Readings for the day (3rd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, February 28, 2016):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The Gospel reading today starts off with bad things happening to people, including a tower falling and killing 18 people. And people are wondering what sin they committed that caused God to give them that kind of punishment. Really no different than today. People still think this way. But Jesus says that we all are sinners and as a sinner we are called to repentance (which is part of our Lenten discipline). No sin is greater than another. Every sin hurts our relationship with God and requires repentance (which is turning from our sinful and evil ways); it means we have to change. This means that we need to strive to correct that which is wrong in the relationship. And then Jesus gives us a parable.
In this parable there are three characters, the man (the owner of the fig tree), the gardener (the one caring for the fig tree), and the fig tree. Now when we look at this parable, let’s start off by saying that we are the man, Jesus is the gardener, and the fig tree is all of those people and things that we give up on? Maybe that fig tree is that alcoholic family member that you just write off and say there’s no hope for him? Or that neighbor who seems nice, but say there’s something just not right with her. We even talk about how if this church burned to the ground, no one would want to rebuild it. Are you one who is quick to give up or do you fight? Many times it is easier to say no or give up than it is to say yes and work for something. We look for the easy way out. Why take the steps when the elevator is right there? Hollywood shows our young adults and youth that at the first sign of trouble in your relationship it is fine to just end it – divorce your spouse instead of trying to work on it. Give up rather than work on it.
So we sound like this man who had a fig tree who tells the gardener to cut it down because it isn’t bearing and fruit. It’s useless, pointless, a waste of time. Oh that’ll never work. We’ve never done it that way before. No one is going to donate money to that. Why waste your time on that? Have you heard those phrases before in our church and in the community? I have! In certain areas of our lives we can be extremely patient and understanding with, such as our parents, our spouse, our children, our closest friends. But when it comes to community things or the church, our attitude can shift to being less patient, less understanding, and quicker to see the glass as half-full or nearly empty. A church that is seeing fewer and fewer fruit on the tree. Have you given up on your church? Have you given up on God? If you had, Harvest Homecoming and Farm 4 Waverly, which is the second most attended service behind Christmas Eve would have never happened at Waverly. You pushed back against the man with the fig tree and like the gardener said, leave it alone and let me dig around it and spread manure around it to see if it will bear more fruit. Well that is exactly what is needed in your life and in the life of our congregation, manure. That’s right, you can always use a little more manure in your life, to keep your faith life fertilized, growing, and bearing fruit for God’s kingdom.
Now do you know anyone who has any manure that we can use? Thankfully God doesn’t use the same manure that you spread out on your fields. This spiritual manure comes from Jesus. Let’s flip the parable around a little bit. Instead of us being the man with the fig tree, let’s say that is our Heavenly Father, the gardener is Jesus, and we are the fig tree. Now when the owner of the fig tree comes and sees that the fig tree is bearing no fruit for His kingdom, what does He say? Oh yes, He says, “Cut it down!” That would be God’s wrath coming down on you and me, the fig tree who is bearing no fruit for God. But thankfully Jesus, as the gardener, dives in to save us by pleading with the man to not chop it down, but to fertilize the tree for one more year to see if it bears fruit. This is what Jesus has done for you. Jesus has stepped in, shielding God’s wrath from you saying, “Don’t cut it down. Let me care for this one. I’ll dig around it (cultivating your life) and spreading manure to fertilize your life.” Even though you have screwed up and made mistakes, you aren’t perfect. You do give up on people. You do give up on causes and sometimes even the church. You don’t always bear fruit for God’s kingdom. I don’t always bear fruit for God’s kingdom. And when we do, we often do a lousy job of it.
But Jesus isn’t done with us. He is continually cultivating our lives and spreading that manure in our lives to strengthen and grow our faith in Him. Just as we put fertilizer in our fields and gardens to help the plants grow and produce a greater harvest, God also uses fertilizer to strengthen us in order to produce a greater harvest for His kingdom. Now, God’s fertilizer comes in a variety of forms: from various Bible studies, to many devotion books. There are so many ways in which you can grow and deepen your faith in Jesus.
And yet, what is the greatest fertilizer that Jesus uses on us? His forgiveness and His grace. Resources used to deepen your faith and grow your devotion to God is certainly a good practice to get into and continue (even beyond Lent), but without God’s forgiveness you will still amount to nothing more than the fig tree in this parable that is bearing no fruit. Without forgiveness no relationship can move forward. Without forgiveness no relationship will bear any sort of fruit. That’s the reason why the most important fertilizer that God uses on us is His forgiveness that is only found in the saving work of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. But without repentance, this forgiveness is like receiving Holy Communion without first confessing your sins. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this Cheap Grace.
Because of Jesus, you are forgiven, and as someone who is forgiven you no longer have to dwell on those sins that have been forgiven. You have been freed to no longer give up on something because it is something that’s never been done before. You are free to bear fruit for God’s kingdom. And that is exactly the reason why you have received His forgiveness anyway, so that you can live with God and faithfully serve Him by bearing fruit for God’s kingdom. Amen.
© 2016 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.