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The Blossoming Fig Tree, Third Sunday in Lent, March 3rd 2013 at Our Redeemer

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Third Sunday in Lent, March 3rd 2013 at Our Redeemer

Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-8 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Luke 13:1-9

The Blossoming Fig Tree

The note of the lessons today sounds for repentance, so that Jesus Christ can bring God’s saving love to fruition in our lives. We hope that lamentation and complaining over Jerusalem turns into rejoicing, songs of praise, and dancing! That because we have had a change of mind and a change of heart, and opened our hearts to the Holy Spirit, God will help us bear fruit. “In the end all our deeds are thy doing, O Lord,” (Isaiah 26:12) because we no longer live but Christ lives in us. (Galatians 2:20)

Jesus tries to correct the belief that people suffer and die because they are being punished by God for their sin. The wages of sin are death, but those who become the victims are not worse sinners than any of us. Jesus argues that God is not like that. In the case where Pilate killed Galileans, the people were killed by another human being; in the other case, where the tower fell on 18 people of Jerusalem, it could have been poor workmanship and neglect. Jesus asks if the victims were worse offenders than the other Jerusalemites. No way. These Galileans were not worse than the Jews of Jerusalem and the victims upon whom that tower of Siloam fell were not worse than those who were spared. When a tyrant like Pilate kills subjects, that is one thing; when a tower falls because of poor workmanship, that is another; and when an act of nature kills many people, that is yet a third; but we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God and Christ is calling us all to repent, so that we do not perish the way they did.

In the words of Isaiah, “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 [God] may have mercy on them, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon.”

St. Paul says, “[These words in the scripture] were written down to instruct us, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” To me it sometimes feels like the “ends of the ages,” because things are somewhat apocalyptic right now. By that I mean that we are now sometimes facing end of the world scenarios. I asked a scientist if it shocked him that that meteor came down on that Russian city and injured a thousand people. He just said that it happened all the time. What about that huge meteor that just missed us by 17,000 miles? “A hundred meteors go between us and the moon every year.” he said.

Let’s ask ourselves, What about that earthquake that hit Japan, churned up that incredible Tsunami, and then brought those six nuclear reactors to various stages of melt-down? One town had built a thirty foot seawall for protection, but the earthquake made the wall drop three feet and the wave went right over it. Like Chernobyl, that area of Japan may not be inhabitable for hundreds of years because of the deadly radio activity. Do you think that the Japanese were worse sinners than we are and that is why that disaster struck them? That is what Jesus is asking. No way, but if we do not take care of our nuclear reactors and their nuclear waste, we will perish like they did. We have all these open pools filled with nuclear waste and nowhere to put it and meanwhile there is clamoring to make more nuclear reactors!

I had a whole litany of serial murder suicides from Aurora, Colorado to Newtown, but to list them is very depressing. The police chief of Philadelphia said, “If more guns would make us safe, then we would be the safest country in the world!” But we are struggling against a culture of violence. We have to take heart and repent. Remember when we had to take on the tobacco companies and cigarette smoking? It seemed impossible. But a movement against smoking spread across the whole country. We need to repent and have a movement like that take place against guns and our culture of violence. Unless we repent and do something about all these guns and murders, we will perish just like so many victims among us already did. Would you say the reintroduction of capital punishment back in the seventies worked?

Look at the violence of the weather we are experiencing. Hurricane Katrina flooded the whole city of New Orleans. Al Gore was told that he was an alarmist, because he said that in future flooding the water in lower Manhattan could go right into the construction hole of the World Trade Center. He was talking about the future in his book, An Inconvenient Truth, but with Hurricane Sandy it already happened and the subway system in lower Manhattan filled with water, to boot.

It is so wonderful that our congregation, Our Redeemer, has a Green Committee. Not many congregations have such a committee, which will help us be good stewards of our environment and help us deal with some of these issues.

When the tornadoes were coming thick and fast up through Tennessee, one jumped right over my son’s restaurant and demolished a warehouse behind it. Was the warehouse owner worse than my son? No way. I know him, he’s a sinner, just like his father, a chip off the old block. Al Gore says that the atmosphere around our little planet is very thin and fragile and we have to be careful not to dump so much carbon into it. That’s like what we did to rivers before, and do you remember how a river caught on fire? How unnatural is that? A river caught on fire! When we violate nature, I think nature becomes hostile in turn and starts attacking us with violent weather and storms. This is the only planet we know of with life on it and we have to repent if we do not want to perish.

Let me explain about something called natural capital. A business like Pacific Lumber Company wants to make a profit and clear cuts a forest. There are so and so many jobs and so and so many people who make a monetary profit. But the forest was the home to song birds, that never return. There was a great deal of wild life that is gone. It can only be replaced if we build a zoo and that would be far from the same. The forest represented a natural water purification system: rain through the trees, through the soil, the gravel and rock into the purified ground water. Now it would take a few billion dollars to build a water purification plant to replace the natural one of the forest. The soil also erodes and washes into the rivers and streams, causing mud slides and flooding. And worst of all, the forest takes in carbon dioxide and provides oxygen for us to breathe. Somehow we are going to have to sequester and store carbon dioxide and then produce oxygen for us to breathe, because, how long can you hold your breath? Now the point is that the collective cost to us in natural capital represented by that clear-cut forest far surpasses the private profit made by a lumber company. If we don’t repent, we will perish in an impoverished environment that can no longer sustain life.

What a wonderful thing that this church has a Green Committee so that we take leadership in this area! It really amounts to repentance for the sake of the future. While I was writing this sermon outside the house, I suddenly heard excited and happy children coming up the side walk on our block. We have an elementary school on the corner and all the classes were going on an outing. The children were so excited, talking happily. One class of children after another passed by anticipating their coming adventure, making me sense their beautiful, exciting, and wonderfully world. I asked a teacher, “Where are you going?”

“To Mission Dolores.” He answered. It is for these happy and excited children’s future that we have to repent and take care of these environmental problems. Let’s start a movement of repentance for the concern and good stewardship of the environment, so we will not disappoint this happy and excited procession of children!

Let me tell another story, that we read for our intentional interim pastors’ training. In one church, relationships were dysfunctional. The pastor felt abused and put upon and his complaining exasperated his wife and there were cliques all through the church. Many members felt abused and angry about what they had to do while they felt that others were not doing their fair share. There was blaming and shaming and a refusal to take responsibility. Caught in negative feelings, people kept saying things that made others feel hurt and angry. In another congregation, the pastor was anxiety free, self-differentiated, meaning very mature, as we learned in the training, and relationships were positive and conflict free. Now on a Sunday morning, both churches found out that they had been flooded during the night. It was worse than just a flood, because it was a sewer that had backed up into the church and the furnace had gone out.

In the one church the pastor called the property manager, who went right to work on the problem. Everyone helped organize the response. People made phone calls and they then held the service in one member’s large home. They weathered the problem knowing that they had overcome it well making them feel very positive about themselves.

In the other church, the janitor refused to be put upon again and wouldn’t respond. He actually refused to just push the red button to make the furnace start again. The pastor made no phone calls and no alternate plans were made for the service. The congregation arrived dismayed with a cold and flooded church. Their relationships as such were a disaster that prevented them from being able to respond to the natural disaster. They experienced a double disaster, from which it was hard to recover.

The story of those two churches is also a parable for what happens in our society. When we are wracked by war and other divisions, like those of class, race, gender, and party conflict – and right now the parties can’t seem to work together, then the disasters that befall us will overcome us and we will perish, as Jesus says, unless we repent.

I believe our congregation has to become a model for society, because the fig tree that Jesus is talking about is not just our society, but can also stand for our congregation. And this is where the grace of God comes in; grace meaning that we receive gifts that we don’t deserve. That free banquet described in Isaiah is like our community meals. God is serving us just like we serve those poor folks. “Ho, everyone who thirsts and is hungry, come and eat!” It’s for free! That is our divine meal, in which Jesus is our host and he sets the tables and serves us just like we serve those folks who come to us.

The man, who had the fig tree planted in his vineyard, comes and speaks to the gardener, – who is the gardener? That’s the one Mary thought she spoke to, outside of the tomb on Easter, remember? She thinks Jesus is the gardener and in this parable, Jesus is the gardener!

The man says to the gardener, Jesus, “See, here for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and I still find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” The vines in the vineyard need the nourishment that the fig tree is using up.

Now the first three years no figs are expected and now the next three years more, that means for six years, there has been no fruit and fig trees require a great deal of nourishment out of the soil that the grapevines needed.

But the gardener replies, “Sir, let it alone for one more year until I dig around it and put manure on it.” At the time that was never done for fig trees, but this gardener will do it. “If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” That is the gospel, that God gives us another chance. And that Gardener is Jesus who says, not one chance, but seventy times seven chances to get this movement of repentance going, because God does not want to see sinners perish, but to repent and receive abundant life. And that saving love of God will make us bear fruit.

Let’s repent and be grateful for the gracious work of the Gardener, who is Our Redeemer. In the Book of Jeremiah, he comes upon a tree that was not producing, gave it that extra love, and a few chapters later, the fig tree blossoms. By God’s grace, when we repent, our branches will also hang heavy with wonderful fruit. Amen.


One Response

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    August 14, 2013 at 12:13 am

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