Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
"Do you think that because these [people] suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other [people]?"
Today very few people believe that those who are suffering have done something which makes them deserve it. Whether it is a disaster or a sickness, the things that happen to cause suffering are not a punishment from God.
God does not send that kind of punishment. Instead as we heard in the Old Testament, God offers us things freely and calls us to things that help us:
"everyone who thirsts,And when there are trials in our lives, God is also present, according to Paul:
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price."
"God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."
Yes throughout all these trials, God’s role is not that of the one inflicting it. In our sufferings, God is with us. Jesus knew sufferings and so is able to understand us and how we feel when we suffer.
Yet the message of this is not that we can do whatever we like and God will sort it all out. Yes God is a God of forgiveness but for forgiveness we must repent and also we must commit our lives to his service.
In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to repentance. And also stresses the importance of bearing fruit. It is not just about us being there but about being there and doing something useful. As the parable of the fig tree shows though, we need to bear fruit. Just like the fig tree that needed to be fed with manure, it is often when we are surrounded by unpleasant things that we can bear more fruit.
It is not just about God being there in our suffering but in our presence in the suffering of others. This is something we can all see in the work of the Iain Rennie nurses and in the homeless shelter our church supported last night and the work Paul is exploring in High Wycombe for the future.
God calls us in his two great commandments to love God and love our neighbours as we love ourselves. God calls us to serve in honour of him so that we may grow in our relationship with each other and with him, as God says in the parable of the sheep and the goats:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'Not everyone can do the amazing work which Iain Rennie do. We are not all nurses and we don't all have the patience that work like that needs but we can all do something. Almost anyone can hold a collecting tin. We can certainly support those who DO such things by donating time or money to charities and in all our lives there are chances to serve.
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25. 35)
During lent, so many of us give up something and this can certainly give us opportunities to serve. In the time you have freed up by not doing other things we can begin to serve.
Where in your life is the opportunity to serve?
Where do you see Christ in the face of someone you could help?
or the much harder question...
Where in your life are you not seeing Christ?