“Mercy for the Fig Tree”

Sermon – 03-24-19 – Lent III – Cycle C
Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Sermon Title: “Mercy for the Fig Tree”

“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Jesus said this when some newsbearers reported to Jesus that Pilate had killed some Galileans and again when he was told that another 18 people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. “Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

We assume that whatever Jesus says to the people of his time, applies to us some 2,000 years later. “Unless we repent, we will all perish.” What is this perishing business? Oh, maybe hell. So how do I repent enough to stay out of hell?

Hear ye! Hear ye! There is this fig tree! Did you notice the fig tree on the cover of your bulletin? The picture is a bit distorted in that we see Jesus mending the fig tree. In our gospel parable today, it is the gardener who begs for a chance to nurture this tree for another year and who is given permission by his master to do just that.

The point of the gospel is that God has given us a number of years to produce fruit, to be a productive part of the kingdom of God on earth. Have we produced any good deeds, shared any wisdom about the kingdom, opened anyone’s heart to Jesus? Have we been good examples for young people who are watching? We may be blind to the people who watch us. We don’t notice. We think other people don’t notice any unkind expression or action. We think that our own actions and speech don’t muddy the waters.

Maybe you are starting to seethe as my mouth goes on. Maybe you have every justification to say, “How dare you!” to me because you truly are a good example and model for growing the peaceful kingdom. I reply, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart” and “I am glad that I know you” and “May I walk beside you long enough to get the hang of being a good example; of being a productive tree in the kingdom.”

Others of us need the year of mercy to put more effort into being productive. Or we will be pulled from the garden because we are taking space and nourishment that could be used by someone more deserving.

Even as we look for human models in our endeavor to be considered worthy, Jesus is the ultimate model. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Jesus is our model. I repeat the ending of our Epistle Lesson today. “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 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.”

What is this way out? Lean into Jesus! Let’s look at the picture again. Pretend the tree is us. We are leaning away from Jesus, following the way of the world and our selfish, foolish desires. But Jesus is not just praying for us. He has set a straight pole, presumably firmly in the ground and is using soft strips of cloth to draw us from our wayward ways. We can think of the pole as being Jesus himself. Firmly rooted. Straight. That reminds me of the “straight and narrow path.” We are instructed to take the less-traveled path, not the easy path of the world. There is no structure in the easy path. The boundaries are more vague. How much should we be saving? How much should we be giving to the work of the kingdom? How much should we be spending on enjoyment? How much time should we give to help our neighbor, including the neighbors we cannot even see but they need help way around the world? Does our next-door neighbor have an empty refrigerator? Does our own anger need some kind of management? Does someone else’s anger need management?

Can we do this in a year? Do we even want to change our ways? Do we want to lean on Jesus? Are we malleable enough to become straight; to align ourselves to the straight pole which is Jesus? Is Jesus pulling on those strips of cloth with all of his might or is he pulling more gently. Is he determined to make us straight or does it look like we may have some free will? Do you see the water jug with the spout? Jesus does not leave us struggle to find our own food and water. He assists us.

Let’s take a guided tour of our hymns today. In “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” see the line that says, “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.” I think of my credit card and how easy it is to whip it from my handbag and swipe or insert. Not so easy to pay the monthly tab. I think of the wasted minutes scrolling through my aol news which is mostly sensational in nature- something like facebook. The things that charm me most.

Looking at “There is a Balm in Gilead,” a balm is a healing substance or a healing act. It can be a soothing influence. Each time we fail in our attempt to be like Jesus, to lean toward Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to our rescue; to revive our soul, to encourage us to try again and again. Is the year up yet?

Then the gift of all gifts! The hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” has us melting in thankfulness. Oh, God of all mercy, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! We start to dance. Imagine a cold drink on a scorching day! Imagine resting our feet when we had been standing and walking for hours! Imagine the load lifted from our brains, from our hearts!

Could we please say the words to this hymn together now? Then when we sing it, we will feel an increased fervor which means increased warmth and intensity of feeling or zeal.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice Which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple We should take Him at His word,
And our lives would be all sunshine In the sweetness of our Lord. Amen

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