Preparation: Looking For Trouble

Heritage Presbyterian Church

March 24, 2019
Third Sunday of Lent
Scripture readings – Isaiah 55: 1-9 & Luke 13: 1-9

For those of you who have NO idea what a normal day in the life of your pastor might include, let me begin today by describing last Thursday:

  • I began my day very early with a quiet but necessary cup of coffee.  As I settled on the couch with my cup, I turned on my phone.  Usually I begin my day with scanning the news headlines and checking things out on my social media pages.
  • Instead, I was quickly startled to read a text that had been sent to me in the middle of the night describing a bad situation that requested my presence at the hospital when I got to work.
  • I responded to the text, had another cup of coffee, and got moving.
  • At 7:00, I arrived at my daughter-in-law’s apartment to wrangle my 6-year old grandson into his clothes for the quick drive to school.
  • After successfully dropping him off at school, I headed to work.
  • I talked on the phone with folks involved with the two hospital visits I would be making very soon.
  • I met Wendy, our new office administrator, in the office and we exchanged information.  Then I headed to the hospital.
  • After visiting with a new out-of-town friend and her brother, who was the one in ICU, I headed toward the next exit to go to the other hospital. 
  • From there, what SHOULD have happened was that I got in my car, drove down 290 to the second hospital, visited the second call of the morning, and then went back to the church office.

Instead, trouble arrived.

I never NEVER look for trouble.  But it always seems to find me.

As I was walking quickly down the hall, I heard a woman’s voice behind me say, “I like your cross.”  I stopped and turned around to see who was talking.  It was a hospital employee who had just clocked out and I had just passed on my way out.  

I thanked her and explained that my church had given it to me. As we continued down the hall, she directed me to the lobby and on to the exit (I always get turned around in hospitals).

Just as I stepped away from her, she called to me again…this time much more softly: “Would you offer a secret prayer for someone you don’t even know?”  

Not only did I stop walking…I also stopped thinking about where I was going.  This kind woman was hurting in some way.

I stepped closer to her so that no one passing would hear us, and I assured her that of course – I would be happy to pray for her.  Her eyes immediately overflowed with tears as she struggled to keep smiling at me.  I asked her name and took her hand.  Then I told her that no matter what was going on with her, never to forget that nothing separates us from the love of God.  She looked astonished when I said that…so I emphasized the word “NOTHING” again. She thanked me profusely, and we both went on our way.

There I was…in the middle of a perfectly ordinary morning, with lots and lots to do.  And then some complete stranger stops me because I was wearing a cross to ask for prayers.  

That’s how it is with trouble…it will find you even if you don’t look for it.

Seriously, I was happy to stop my morning to help that lady, and I shouldn’t be surprised by her reaction to my words.  

And yet I was.  Because I often don’t see trouble coming.

You may be asking yourself right now: “Why does he keep referring to that sort of interaction as TROUBLE?”

The answer is that I think the pure definition of the word “trouble” is when something happens to knock us off the course we are traveling. 

Our reaction to it often reflects how we choose to serve God.

To believe that just because we have faith in the Lord means none of us will ever experience any trouble is false theology. 

Jesus himself made this point when he referred to the believers that Pilate had killed and when the Tower of Siloam had fallen and killed 18 people.  He asked his followers what great sin those people had committed that they deserved such punishments.  They had done nothing wrong, and yet trouble killed them all.  

Their faith was not weak.  They had been killed because they had infuriated Pilate or because they stood too close to an unstable tower.  That’s it.  To believe otherwise is to believe in a false theology of faith and punishment.

TROUBLE, in other words.

Have you ever noticed that when trouble arrives, we work quickly and with great effort to get things back to normal?  That’s because we don’t like it when we get knocked off our course, and we don’t like it when those love get knocked off their courses either.

We just want things to get back to normal as quickly as possible. We don’t like trouble, and we often don’t see it coming.  It surprises us…because we often do not plan for it.

We also don’t like to think about how it affects us or others. Often, we like to see patterns in the trouble that we observe.  When we know of someone who is either always getting into trouble or can’t seem to ever get out of trouble, to stop and help such a person will take time, effort, and often more attention than we are usually willing to give.

It’s easier and a lot less trouble to just sideline folks like that with phrases such as, “He is always looking for trouble” or “Here comes trouble now.”

All of us – every single one of us – will be knocked off our course at some time or another.  If we are not, then perhaps we do not love others enough to let them into our hearts and minds where their presence will certainly stir us up, make us feel bad, make us stop and do something, make us stop thinking about ourselves and start caring for others.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that “everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; you that have no money, come and buy and eat.”  Such talk is not reserved for those with great faith…those with no trouble in their lives…those with perfectly shiny white robes, golden haloes, and perfectly trimmed angel wings.

Note the words, “everyone who thirsts” and the phrase “you that have no money.”  These are inclusive words, not exclusive words.  These words include everyone, but especially those who have had trouble in their lives beat them down and take away their reasons to have ANY faith at all.

These are kind words, loving words, forgiving words, words that will set everyone’s courses back to normal…like they should be for all of us.

And WHY does the Lord do this?  The answer is also given to us today.  Isaiah goes on to explain that the Lord says, “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts.”

Try to figure that one out if you must.  Translate it, examine it, research it, compare it, study it. But in the end, perhaps the best way to avoid trouble with this part is to accept that we don’t know everything, and we don’t get to figure out everything either.

The Lord will do what the Lord will do.  Trouble may come, and trouble may go.  But the Lord will be with us, no matter what.

And that brings to the final point of this morning’s Scripture readings…that odd little parable about the fig tree that just won’t produce any fruit.

If you know anything about fig trees, you should know that they are really easy to grow.  Even the sickest looking ones in metal cans with cheap dollar-store dirt will grow and thrive and produce figs if you plant them and treat them right.  In fact, fig trees are so easy to grow that they begin producing fruit during their very first year.

So, if you have a troublesome fig tree that just stands there and does nothing and produces no fruit at all, it is hardly worth your valuable time.  Don’t get out of your course for a silly tree like that one.  Dig it up…it won’t take much effort, I suspect, and just toss it away. Save your effort for all the other fig trees that are thriving and producing fruit and looking good.

Except…were you paying attention to those loving words from Isaiah?  The ones that were for everyone, not just those who can be perfect…

The parable tells us that the man who was the owner wanted the fig tree cut down because it was nothing but trouble.  But the gardener asked for a little more time, one more chance, to give some extra time and attention to that troublesome fig tree before getting rid of it.

The gardener is Jesus, of course.  And that troublesome fig tree?  The one that should be producing fruit like all the other fig trees are doing?  

That’s us.  Big Trouble…every single one of us.

Jesus will stay with us when we are in trouble…especially when we are in trouble.

Jesus will love us even when we mess up…even when we stray from our good course…even we have weak faith.

But Jesus’ patience is not endless.  He loves us and he sacrificed himself for us, but he also warns us to repent of the trouble we bring before it’s too late.

Even in the eleventh hour, Heaven will rejoice at the repentance of even the harshest troublemaker.

Lent reminds us to prepare ourselves for the sacrifice of the Lord.  Let us also prepare ourselves by taking an honest look at our paths, our courses, and examining what trouble might come, what trouble we might not see coming, and ways that trouble could be avoided in the first place.

To humble ourselves before the Lord is to admit that we can’t do it all ourselves.  We need love, patience, forgiveness, and more love.

And that’s not any trouble at all.