Saturday, March 10, 2007

Where's the figs?

Apologies to anyone who's not in the least bit interested in reading a sermon**, but I'm posting this here in the hope that my RevGals might come along and give some helpful (maybe even encouraging!) comments!
**SLIGHTLY AMENDED VERSION!

SUNDAY 11TH MARCH 2007 (LENT 3)
ISAIAH 55: 1-9
LUKE 13: 1-9

It doesn’t take much looking around to see that there is much pain and suffering in our world – sometimes it hits right in the midst of our own lives, and sometimes we just have to switch on the news, or pick up the paper, to see what’s going on both on our doorstep and around the world.
And we see in our gospel reading that the people with Jesus on this particular day also had questions of suffering on their minds…

These people with Jesus brought up the subject of a presumably recent tragedy - the horrendous slaughter of a group of Galileans who had been slain by Pilate’s men as they brought their sacrifices in the Temple. It was awful and shocking, and sadly we’re not immune today to hearing of such awful events. But Jesus knew that behind their thinking about these things lay an assumption that the suffering of these particular Galileans was a direct result of their sin. For the people with Jesus that day, there was an assumption and a belief that people get what they deserve – so they thought that because this had happened, the victims must be worse sinners than other Galileans – they must have done something to deserve it.

But Jesus says, “No I tell you!” This is not the case. We are all sadly aware that bad things happen sometimes to good people. It is not because they are worse sinners… we are all sinners. The world is a fallen place, is a place that suffers the consequences of having turned its back on God, and that is something that we are all called to repent of, as Jesus pointed out to the people with him.

And then, to clarify his point, Jesus reminds them of another situation – a tragedy which resulted in 18 people being killed – and says again: “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you…” It was far too easy for those standing there to assume that the ones who had suffered had deserved it more than they themselves did. But each time Jesus says to them… “No, they were not worse sinners – and yet you all need to repent.”

And while they may be different, we hold our own assumptions today. In our time and culture we seem to believe that we have the right to go on forever! We assume it is our right to have good health and long life and we even sometimes blame the medical profession if that’s not delivered. We look for someone to blame if there’s a tragedy or a disaster, we look for someone to blame if there’s illness. Sometimes of course there is an obvious point of blame, but not always. Sometimes we blame God (even people that don’t believe in God are satisfied to blame him when things go wrong!), sometimes we blame the authorities – lack of funds – sometimes we blame an individual – “if they had only done this or that…” and yet we are often too proud or short-sighted to listen and to understand that the earth is groaning under the fallen-ness of creation, suffering the consequences of a universal turning away from God.

But into this, God has broken in…

And he has broken in because he hasn’t abandoned us, because he loves us, because he wants to make himself known to us… because he is full of mercy.

Jesus is the most visible sign of God breaking into his world – the Son of God come to walk and live among us, to make God known to us and then to lead the way through death – the perfect example of humanity now in heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father.

And Jesus made it simple for us: “Repent and bear fruit.”

He said it to those who were with him that day, and he says it to us, “Repent and bear fruit.”

Think, or turn, back to those verses from Isaiah – words spoken hundreds of years earlier and relevant in their own time, in the time of Jesus and still today…

“Seek the Lord while he may be found,

call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake their way,

and the unrighteous their thoughts;

let them return to the Lord, that he

may have mercy on them,

and to our God, for he will

abundantly pardon.”

This is what our God is like. He wants to have mercy, he wants to abundantly pardon; but however much we assume the right to live forever, we don’t have all the time in the world!

Think about the fig tree in the story Jesus told…

A mature tree that’s stood for three years in the garden – and in that time has not produced a single piece of fruit. And the owner of the garden comes along once more looking for fruit on that fig tree, and still seeing none he says to the gardener, “cut it down then, it’s not a lot of use and is wasting the soil.” But the gardener asks for another year… asks to be given time to dig round it and put manure on it… to see if it will then bear any fruit.

The mercy and patience of the gardener is a reflection of the mercy and patience we also receive… we need to produce the fruit of repentance (and we’ll think about what that is in a moment) but we’re not just left to it… we also have the loving touch of the gardener… tending us, being patient with us, nourishing us.

Time will run out for that fig tree if it doesn’t bear fruit and time will run out for us if we don’t respond to Jesus’ call to repent and bear fruit.

Repentance doesn’t just mean saying sorry to God and other people for the things we do wrong (though that is important) it is actually a turning away from all that separates us from God and a turning back to face God and take notice of him in our lives. We do this by listening to God - most often as we read the Bible, by spending time with him in prayer and worship, and also through action: making amends to those we’ve hurt, helping those in need, striving for peace and justice. And when we do this, when we make that turn towards God, we see a change – we see the fruit.

C and N are going to be baptised in a few minutes, and baptism is one of the most significant steps we can take to respond to God’s mercy and make that turn towards him. And though it’s a very special time for C and N it’s also an opportunity for the rest of us to renew our commitment to God as we profess our faith together.

Many people here may have been baptised as babies or very young children, and if that’s the case be thrilled that you have been brought up as a member of God’s family, but ensure that you also bear the fruit of repentance in your life. Whether you hear and turn to God and are baptised in response, or whether you were brought to God as a baby, then heard as you grew up, or even as an adult, and then turned your face towards him… know that with the tender attention of the gardener, of God at work in your life, fruit will grow.

And what kind of fruit will this be then?

First of all it will be a life that acknowledges, trusts and listens to God; that stretches after good and tries each day to put aside sin and self-centredness; and it is a life that gradually grows what Paul called ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (that’s the fruit of having God’s Spirit dwell in us): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. This is the kind of humanity that Jesus demonstrated for us – and don’t ever think it’s a weak kind of humanity – it’s not weak, but it does take humility.

And finally, don’t forget the image of that gardener - working with the fig tree – digging and pruning and adding that manure – doing what is needed for the fig tree to produce fruit. And likewise, God is working with us – tending and nurturing and showing mercy so that we too will bear much fruit.

Amen.

5 Comments:

At March 10, 2007 2:34 pm, Blogger Sally said...

excellent stuff Chelly- Thanks for posting it!

 
At March 10, 2007 3:35 pm, Blogger cheesehead said...

Indeed, God broke in.

Now that is good news!

 
At March 10, 2007 4:54 pm, Blogger Sue said...

Amen!!

 
At March 10, 2007 6:33 pm, Blogger Mother Laura said...

This is great Chelly!

One minor suggestion: you might want to flesh out your point about effective repentance with a sentence or two giving practical examples of how this might look in our lives.

E.g. (possible additions in *asterisks*:

"Repentance doesn’t just mean saying sorry to God *and other people* for the things we do wrong (though that is important). It is actually a turning away from all that separates us from God and a turning back to face God and take notice of him in our lives. *We do this by spending time with God in prayer and also through action: making amends to those we have hurt, helping those in need, working for peace and justice.* And when we do this we see a change – we see the fruit."

This is just one of my pet peeves--religious people sometimes focus only on saying sorry to God and not to other people, much less on making amends for out wrong actions, so I think it is good to remind people that turning to God and others is inseparable, as in the two great commandments.

You could also do the explanation of metanoia=turning around, but that's not crucial, I just have a professor's addiction to teaching people key terms.

May the Spirit bring you joy and fire as you preach this tomorrow!

 
At March 10, 2007 7:26 pm, Anonymous Chelley said...

Thank you all so much for leaving these comments - I really appreciate it!
Mother Laura - I will incorporate those suggestions once I've had a nice dinner!
I really pray that your last comment will be true!

 

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