We Can Turn Toward God and Live: Lent 3

We Can Turn Toward God and Live: Lent 3

Year C, Lent 3
March 20, 2022
Historic Beckford Parish, Mt. Jackson & Woodstock

Year C: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

CLICK HERE for links to video recordings of our services on Facebook. Available service bulletins.


Have you ever thought about how nice it would be if Jesus told us what to think about what is happening in our world today? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, directly from him, what he has to say about current events that are so much on our minds – wars, violence, famine?

Today in our Gospel, Jesus talks about two tragic events from his own time – both lost to history but certainly known to the people he was teaching: one where his listeners have told Jesus about a horrific event, in all likely a massacre of a group of pilgrims from Galilee to Jerusalem, and for whatever reason, they were killed while in the act of offering their Passover sacrifice.

The second current event that Jesus talked about was a freak accident in Jerusalem that caused the tragic death of eighteen people.

The people listening to Jesus would have assumed that the Galileans and the eighteen people had done something to deserve their deaths – that they had done something wrong, and that was why these terrible things had happened to them. Otherwise known as the age-old “blame game.”

We don’t always blame victims anymore, but we always want someone to blame. It is human nature. We want to make sense of what are sometimes senseless tragedies.

There is sometimes someone to blame. A maniacal, unhinged dictator. A company cutting corners to make more profit. However, when we cannot find a specific reason for something that has happened, we tend to have a default position and questions: “Why is this happening? Why is God punishing me?

We ask these questions out of our human need to make sense of tragedy – to make sense of something senseless.

There’s a theological term that I always have to look up its meaning: theodicy. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test, and if there were, I’d need it to be an open-book test. At its core, what theodicy means and asks is, “how can a good and loving God allow bad things to happen to people?”

Why does God allow evil to thrive? How can God stand by and watch as millions of people in Ukraine are torn apart by war and maternity hospitals and theaters are bombed? How can someone who has never smoked a single cigarette die from lung cancer? How can God allow a baby to be born addicted to drugs through no fault of their own?

Where is God in all this suffering?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. People who have trusted in God their entire lives have asked these challenging questions. If God is in charge and allows these terrible things to happen to people, the only logical explanation must be that they somehow deserved it. Therefore, God must be punishing us for something we’ve done when bad things happen, right? It’s the only way we can make sense of it all.

But in the first part of today’s gospel, Jesus explains that human suffering is not God’s punishment, and I assure you it is most certainly not God’s will.

As we struggle with this passage, part of our problem is our inclination to separate the first part about sin and repentance from the second part, the Parable of the Fig Tree. While focusing on sin and repentance, I’m not sure we realize the significance and connection of the Parable of the fig tree.

Jesus has been preaching about repentance, and the Parable of the Fig Tree fits right into that message.

A man has planted a vineyard. For three years, the fig tree yielded no fruit. Finally, the vineyard owner decides, “enough is enough. I’m going to cut it down.” But the gardener pleads for a reprieve. “Please give me one more year. I’ll tend to it till the soil, fertilize it. Give it some time. I’ll take responsibility for it.” And the tree lives on.

The story ends there. It’s up to us to imagine what happened to the fig tree. I want to believe it turned out well – that the landowner relented and gave the tree another year – that the gardener’s caring attention helped it thrive, and there were figs the following year.

But what if the fig tree didn’t bear fruit? Who is to blame? God?

When Jesus’ followers asked, he made it clear that catastrophic events aren’t God’s punishment; the Galileans and the people in Siloam weren’t any worse sinners than you or me.

The preacher and theologian David Lose writes, “these events – whether in the first or twenty-first century – aren’t ultimately about guilt or punishment or the origin and cause of evil. They are just events, some of which we can’t do much about, while others we can influence.”[1]

What can we influence? Can we affect anything? And, if we can’t, shouldn’t we be angry and bitter?

Except that when we bear little fruit and believe that God should cut us down, Jesus reminds us that God intercedes for us.

As I think about the reading from Luke, I can’t help but think of the story of Les Misérables.

The musical adaptation is inspiring, but the original book by Victor Hugo is exceptionally profound. The themes that run through the book – themes of suffering, repentance, forgiveness, justice, and redemption – are of particular significance during the season of Lent.

There are two characters whose lives are inextricably intertwined, Valjean and Fantine. Valjean has a past – he served many years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. When he is released, he’s a bitter, hardened man.

Fantine is a young woman with a young daughter and a past. Valjean’s and Fantine’s paths cross – I’m not going to reveal the whole plot – but Valjean is given a second chance by a kindly Bishop, “Monseigneur,” a chance at real transformation. Valjean takes the forgiveness offered to him and makes a new life for himself and for Fantine’s daughter, whom he raises as his own daughter.

In Les Mis, Victor Hugo came to grips with the social problems of his day, which demanded much reflection upon society’s nature and the nature of humanity. Though published in 1862, the book is set decades earlier. In 1830, the average life expectancy of a French worker’s child was two years. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hugo did not consider this statistic as “inevitable” or “the fault of the parents” but evaluated it in human terms and lamented that suffering of such magnitude was intolerable and that such conditions must be changed.

Fantine suffered terribly in Les Misérables. People around us suffer terribly.


I can’t answer that question. But I do know that in the redemption, grace, and mercy offered to Valjean by the Bishop, Valjean, in turn, offered that redemption to Fantine and her daughter, Cosette.

Hugo’s foundation was that all lives are worth saving: even the most sinful have something to contribute to society, and even the most hardened criminal can do great good. Perhaps the most appealing and enduring quality of Les Misérables is that an unquenchable belief in the spiritual possibilities of humankind permeates it.

The redemption offered to Valjean and Fantine by Hugo reflects the redemption offered by God through Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Fig Tree.

During this time of Lent, I hope we recognize the fig tree in ourselves, and know that we are cared for and nurtured by God, especially in the dark times of our lives. We are provided the opportunity to grow.

Today, Jesus reminds us that senseless tragedies are not God’s will but remind us of the frailty of life and the importance of caring for our relationship with God. We can look in the mirror at ourselves, repent, and turn to Christ.

Today, we’re delighted to welcome to worship with us the Diocese of Virginia’s Bishop Search Committee members. They have done a lot of hard work in preparing for the call of our next Bishop in this Diocese, and on behalf of all of us, I thank them. As a congregation and Diocese, I pray that we call a Bishop as wise and wonderful as the bishops who faithfully served the Diocese in the present and the past and are as loving as” Monseigneur” of Hugo’s Les Misérables.

I do not doubt that we prefer the resurrection of Easter over the sacrifice and pain of Lent and Good Friday. We would undoubtedly choose to live without the heartache and torment we sometimes face. But, alas, we cannot.

Bad things happen. We can be angry and bitter, or we can turn toward God and live. Christ calls us to turn away from ourselves and focus on God. Christ calls us to renew our relationship with God and to be changed.

Amidst the great suffering and absolute evil in this world, God is there to carry us through – and there are wise and kind people in the world who bring us to God.

Let us leave here today and show the world what living as a follower of Christ truly looks like. Let us be transformed and changed like Valjean. Let us show that God’s love is made manifest in our church and our lives and that we continue to show God’s compassion and love to the world around us.


[1] David Lose: http://www.davidlose.net/2918/93/lent-3-c-now/

Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE