Officer John Clarke
In Memory
Officer John Eric Clarke

3 Lent proper C3                             
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 13:1-9 Sermon                                                      
March 3, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 154 "Alas!  And Did My Saviour Bleed"
TLH 409 "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"
TLH 46 "On What Has Now Been Sown"


TEXT (vs. 6-9):  “6And [Jesus] told this parable: A man hada fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' 8And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"  

            If you have been listening to the news this week, or you have picked up a newspaper, I’m sure that you are aware of the unexpected and tragic death of Lincoln Police Officer John Clarke.  Officer Clarke didn’t die while he was on duty.  He was at a gym working out when he experienced cardiac arrest due to a heart malfunction.  Despite all efforts to revive him, it just wasn’t to be.  Officer Clarke passed away from his earthly life and was welcomed into his heavenly home.

            As many of you know, I have been part of the Lincoln Chaplaincy Corps for the past 14 years.  We are one of the arms of the Police Department; and because of this, I know many of the officers.  Admittedly, I didn’t know Officer Clarke very well, even though I knew who he was.  He was the man in charge of the K-9 patrol, which consists of all the police dogs and their partner officers.  I would see him at line-up frequently, which is the time when all the officers on a particular shift gather together to find out what’s happening.  I would park next to Officer Clarke’s K-9 unit; and even though I knew what to expect when I got close to his vehicle, I would still jump a bit when his dog started barking at me.

            Officer Clarke was a 21 year veteran of the Lincoln Police Department.  He was a man who was well liked and well respected by many people, myself included.  His funeral this past Friday was attended by many hundreds of people.  All sorts of law enforcement vehicles were part of the motorcade that took his remains to the cemetery.  It was certainly a sight to behold as people paid their last respects to him.  There was a uniformed delegation from our Police Chaplaincy Corps in attendance as well.  I would have been part of it, but my current physical limitations prevented my participation; so I could only be there in spirit.

            But with all of this, people had many questions in their minds.  People wondered why it all happened to him.  John Clarke was a police officer.  When he enlisted, he was well aware of the hazards that come with the job.  Police Officers like John put their lives on the line every day in performance of their duties.  However in this case, nobody shot at him or took his life in a vengeful or intentional way.  His mourners could not point their fingers at some individual or group responsible for taking his life.  Officer Clarke died from what we would call a death due to natural causes.  And so people turn their eyes toward heaven, call out to God and ask “why?” 

            Here was a 43 year-old man, a former Husker football player, and an exemplary police officer.  From all outward appearances, he was the picture of health.  He was a family man, leaving behind his wife Lisa, two daughters Chayse and Hope, and a son Colton.  He was also a dedicated Christian and active in his church. 

            So why did this happen?  What could God have been thinking when he took this man’s life?  What had he done to deserve this?  What did his family do that God would take their husband and father away from them? 

             Maybe it's just part of our sinful human nature, but people like answers to all their questions; and we tend to never be satisfied until we have those answers.  We want answers; we demand answers, especially when our questions sound like this:  "Why did this happen to me?  Is God punishing me?  What can be done to make God happy and prevent this from ever happening again?"  Sadly, it's when these questions come up in life that a lot of faithful people begin to offer up some very unfaithful answers.                   

            As we look at our Gospel lesson for this morning, this is what was on the people's minds, and so they present the matter to Jesus for an answer.  The main question they had in mind was concerning some Galileans who had met with a very brutal death at the hand of none other than Pontius Pilate.  He had even mocked them by mixing some of their blood with their sacrifices.

            Verses 2 and 3 of our text record Jesus' answer to them: 2"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless yourepent, you will all likewise perish." 

            Then Jesus adds another similar example as well.  He talks about the time when the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people in Jerusalem.  At the end he makes the same point.  Verses 4-5 of our text records these words of Jesus:   " you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless yourepent, you will all likewise perish."

            The people here had fallen into the same trap that ensnare so many today.  People will look at adversity or hardship or any of a variety of life's trials and tribulations, and come up with a combination of blaming God and blaming themselves.  When something happens, they reckon that God is engaging in some sort of divine recompense for something that they have either said or done to displease him.

What Jesus is confronting here with this line of questioning is that false and unfaithful line of reasoning; that wrong and faithless answer called "karma." Karma, in a nutshell, says, "If you do good things, then good will be repaid to you. If you do bad things, then bad will be repaid to you."  This concept is actually what Scripture calls works-righteousness, and it is something that is deeply ingrained into every man, woman, and child descended in sin from Adam. This works-righteousness is the very backbone of all false religion in our world today.

            In our text, Jesus is saying that the tragedy in these people's lives had absolutely nothing to do with who they were, or with any sort of sin they had committed.  There was no such thing as “karma.”  The bottom line to this is that nobody is really any better off than anybody else.

             The Bible tells us that God does good things for bad people and allows bad things to happen to good people. In Matthew chapter 5, verse 45 Jesus says:  "...He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

            So let's sort all of this out.  First of all, let's consider how God administers punishment and justice.  The parable Jesus uses in our text talks about a fig tree that wouldn't produce.  If it were to continue, it was to be cut down and removed.  When God administers punishment and justice, it is something permanent and everlasting.  And like a tree that has been cut down and removed, there's no turning back.

            If we go back to the two examples at the beginning of our Gospel Lesson for today, Jesus repeats the same phrase in both verse 3 and verse 5:  “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  When the Bible talks about perishing, it refers to eternal punishment and damnation.  If we look at the familiar verse of John 3:16, we are told that those who believe in Jesus their Saviour will NOT perish, but have everlasting life.   In fact, when Christ speaks of faithful people passing away, he speaks of them "falling asleep" or "entering into rest."  Believers are with Jesus in paradise, while unbelievers perish eternally.  And that is a big difference!

            All that being said however, we always need to remember just how patient God is with us.  We can't look at God and visualize him like we would a policeman with a radar gun just waiting for somebody to mess up so he can unleash his wrath.  Rather, God acts according to his mercy and grace.  He is patient with us, because he wants us to grow strong and healthy in our spiritual life.  And whatever method he uses to teach us, the end result is that we are to place our total and complete trust in him.

             The real truth to remember is that what God wants for Christians is for them to place their complete and total trust in Jesus.  This means that when things are going well, they will give thanks to him.  And when Christians have tough times, that they will trust him and trust that he has their best interests at heart, no matter how tough life gets.  Hebrews chapter 12 verse 2 reminds us, "2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree.  Right here in this parable is where the whole notion of karma is put to rest.  Why are good things happening to some people, especially rotten, sinful unbelieving people, while others continue on in pain and suffering and misery?  Is it karma? No! In fact, if it weren't for God's long-suffering patience and mercy and compassion, there wouldn't be a vineyard at all.  This world, which is God's vineyard, would be a desolate wasteland!   Without God’s love and patience, we could expect to hear, "Sorry, you're not bearing fruit so down you go, into the eternal brush fire that is never quenched."

So, as we contemplate this analogy, we need to bear at least three things in mind.  First, a fig tree (or you can think of whatever fruit tree you like) cannot grow and bear fruit all on its own.  That's impossible.  A tree has to be firmly planted in the ground where it can take root and be stable and sturdy.  A tree out of the ground is of no value at all.

            Second, a fruit tree needs more than just dirt to grow.  It needs moisture, and sunshine, and nutrients.  Nothing can grow in soil that is devoid of nutrients and bone dry.  There's nothing there it can use.

            Thirdly, a good fruit tree needs to be cultivated and nurtured.  It has to be pruned and watered and tended.  And of course, it cannot bear fruit on its own.  It needs another tree of the same species so cross-pollination can take place, and fruit will set.

            I'm sure Jesus knew full well all of the implications of what it takes to have a good fruit tree when he made this analogy.  The needs of a fruit tree aren't that much different than the needs of a Christian in this world.

            Let's start with being planted in a solid foundation.  That foundation is the Holy Scripture, the very Word of God.  God's Word in the Bible is stable and sure.  When a person is firmly grounded in God's Word, they will be immovable when Satan tries to attack and destroy. 

            God's Word is also living and active.  It provides all of the nutrients we need for spiritual growth.  It makes us wise for salvation, and equips us for every good work.  God has given us his Word for our benefit.

            But still more is needed.  We need to keep feeding in that Word, drinking in all of the goodness and life God has in store for us.  We need to seek out opportunities for study and growth.  We need to be active in worship and prayer.  And we also need each other's fellowship so we can strengthen each other and help each other grow.  And when adversity strikes, when things happen in our lives that we just don't like, we can continue to encourage each other with God's love, and keep our hope alive with what God has promised.  This is one reason why it is so important to get Bibles into the hands of as many people as possible.

            But the most important thing the Bible does is work faith in our hearts so we can accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour.  Everything in the Bible is Christ centered and focused.  And that's where the center and focus of our lives needs to be.

             When we get bogged down and depressed about bad things happening to good people, just think about our Saviour. Nothing demonstrates this more than Jesus dying on the cross. Jesus is the sinless Son of God, the perfectly good person who had the ultimate evil done to him. The evil was that a totally perfect man was unjustly executed on a cross.  Even the thief hanging on the cross next to him knew this.  In Luke chapter 23, verse 41 he says, "41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."  God allowed this evil thing to happen so as to bring about a greater good.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 21: "21God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

            Because of his great love for us, Jesus suffered humiliation and was crucified on the cross to completely pay for our sins and receive the punishment we deserve.  But because he did this God raised him up from the dead and placed his name above every name, as Paul writes in Philippians 2 verses 10-11: "10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  As Christians, we need to have the same attitude of Jesus, and continue to place our trust in him because he promises us that he will be with us, all the time, while we live in this world.  And when our last hour has come, he promises to take us to heaven to live with him forever.

            This morning, I began by talking a little bit about Officer John Clarke and his rather untimely death.  It has sent many people in search of answers.  People have looked to God and wondered why such a thing would have happened.  He was a good police officer, a husband, a father, a citizen, and an all-around nice guy, amongst other things. 

            There are a lot of questions that we just can’t answer.  Death is eminent for everybody, and John Clarke was no exception.  It had to happen sometime.  But one thing is certain, and that is what God has in store for him how.  His Christian faith gave him a heavenly hope while he was alive, and it is a comfort for those who are left behind.  Jesus has guaranteed him a mansion in heaven, where he now dwells for all eternity.  This is his final and ultimate witness.    

            It is important for us to remember that God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth.  God wants us to place our complete trust in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  And so he continues to deal with us lovingly and patiently, and he is with us regardless of whatever adversity may come our way.  May we always remember that our Saviour is never the cause of our problems, but the cure for them, as he keeps the blessed hope of heaven always within our view.