Luke 13:1-9, 31-35
(sermon note: 02-28 sermon note)
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
Then 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. So 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?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one from my seminary days about a young minister who had just started his first call. Like many younger folks, he was environmentally-minded and because of it he rode a bike to the church. After his first month of ministry, he went to ride his bike but found it was missing. He immediately thought one of the members of the congregation had stolen it. So he went and talked to an older pastor and asked for advice. The wise minister told him, “This Sunday, I want you to preach a sermon on the Ten Commandments, and when you get to the commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” really hit it hard. The offending person will feel guilty and will repent and bring your bike back to you.” “That’s a great idea”, the young preacher said. So a week went by and he ran into the older preacher who asked him if the sermon worked. “Well, yes and no”, said the young preacher. “I preached on the Ten Commandments just like you said but when I got to the commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” I remembered where I left my bike.”
Now what strikes me as funny isn’t necessarily the young minister’s egregious behavior…reckless behavior is common among youth. No, what tickles me the most is the idea of an environmentally-minded young lad having a penitent attitude at all. I mean, the young folks I’ve encountered over the years who were environmentally-minded also carried an air of arrogance and a sense of being “holier-than-thou.” The young minister sought penance from whoever may have stolen his bike but I doubt he gave penance for his own sinful behavior, making him an even bigger fool. It’s easy to condemn the sinful behavior of others, less so our own sinful behavior. None of us like to look at our own sinfulness, let alone seek forgiveness for it. We’d all much rather point out the sinfulness of others and expect them to be penitent instead. So what if the young minister typically left his bike somewhere where it could be stolen. So what if the young minister was too trusting of those in his community. No, the thief was entirely to blame for the missing bike. None of us likes to acknowledge how our own sinfulness encourages the sinfulness of others. Well, friends, none of us is without sin, we all fall short of perfection. We all have enough work to do in seeking forgiveness for our own sins. Pointing out each other’s sins is just adding work to yourself. Focus on your own sins, your own need for forgiveness, your own penance.
There was and is only one person who can point to the sins of others–Jesus himself. That’s because he’s the only one who is without sin. He’s the only one who doesn’t need to seek forgiveness. All the rest of us need to seek out forgiveness from each other and from God. We must all carry penitent hearts if we are to ever receive forgiveness. Be sorrowful, be regretful for the sins you commit either knowingly or unknowingly. This is one of the Lenten disciplines that we are called to enter into.
In our reading for today, we heard Jesus confront the people of Jerusalem and advise them to repent for their sinful ways but they were too caught up in the injustices around them. They were caught up in the unjust and sinful actions of Pontius Pilate. They were caught up in the unjust deaths from the collapse of the tower of Siloam. They were too caught up in pointing out the injustice and unfairness and sinfulness of those around them to acknowledge their own sinfulness and repent for it. Jesus helped them to focus less on those around them and more on themselves. Perhaps in repentance, they might be saved from the injustices around them. After all, God rewards a penitent heart, a humble heart. How? With the gift of grace. Recall what James says, “But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (4:6) God listens to and honors a humble heart.
We see that illustrated in the parable of the fig tree sandwiched in the middle of our reading. God is the owner of the fig tree and rightfully became frustrated with it for not producing any fruit after three years. The gardener came around and pleaded with the owner not to kill the fig tree. He would carefully attend to the tree and enrich it so that it might actually produce fruit. God gave him another year and thus showed grace and compassion to both the gardener and the tree itself. So how are we to interpret such a parable? On the one hand, it lifts up the idea that all fig trees have the ability to produce fruit if given proper treatment. Friends, we are the fig trees. We all have the ability to produce fruits of love and kindness and encouragement and grace if given proper treatment. Jesus is the faithful gardener who offers to give us that treatment but we can nourish and protect each other too. It is Christ within us that is shared between us that feeds and sustains us. On the other hand, the parable is about the endless grace and mercy of the tree’s owner, God himself. God is always eager to give second chances to the non producing trees among us. Jesus, as the loving gardener, vouches for us and our potential to produce fruit but ultimately it is God who invariably shows us his loving mercy and grace. He shows it in this parable and countless other ways throughout scripture.
Indeed, scripture is one big testament to the love and grace and mercy of our God. Our God is an amazingly gracious and merciful and loving God. Recall the words of Paul as written in his letter to the Ephesians, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (2:8) BY GRACE, friends…it is by God’s good grace that any of us has life and the ability to produce fruit at all. It is by God’s good grace that we are given the opportunity to produce fruit in this world. We ought not take this grace for granted. It is a great gift from our loving father…nothing we have earned nor deserved but simply a gift.
Perhaps that is why we are called to repent in this season of Lent: so that we might then be able to receive his loving grace. Friends, what a great gift to receive, the gift of forgiveness and peace. God loves us and wants to bestow his grace upon us. In Christ, we have received that grace. Recall the words of John, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (1:16) Grace upon grace…what beautiful love He has shown us! Let us repent and receive his gift of grace. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.