“The Gardener’s Pleading” – 03-03-13 – Lent 3 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

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

The gardener pleaded with Jesus to save the fig tree; to give it one more year; one more chance to produce fruit. Did Jesus listen to the gardener? Yes, Jesus did listen to the gardener. The gardener did not intend to leave that fig tree on its own. The gardener planned to feed it what it needed during that year so that when the Master came this way next year their would be fruit on this fig tree.

What does this fig tree have to do with ourselves? Jesus gives us second and third chances; in fact, endless chances. Does he leave us to our own devices during those extra opportunities to become satisfactory, to produce fruit? No, Jesus is available on a help line. In today’s world of technology there are help lines galore. Some are telephone numbers. Some are internet addresses. Some are satisfactory and fast. Some are slow and even then are unsatisfactory.

How does Jesus handle his help line? One way is through other people. One way is through our own listening for word from Jesus or the Father or the Holy Spirit – all final authorities! Another way is to give the Holy Spirit freedom to move within us and around us and to surprise us!

Regular reading of the Holy Word is another method of growing and producing whatever we are supposed to be producing. Figs would be nice. You may be thinking that apples would be better. I think it depends on what God planned for us to be. Years ago we were familiar with a small selection of fruit – whatever grew in our own climate. Gradually transportation and an openness for new things brought unfamiliar fruit into our lives. Now in the supermarket I see strange fruit. I must confess that it does not interest me in the least.

What happens if God has plans for me to bear that kind of fruit with my life. Of course, I don’t expect to grow branches on my own body or I don’t expect to see branches on your bodies. But it is conceivable that God planned some interesting fruit for us to be and we have not had open minds about it. We are smothering that tree or plant. We are not nourishing it. We have no goals or expectation in that direction. We are not even familiar with it. What will we do if that fruit breaks out of us despite our lack of interest and nurture?

What happens if we miss the poetry unit in high school in our senior year because our parents yanked us from school to see Europe? Do you think God may sneak poetry into our lives another time? I do hope so. What happens if we had pneumonia or mononucleosis when nuclear energy was introduced in our physics class? Do you think God will let us get through life without another introduction to something God wants us to do? What happens when we fell asleep during the pre-med introduction in biology class? Do you think God will understand about the sleeping and will lead us to the field of medicine or surgery on another occasion? What happens when we begged our parents to let us sleep one Sunday morning when the pastor or a visiting missionary brought a new light, and new possibility to serve God in a very different way from the usual careers of pastor or missionary? Will God only give us that one chance when we missed that awesome experience of something awakening in us; something exciting us; something calling us! How many times do you think God will prod and poke us or entice us? Jesus gave the fig tree an extra year.

Sometimes we are simply not ready. But sooner or later, it is like a storm coming. There are signs but we are never really ready when the truth hits us. Before the truth hits us we settle for less. We don’t use our imaginations. We are not open. We follow our own noses. Sometimes we discover that, when we thought we were following our own desires or the path of least resistance, God was doing the directing of each step. When the ultimate career door opened, we were ready. God had prepared us. That is nice and tidy when that happens. Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not!

I know people who followed the family into farming with animals and some land. It is virtually impossible to earn a living by farming these days because farming is now mostly done by mega-agriculture businesses with giant equipment. So a person who felt the call to be a farmer might leave the farm and search for an industrial job, if one were to be found. Instead of going sideways into a job that does not fit God’s plans, think bigger! Think what a person who is natured to be a farmer could do with the knowledge that comes with a degree in agriculture or becoming connected with good world social agencies, if it includes how to do farming in various geographic locations in the world.

Think what this person could do if he or she focused on city gardening, roof-top gardening. Vacant lots exist in the city. These lots are strewn with litter beyond belief and weeds growing wild. They serve as a meeting place for things we don’t even want to know. These lots could be transformed. This person could become involved with city government; could learn how to claim that lot to start a community garden. Who knows where that could lead? God knows, that is who. He just needs to get our attention.

You may have noticed that I did not say “we” when I spoke about the possibilities for people who feel called to be farmers. Certainly God does not intend for me to garden or prepare large amounts of food for a community meal or spend the nights with the homeless population! Surely not! I don’t garden unless we are talking about indoor decorative plants. I don’t cook even for myself anymore because I don’t have time to shop, and cook, and wash those dishes, those pots and pans. I can’t even think about cooking large quantities that would be edible. Surely that is not the fruit God planned for me to bear. And why is spending nights in a homeless shelter not what God planned for me? I don’t know. I am clearly out of excuses.

“Bear fruit or I will tear you from the ground,” Jesus said to the helpless fig tree. “Bear fruit or I will let you know that you are displeasing to me,” Jesus says to me. “Bear fruit!” “But, God,” I say, “This is the fruit I want to bear. Why am I not seeing a door open for me?” Then I hear, “Mary Etta, your eyes are not open. Your heart is not open. Why can’t you see the door I have open for you? It is happening now. It is right in front of you. You are bearing fruit. Accept the fact that you are a kumquat. Just because you thought you could be a passion fruit or a wonderfully sweet orange does not mean that door will open. Learn about kumquats. I created kumquats for a reason. So you can be one, that is why I created kumquats. Learn how to receive nurture to bear kumquats. Plant yourself. Be fruitful!” God says that to me.

“Okay, God,” I say. Can I earn enough money by bearing kumquats? God says to me. “Don’t worry, Mary Etta. Don’t you remember the lilies of the field?” You will have just enough for your needs and to share.” “Oh, God,” I reply, “Oh that I could be a beautiful orange lily!” None of that,” says God. “Someone else has that gift. Remember, your gift is to grow kumquats.” “Yes, God,” I finally hit bottom and surrender myself before I go into a state of depression. Giving my selfish hopes to the wind; burying my hopes, I say before I fall into a numbing sleep, “Your will be done, not mine.”

But, God did not plan for me to hide. God has plans for me. I need to search for the value in His plans. What is happening because I exist? Am I building a tall building or a big dam that will supply water to the desert towns? Slowly it becomes clear to me that kumquats are indeed beautiful in their own way and they are nutritious. I see that people are coming to God because of my fruit. They are seeing the Creator. But, as I have been told several times in my life, it is not about me.

It is time to see what God is doing with you, with you and with you. Yes, what is God doing with you? What kind of fruit is your lot? Were you created to be a teacher, an architect, a molecular scientist, a care giver for the people who have born their fruit and now need help? Were you created to be an excellent borough employee, a reconciler, a principal in an inner-city school, a social worker?

Lest we think only about this poor fig tree, our lessons hold other mysteries and learnings. If we seem to be parched and hungry, Isaiah brings God’s help to us. Listen to Isaiah 55:1. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Of course, this may seem unreal. No money and yet we can be nourished! This reminds me of the lilies of the field. Where is our trust? Where is our faith? You may be saying, “We are hungry and thirsty today – real food, real water is what we need.” Which comes first? Is it seeking spiritual food, spiritual connection with God, or does real food for our bodies come first? Can spiritual connection happen if our bodies our craving food not for pleasure but for existence? Will our real need for food and water be satisfied if we pay attention to the spiritual connection first? Oh, Lord, save us.

And the Lord says, “Repent first.” “You must repent!” “If you don’t repent you will perish.” That sounds like spiritual connection may need to come first. But that person’s stomach is empty. Strength is disappearing. Vitamins and minerals are non-existent. Illness is on its way. And yet we are called to repent. Then what? We know about bad things happening to good people. Where is the guarantee that “repentance first” will solve our problems? In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul provides this bit of wisdom, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone, God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Have you experienced this kind of testing? Did God really provide? Can we trust this promise? Were you able to bear fruit during this time or was fruit-bearing on hold until you could get your balance?

Dear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – you who form God, you who are the gardeners of our lives, we bend our fruit-laden branches before you in respect, in obedience, and in honor. Amen