiness.

The passing of the season almost seems like a metaphor to illustrate the words of our Gospel today. It begins with a reference to a particularly nasty event: some Galileans, it seems were coming to offer sacrifice; and somehow they got caught up in an incident with some Roman soldiers. We have no way of knowing if they were instigators of some kind of civil unrest or just unfortunate bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when violence broke out. However it began, by the time it was done their own blood ran on the ground to mix with the blood of the animals they had brought to offer in sacrifice to the Lord.

Now this, of course, was an age when people often thought that unfortunate events were God's way of punishing the worst of sinners. It is a particularly smug and dangerous way of looking at the world I think: smug, because those who think that way think that their own good fortune in having avoided calamity is some kind of proof of their own virtue; and dangerous because it can thereby blind them to their own flaws and failings and desperate need amend their own sinful way of life.

However, this way of thinking is just plain wrong, as Jesus makes plain. Those who died by the Roman sword were no worse sinners than anyone else. And to make it doubly clear, our Lord draws another example from the headlines of his time, so to speak. A tower has collapsed in a part of Jerusalem called Siloam, killing 18 people. Their deaths are not to be taken as God striking them down in the guise of a natural disaster or shoddy building standards. They were no worse than those around them.

But having said they were no worse, in speaking of both these examples our Lord ends by saying 'No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.' What does he mean by this? That we are all given our time in this life; we all are sinners called to repentance; and those who do not repent but instead die in their sins will perish, will lose eternal life. That, I think, is made clear by the parable he tells immediately afterwards. We are all given enough time to bear good fruit; indeed, more than enough. And during that time God helps us in every way he can – his grace, his sacraments, his Holy Spirit in our lives, his holy word speaking to us in our hearts and through the sacred Scriptures – symbolised in the parable by the work the gardener does by making every effort to make the tree bear fruit. But time is not unlimited; and no man lives for ever. 

And the one who will not acknowledge their sins, or think they may sin and sin and sin and repent at some future date may someday find that all their time is gone: the axe is laid to the root of the tree; the weapon in the hand of the violent man finds its target in them; the building they stand in crumbles under their feet. Their time is done. The time for repentance is gone. They can not claim that they found the burden of temptations they faced too great to resist; for as St Paul tells us, no one is tested beyond their strength and to all who are tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, God provides the way to endure that testing. But to endure we must heed the words of the prophet Isaiah, we must 'Seek the Lord while he may be found,' we must 'call upon him while he is near;' and that time is now, the time of this life, for by the time of the next it is too late. And if, paraphrase the prophet, the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts and return to the Lord, he will have mercy on them and pardon them.

But we are all blessed indeed, for we still have time. Time in this life to avoid dying unprepared; time in this Lent to use it as a means of finding the extra strength to fight all that would keep us from find our place in heaven. I pray that you will use the time that remains to you to find true repentance, and through that true pardon from our Father in heaven who pardons abundantly all who turn from their sins. And I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

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