Riddles in the Dark

Here is a riddle.

I am everywhere.

Some foolishly try and flirt with me.

Others pridefully fail to cheat me.

You can never outrun me. 
You will meet me someday.

The answer to this riddle?


A few weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, during the imposition of ashes you heard it said “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  It is an emotional experience to administer the ashes, making that baptismal sign of the cross on each forehead; on adults, teenagers, and even little children.  It is a powerful thing.  It is intended to cause us to consider our mortality; that a day will come in which each one of us will breathe our last breath this side of glory.  You cannot outrun death.

Sure, some will say, in an attempt to comfort the bereaved, that death is a natural process.  As Elton John sang in the Lion King, it’s part of the circle of life!  Well, I’m sorry too tell you… that idea is just eastern mysticism and paganism.  Death is NOT natural.  It is not normal.  When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, even He wept. No.  Death, rather than being an acceptable part of the world is unacceptable.  It is abominable; a curse on creation.

Consider how it all began.  For Adam and Eve in the garden, death was not a consideration. And why would it be?  Our God is the Lord of Life, not death.  Why would such a loving God create humanity, giving us such an amazing world, only to cut life off?  Adam and Even were meant too live forever in paradise.  But they chose death.

They already knew good, for they had an intimate relationship with God, the source of all good.  But doubting God’s word, they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then they knew evil as well.  Sin, entering the world, severed communion with the Holy God,  who cannot tolerate sin, and thus we were cut off from life itself.  No.  Death is not natural.  The Circle of Life, as they call it, is just trying to spin something awful as though it is really good.

This brings us to an interesting account in Mark’s gospel. We read

13 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

These people came to Jesus with this news.  To us it may sound odd.  “Blood mingled with sacrifices”?  What does that mean?  Commentators understand this to mean that Pilate, the Roman governor, for whatever reason, had sent Roman soldiers into the temple area, killing Jews while they were offering their sacrifices, thus “mingling their blood with the sacrifice.”  To put it in modern terms, we might compare this to some of the church shootings that have happened these past few years, in which worshippers were attacked during the Divine Service. The thought is appalling.

Now whenever there is a tragic, sudden death, people always want to know why it happened.  Questions abound.  Is God angry with me? Is He punishing me for some sin that I have done?  Why?  Is this case the tradgey is highlighted because the deaths actually  occurred during worship. What does it mean? Jesus’ response is surprising

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Jesus addresses this incident, and adds another, a case of a tower falling on 18 people, killing them. While the first incident was ordered by Pilate, the second was what an insurance company might call an “act of God.”  Certainly these people were being punished for something.   Jesus uses these events to answer a question that they were not asking.  In the previous chapter, Jesus had warned them to beware of the signs of the time, saying

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

These signs, rather than being evidence of the particular sins of those victims, are a warning to us all.  Death is imminentRemember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  We all will face our Judge.  Jesus’ instructions?

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

The problem is, as we all know, that our attempts to remedy this situation will all fail.  We cannot reverse death or aging.  We cannot stop the train.  But what was the cause?  Sin. Sin brings death. Consider that it was only one single sin that started this whole thing.  One sin of our parents Adam and Eve, and now THIS!

But if one sin ruined the world,  how many sins have you already committed . . . just this morning!   Did you begrudgingly drag yourself out of bed this morning, secretly, or not so secretly, wishing you didn’t have to come here?  How about the petty arguments that you may have had with your spouse or other family members?  Coming in this morning, did you catch yourself looking judgmentally on one of your Christian brothers or sisters in any way?  Even worse, is this kind of sinful judging so much a part of your thinking that you did not even realize that you had done it until I mentioned it just now?   What about your taxes? Have you filed them yet? Did you cut any corners? What else? Think for a moment…

Any one of these things is enough to, like Adam’s sin, sever the relationship with God. For these are all sin, and “the wages of sin is death.” Is there no escape from this body of death?

But listen. We have a just God. But He is also a loving God.

In our reading from Ezekiel we hear this:

10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel.

And Peter writes

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,[a] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Today is the third Sunday of Lent.  It is a time of reflection, confession, and repentance.  Therefore repent! Confess to the Lord and know that He is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.

But how can this be possible?  As I look in the mirror and size myself up, I know that I am still a dreadful sinner.  If Adam and Eve were cast out on account of eating a single piece of fruit, throwing the universe itself into turmoil, what about me?  I’ve done much worse.  How can a just and fair God overlook my transgressions as though they never happened?  How can He cast aside my sins as far as the east is from the west? He said, if you eat the fruit you’ll die!  His word cannot be broken!  So I must die! Right?

This is where we come to Jesus.  See, Jesus never sinned.

Okay Vicar, we know that already. Duh! Confirmation class

Yes.  But think about it.  The wages of sin is death.  But He never sinned! The curse of death should not apply to Him.  The curse that is every man’s consequence should not be His consequence.  God said very clearly to Adam what would happen if he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die!”  This proclamation and promise was carried out as we can see.  Go to a cemetery.

But for our sake this was pronounced, not against us, but against God the Son.   “You shall surely die!”

When you begrudgingly came to church this morning;  when you said thise biting words to your loved ones on your way; when you hypocritically cast judgement on your fellow worshippers; when you cut corners on your 1040. What else? Think for a moment…  Well, you deserve death. But Christ took the punishment of these sins upon Himself.  Suffering the agony of death and the pain and sorrow and abandonment that was due to each one of us!  No.  It is not fair, but He, the incarnate God, is the only one who could do it.  To save us, God died.  But death could not hold Him.  In His resurrection He proclaimed victory over death, not only for Himself personally, but for all of you! He came to destroy sin, death, and the devil.

And now, just as our ancient parents brought death to us all by eating fruit of a tree, so we now receive forgiveness, life, and salvation by eating of the body and blood of Christ, the fruit of a different tree, the cross.  Just as death came into the world through Adam’s sin, so now life comes to us through Jesus’ one righteous act on the cross.

As He said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  He is the life.  The life of the world. We are baptized into Christ’s death, and therefore also guaranteed resurrection.  In Christ, death also has no hold over you!  As Jesus said, just before He raised Lazarus,  ““I am the resurrection and the life.[d] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Hold tight to this promise.

I am everywhere.

Some foolishly try and flirt with me.

Others pridefully fail to cheat me.

You can never outrun me. 
You will meet me someday.


The answer: Death


I am everywhere.

I submitted to death and overcame.

I successfully cheated death and rose for you.

I will never forsake you. 
You will meet me someday.


The answer, as always: Jesus