In a rare fit of madness, I actually wrote out my sermon this week. So,for those who missed it and are simply dying to know what happened in worship today, here you go:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’ (NRSV)
Is This Your Year?
It seems kind of like a harsh parable. It definitely does not make the cut of “The Warm and Fuzzy Parables of Jesus Christ.”
The people are upset to begin with. There have been two recent tragedies—one caused by an angry ruler and the other a collapsed tower. In Jesus day, tragedies were explained away by sin. People sin. God punishes. There you go.
We like to think that we have grown beyond that ancient and antiquated way of thinking, but what is the first thing we are likely to ask when tragedy strikes—what have I (or they or we) done to deserve this? That kind of God makes sense. It’s not always a likeable God who meads out public punishments like executions and building failures to sinners, but it’s a God we can understand. And worshipping such a God would mean that we could have some measure of control over our existence—and then, as now, human beings crave control.
Jesus says to stop trying to figure out the tragedies of life and to start paying attention to your own lives. And he tells the parable of the fig tree.
The tree has not produced any fruit. The land owner says that the fig tree is just wasting soil. That goes right to the heart of one of our deepest fears, doesn’t it? The idea that maybe we are just wasting soil. That we are wasting our time. Wasting our lives.
It is at the heart of every mid-life crisis. It is the very thing that is keeping many of our young people from doing anything at all. Article after article is being written about 20-somethings who get out of college and can’t find jobs. Some of them could find A job, but not THE job. Critics are calling them a lazy and spoiled generation. I don’t think they’re lazy. I think their fear of choosing a path that will lead them into a wasted life is so great that they cannot even begin the journey. They are afraid of a life spent wasting soil.
Wasting soil should be one of the church’s greatest fears. We should always be on guard against simply taking up land space and not bearing fruit. BTW, if you ask another clergy member of the Arkansas Presbytery who the landowner character in our Presbytery is, and they will tell you that it’s me. I don’t have much patience with churches that don’t bear fruit. I sometimes come off as harsh (like the parable), but in an organization full of gardeners, it’s good to have an impatient landowner in the mix.
But in this parable (as in our Presbytery) the landowner doesn’t have the last word. The gardener intervenes and says, don’t give up on it. Let me spread some manure around. Give it one more year and then, if it doesn’t bear fruit, I will cut it down.
Again, harsh. Only a year to get it right, and then all bets are off. But the year is not an ultimatum. The year is a gift. One more year. In a world where life can change in the blink of an eye, where dictators destroy lives on a whim, where buildings collapse without warning, where the only thing certain is the uncertainty of it all, the fig tree is granted one more year.
One more year to get it right. To live in to its purpose—to bear fruit.
Will this be your year? Will this be the year you bear fruit?
Will this be the year you don’t let all the BS pile up and bury you, but instead take it and spread it around and use it to make you stronger?
Will this be the year you stop worrying about tomorrow and realize that today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday—and all is well?
Will this be the year that you have the courage to repent—which literally means to turn around and take a different path?
Will this be the year that your priorities shift?
Will this be the year when you stop being afraid?
Will this be the year you grow in to all God created you to be and bear fruit?
Now it won’t always be pretty. Take a look at our mustard tree. It’s growing. It’s becoming more and more full, but it’s certainly not perfect. In fact, it’s a little bedraggled looking. I almost called in a friend of mine to come and fix it up. To take these elements and to make it look like something you would see in a store window, but I decided to leave it as it is. Growing in faith, coming in to the people we are created to be, living out our true purpose is not always pretty. In fact, sometimes it requires a coating of manure.
Thank God we do not worship the land owner—the one who is ready to cut down the tree that is not producing. We worship the gardener—the one who is ready to give us one more year. The one who is ready to care for us and nurture us and encourage us to do what we were meant to do.
May this next trip around the sun be the year we all bear fruit.