Tag Archives: fig tree

Saving the Fig tree and Saving Us

Luke 13:1-9

1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?…

6Then 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. 7So 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?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Sermon

Our Lenten journey arrives at the halfway point today… and along with Jesus we have been wandering the wilderness. From the desert wilderness of temptation to the center of human chaos in Jerusalem. Jesus lamented over God’s people bustling and scurrying about. But now the questions begin coming, the obliviousness of the crowds is fading, the un-veneered truth is breaking through the humdrum of human busy-ness. Today, the questions are big and the answers are vague… yet amidst all that, Jesus reveals again something about ourselves and about God.

Now, before going any further, there is something about biblical wilderness that you ought to know. Normally, we see wilderness as the place of danger and peril, the place of exile and isolation. Wilderness found in the bible is something else, something holy and sacramental almost. In the familiar stories of faith, wilderness is the place of prophets and messiahs. Abraham is sent away from his homeland into the wilderness with only Sarah and God at his side. Moses escapes the dangers of Egypt only to be found by the burning bush in the wilderness. Elijah escapes occupied Jerusalem to be provided for by God in the wilderness. The Israelites leave slavery to return to the God of their ancestors in the wilderness.

In the bible, to enter into true wilderness is to leave the chaos of human life behind for a time, to be brought closer to God’s presence. And so our Lenten wilderness is exactly that, not a time of danger or worry, but a moment to come closer to God.

But along side our Lenten wilderness journey is something different. There is also the reality and harshness of creation. The crowds comes today to Jesus with their questions about the world, questions about cruelty and suffering, about sin and death. And their questions are our questions. They ask Jesus about the worshippers, Galilean pilgrims, that Pilate had murdered while they worshipped in the temple. They want to know who is to blame, if the pilgrims had somehow brought the violence on themselves.

This of course is a familiar notion these days as the entire world continues to reel from the murder of 50 worshippers into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. There are some out there that have asked if they two somehow brought this violence on themselves. But most, like those who came to Jesus are simply wondering why?

So Jesus brings up another tragedy in the recent memory of the people of Jerusalem, a construction project gone wrong, a tower collapsing and falling on 18 workers. Jesus asks rhetorically if these are also to blame for the calamity that befell them.

And again, we are reminded of the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the 157 people who died in that disaster. Were the pilots to blame or the aircraft builders. Again the question is why? Followed by, can this arbitrary violence and suffering come to us?

In both cases Jesus condemns the idea that somehow the victims are to blame. And today, he would do the same.

And then he tells a somewhat curious parable. One about a fig tree that had not born any fruit, for 3 years… And the landowner was ready to give up on it. Yet the gardener asks for one more year. Curious indeed.

These are complicated questions for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. Complicated questions that have something to say about our world in the midst of our questions and grieving. Questions about the things that we have no answers ourselves for. Why do we suffer? Why is violence so arbitrary? Why is hatred so seemingly common place?

On some level we know that we contribute to the problem. We know that, indeed, our sinful and selfish tendencies as human beings bear some of the blame. Whether it is someone falling into a rabbit hole of twisted ideology and othering that results in a heinous act of terrorism, or the obvious corruption and self interest of so many in power who simply wring their hands and offer thoughts and prayers as the solution to the problems of terror and violence. And then we also know that even in small ways we daily put ourselves ahead of others… we know that we are found somewhere in this mess.

But Jesus isn’t just rejecting the idea that the victim is to blame… Jesus is redirecting the focus of the crowds who have come with their questions. Jesus is pointing to the big picture.

The parable of the fig tree is a reminder that the big picture matters.

The landowner comes to his unproductive fig tree with all our questions, all our assumptions. Why hasn’t the tree produced? What is wrong with the tree? What has the tree done or failed to do?

The gardener sees the big picture… the gardener knows its about so much more than the tree.

The soil, the water, the shade, the root system, the weather, the pruning, the fertilizer and so on and on.

“Give it another year” He says

And all of sudden suffering and violence and sin and death are pushed aside. And there is grace and mercy and reprieve.

“Give it another year.”

And a global community gathers around families and communities torn by tragedy. Investigations begin up provide answers, and questions about plane safety are asked.

And high school students in New Zealand stand together and perform the Maori Hakas to honour the dead and to show resolve and strength. Biker gangs stand watch outside mosques so that prayers can be offered up in safety. And laws are introduced so future violent acts can be limited before they ever begin.

“Give it another year.”

You see, there is always more to the story, more to know and understand. And the big picture, the big picture is where grace and mercy come. The big picture is God’s surrounding our mess and chaos with love and compassion.

The big picture is the reminder that the gardener knows how to to turn suffering and violence and sin and death away. The gardener knows how to grow new and unexpected life. The gardener is knows that new life will always surprise and always come when we don’t expect it to.

The gardener knows what we do not… that repentance and transformation always begin from God’s end, from God working our soil, watering us in baptism, shading us in the word, feeding us to produce good fruit with bread and wine.

“Give it another year.” Jesus says about us.

The gardener is the Christ who sees what comes after failure and axes and death.

The Gardener is the Christ who knows that there will be new life and an empty tomb.

That tragedy and violence might shake us, that sin and death are always around in the messiness of human existence is certain.

But that God in Christ is also with us, walking along side us.

Despite all the things that push us to death and threaten to destroy, God in Christ has the final say. Christ is the one who defines us, who names and claims us, who declares that sin and death will not be our end.

It is the Christ who hears the questions about murdered worshippers and those who have died in tragic accidents who also is the one who goes to Good Friday and Golgatha — to cross and grave.

And it is this Christ who will not let us be ended by the harshness of our existence, who instead will walk with us from wilderness into our messy existence.

It is the Christ who shows up at falling towers and crashing planes,

The Christ who stands vigil and watch with grieving families in Galilee and Christchurch.

It is the Christ who walks out of the tomb and who declares,

“You have been given another year.”

Amen.

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Growing a Fig By Your Own Bootstraps

Luke 13:1-9

We have all been part of the conversation. Sitting on those plastic chairs bolted to the floor at Tim Hortons. Did you hear who is sick? Did you know who lost their job? Have you heard that they are splitting up? Did you know that they have a drinking problem? Community news like this travels fast because we need something to talk about over coffee, and what better to talk about than the misfortunes of others… the struggles and trials of others. We spread the news as a way or caring, or so we think. But along with the news comes judgement. Along with the news, comes interpretation and explanation. Well, maybe they got sick because they didn’t care for themselves. They lost their job because they were uncommitted. They are splitting up because they didn’t work at it. They have that addiction problem because they just can’t get their life together.

Jesus sounds like he is sitting in a Tim Hortons today having coffee talk. Luke doesn’t tell us who, but some people are telling Jesus about the group of Galilean pilgrims who were arbitrarily murdered by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers in a show of force. And then their blood was mixed with the blood of sacrifices… making these poor people unclean in the eyes of the law, even in death. What sin did they commit to earn this kind of fate, some wonder to Jesus.

This group of some people shows us just what the culture of the time thought about the good things and bad things that happened to people. As it is so easy to do, the group of some believed that an individual was to blame for any calamity, any curse, any tragedy that befell them. They must have done something to deserve what they got. Likewise, an individual was to be lauded for any blessing, any good fortune or any good thing that befell them. Clearly they did something to earn their rewards. It is classic pull yourself up by your bootstraps thinking.

And Jesus doesn’t like it one bit. 

And we get what Jesus is talking about. It seems harsh and uncaring to blame the victim. The Galileans were simple pilgrims… why blame them for what the Roman Governor ordered? We know that this is not a compassionate way to see this kind of violence.

And Jesus gives another example. A tragedy that lived deep in the memories of the people of Jerusalem, like a plane crash or terrorist attack. The tower of Siloam, a good building project ended up collapsing on 18 workers. It would’t make sense to blame the victims for such a thing.

We get what Jesus is railing against. Blaming victims of tragedy is cruel way to see the world… even if it can make some surface level sense of complex and difficult situations.

And yet, yet… our world is full of the same kind of thinking. We might not apply the logic the same way, but our world believes that an individual is mostly responsible for the good things or things that happen to them. In our coffee talk, we can be quick to blame someone for their misfortunes or to applaud someone for their luck.

And a part of us, the old sinner part of us, likes the idea. We like the idea that we are in control of our destiny. We like the idea that our lives our dictated solely by the strength of our actions. Whether is good or bad, we like the idea that we are responsible for what happens to us. We hate the idea that there are forces in the world beyond our control, forces bringing us fortune or misfortune completely outside of anything we have done. We would rather be in control, even if our control leads to tragedy and curse. We would rather tragically be God in God’s place, than admit that there might be forces beyond our control.

Like the ideas of the group of some gathered around Jesus, our ideas about our own power to control our lives doesn’t sit well with Jesus either.

As Jesus hears about the murdered he Galileans, instead of sympathetically nodding along and wringing his hands, he jumps down the throats of the messengers.

He challenges the ideas of the this group of some. He warns them. If you don’t repent of this thinking, you too might perish like the Galileans. If you don’t repent you might find yourself under a collapsing tower too.

Repent or die, Jesus seems to be saying.

Or, wait, that’s not what Jesus means. 

Jesus isn’t reinforcing the idea that we are in control, that we are the masters and commanders of our own fate. Jesus trying to challenge that idea. Repent or die isn’t the message.

Instead, Jesus has a parable for this group of some. Jesus has a parable for coffee talk at Tim Horton’s.

barrenfigtreeA landowner goes out to his vineyard. To his vineyard where he has inexplicably planted a fig tree which would have too big a root system, take too much ground water, produce too much shade for grape eating birds. And this landowner is annoyed that this fig tree doesn’t produce fruit. And with classic group of some thinking, coffee talk at Tim Horton’s thinking, he condemns the tree for its failure. The tree hasn’t seized upon its fate. It hasn’t pulled itself up by its boot straps. It is a poor, scraggly, unfruitful tree deserving of what it gets. In fact, it isn’t really the land owner condemning the tree, the tree is condemning itself.

But wait, says the Gardener.

Wait, there is more to this story.

Give it another year. Give the tree a second chance. The tree is not an individual living in isolation. The Gardener sees the big picture. The Gardener sees that the tree is not solely a product of its own power to control its own fate. The Gardener knows that the soil, the weather, the pruning, the fertilizer… the circumstances that surround the tree have as much to do with its fruit bearing ability as the tree itself.

The judgement of the landowner is all about power, the power of the tree to bear fruit. But the Gardener sees the big picture and the big picture is about love. Love sees that fruit is born not just by the tree, but by the soil, by the fertilizer, by the gardener. Love sees that fruit is born in community.

The gardener offers another year, the gardener offers grace. Instead of judging whether the tree produces by its own power, the gardener wants to see now if the tree will produce by grace. The grace of love and care, the grace of tending to the big picture.

Jesus the gardener knows that it is the same with us. That we cannot blame the victim for tragedy. The good and the bad things, the curses and the rewards, the tragedy and blessings of life do not happen solely by our own power. Instead, love bears the ups and down of life. And the curses and rewards are born by the community. The blessings and tragedy are carried by the same community that gathers around coffee to talk.

Jesus the gardener says, one more year. One more year, one more chance, one more offer of grace because none of us is solely responsible for the good and bad in our lives. Rather we bear these things together, and we bear these things with God.

This is the grace of seeing the big picture. This is the love of gardening Jesus, the love of a gardening God.

Our logic of power would blame the victim for the tragedies we endure. We would hold the individual accountable for the good and bad. But love that sees the big picture offers grace and mercy, the loving gardening God says one more year.

God the gardener says, let me care for you, let me tend to your roots, nourish your soil and help you grow fruit. Don’t worry about producing fruit on your own power, but together we will grow because of love.

This Lenten season, we have seen again and again how in the relationship between love and power, God comes to meet us. And today, despite our coffee talk that says its our power that matters, it is our power that controls our fate, that rewards us or curses us… God steps back to see the big picture. God steps back to shown us that our power is not in control. But rather, love is at work in our lives. God the Gardener says, one more year, because of love the fruit will grow.

How’s that for Tim Horton’s coffee talk.

Amen