Sermon for March 24, 2019 Third of Lent “Active Patience”
In Luke Chapter 12 Jesus is preaching a long sermon. And near the end of it, things are a bit uncomfortable, because people are beginning to realize that being a Christian might not be as simple as they imagined. It might involve serious arguments within families: two against three, and three against two. Two weeks ago I extended to you the opportunity to invite someone to worship and I know that is uncomfortable. Last week I challenged you to think and act on your giving to the church and I expect that was uncomfortable for all of us. Today I am looking at how, in public our faith is uncomfortable.
Somebody in the crowd is feeling a bit uncomfortable about all this and they cry out to Jesus, “Yeah, but God will still punish the sinners, won’t he? You know: Like that time Pilate murdered those Galileans in the temple. I mean, if they had been real, faithful followers of God, then God would have protected them, right?”
And Jesus says, “No. Not at all. That’s not how God works. Those Galileans in the temple were no bigger sinners than any other Galileans. Just like the people that had the tower of Siloam fall on top of them. They were no more sinners, and no less sinners than anybody else.”
This is sometimes profoundly challenging to us, because we like to think— somewhere in the back of our mind— that really, if you get cancer, then probably you were doing something wrong and God is punishing you…
Well, usually we don’t quite come out and say it like that— although I have heard it. What we tend to do is say things like, “They didn’t have enough faith,” when someone doesn’t get healed after prayer. And, while I don’t think I ever thought God was punishing someone because they got sick, I always had the feeling that I wouldn’t get cancer, and I wouldn’t get sick because, after all, I was a good Christian, and God would look after me. But if you think about it, it all amounts to the same thing: God will protect those who are on God’s side. And those who are not on God’s side… the ones that God … maybe… doesn’t love as much? … … … Well, anything could happen to them.
But Jesus says, “No. That’s not how God is. Life is not like that.”
What Jesus does then, is tell the crowd, and the person who asked the question, a little parable about God and about life. It’s sneaky parable, because it sets up a trap for us. It tests how much we have let the Spirit touch our soul.
That’s because, at the beginning of the story, it makes it sound like Jesus is talking about God. It says a man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. So everyone thought: he means God… because Israel is God’s vineyard; that’s one of the traditions of the religion. And it was common to think about Israel as a fig tree planted by God.
It was also just a very common thing for any farmer to have fig trees growing in any vineyard, because you could use fig trees as a trellis for your grapes. So… maybe… Jesus was just talking about an ordinary farmer in an ordinary vineyard. We know what happens with farmers don’t we: If there’s a fig tree that you plant, and it’s been there for years, and it doesn’t do anything, then you rip it out. You give up on it. There’s no room for sentimentality. You don’t waste the ground. You put something else there instead of that unfruitful tree.
And now Luke adds a little extra trick to catch his Christian sisters and brothers: the tree has been there for three years. It’s just inviting Christians to think, “Yeah… look at that: Jesus was here for three years, trying to get Israel to repent, teaching Israel about the love of God, and Israel remained utterly without fruit. In fact, Israel was so bad, that they killed Jesus.” In fact, there’s another parable in Luke 20 where the vineyard tenants gang up and kill the son of the owner of the vineyard. So you can see everybody thinks, “Yeah—! That’s exactly what’s going on here. God is going to rip out the sinners. About time, too!”
What actually happened? Well, what happens is that the gardener says to the owner, “Hang on a minute, let me water it, let me dig around the roots and put in fertilizer and manure. Let me give it another year, and we’ll see how it goes then. And here is the test: what I’ve often heard Christians say is, “Well of course God wants to punish the wicked fruitless people, but Jesus is the kind gardener who intercedes for us sinners.”
Ummm…. if we know that God is like Jesus— you know: if you have seen me you have seen the Godr… that stuff. Well… if Jesus would come in and say to the landowner, “Don’t rip out the fig tree, then isn’t that what God would do? Isn’t that what God is like?
This is where the little trap snaps shut on us in this parable. Because, actually, the gardener in this world is God. It’s us… who rip out the fig trees. It’s us… who say to people, “You’re not good enough; you haven’t done well enough; you haven’t borne fruit; you’re not like us; you’re Muslim or First Nation or Syrian so we’re ripping you out. We’re going to shove you in jail; we’re going to cut off your benefits; we are rejecting you.”
God is the gardener, and God says, “No, let me look after this person. Let me nurture this person. Let me love this person, and lavish even more attention and love upon them. And then we’ll see what happens.”
If we have been paying any attention to our faith… if we have been letting God touch us at all, we realize that God gives us much, much more than a single year. God doesn’t give us just one more year: we are a long-lived species, three score years and ten. It’s common for people to live well into their 90’s, and beyond. And all the time, the gardener is lavishing love upon us, if we would only look and listen.
If we’ve been paying any attention to our faith, and letting the spirit move in our hearts, we’ve begun to realize something else: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Not even death. So, even after death, even if we’ve remained a fruitless fig tree, God does not give up on us.
‘Us’ is the church so God is not giving up their either. We can withhold our time, talents and treasure, we can keep our hearts locked safely away but God will continue to care for us, nudge us to growth, shake our roots even add manure for good measure. God will not give up even when we do, so maybe it’s time to stop arguing the argument that we know we cannot ever win and turn our whole selves to God. We just might be amazed at how the Spirit will work in you and me and us.