Lets Do Some Tending 2-28-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:1-9, I explore the odd parable of the fig tree. Jesus uses this parable to teach against the notion that tragic deaths are the result of sin, for we are all equally sinful.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-do-some-tending-2-28-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Growing up, I as quite the daredevil. I was constantly going too, jumping off things…swinging from trees…you name it I probably did it…and because of this, I have probably had way more “close calls” than I will ever realize.

But there are two instances in my life to this point that I certainly do recognize as being close calls. Many of you know about one, when I nearly drowned while swimming one summer day. The other one happened the summer after I graduated high school…as I, along with three of my friends were roadtripping from the Okoboji area up to Sioux Falls for the day, and due to a blown tire, we ended rolling our car a couple times down the middle of the high way.

Scary to be sure…but in hindsight the cost was pretty low. The car itself was totaled…no big surprise there…but in terms of injuries, one guy put his hand through a window needing some stiches…another guy ended up with a pretty good shiner from getting smacked in the face by something flying around in the car…the third guy got the back of his head scrapped up when the roof of the car caved in and hit him…and me…sitting in the passenger seat…well I suffered 2 small scratches on my knee…not even deep enough to draw blood.

All in all, we were really lucky…it could have been way worse…and many times in the years since, as I have talked about that day, I’ve often said “Somebody was watching over me that day.” (pause) But what if that wasn’t actually the case…what if it wasn’t some miracle of God’s hand protecting the 4 of us, and especially me, from all harm in that accident…what if it wasn’t the presence of anywhere from 1-4 guardian angels protecting us from danger…What if maybe…just maybe…we were simply…lucky? (pause) Any single change in circumstance could have made the outcome of that accident a whole lot worse…any us could have been drastically injured…or worse yet, any of us…or all of us could have been dead in an instant…no warning…alive and kicking one second, and gone in the next. (pause)

Last Thursday, it happened again…a troubled individual, for whatever reason, pulled out a gun and started shooting…4 people are dead…14 injured…countless more traumatized but physically unharmed…and there is no way to determine why each person received their personal outcome. Were some better people than the others…and so they were unharmed? Were others a little shady and so they were injured? And finally those who died? Did they deserve it? (pause)
This seems to be the question that Jesus faces in the opening portion of today’s gospel…when certain individuals bring up a recent tragedy from the local Jerusalem news…that a batch of Galileans were murdered by Herod while they were making sacrifices in the temple…and since this was such a horrific thing to happen…truly they must have deserved it right? Truly for God to allow this, they must have been sinners. (pause)
This is an old notion…that God will visit the sins of the ancestor upon the children of the 3rd and 4th generation…while turning his graciousness to the 1000th generation of those who love him. It was so culturally engrained into the Jewish people that Jesus has faced similar questions before…when faced with a man born blind, Jesus was asked “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born this way?”

This may have been a culturally acceptable way to think about things…but Jesus…isn’t…having it. Do you think that these men alone were sinners among all other Galileans? (pause) And then he throws out another one…when the tower of Siloam, an old landmark just outside of Jerusalem tumbled down unexpectedly, killing 18 people…do you think they were sinful and deserved more than anyone else who happened to come through that tragedy unscathed?

Jesus poses both of these questions…and answered it with a resounding NO. These poor souls were no more and no less sinful than anyone else…they simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…and for them…in that instant…life in this flawed twisted broken reality…ended. (pause) And then, Jesus hits those he’s talking to with another major blow…unless you repent you will die as they did…maybe in a tragic way…or maybe in some other way…but unless you repent, you too will die. (pause)

Now here’s a weird thing about this…no sooner does Jesus make this bold statement…but without any sort of explanation, he switches gears and tells a parable about a landowner who gets ticked off at a fig tree that has failed to produce any fruit for several years…and he orders it cut down…Why should we waste the soil on this useless tree?

But the gardener speaks up…My master…give it one more year…let us till the soil around it…and fertilize it…and let’s see what happens. If again it produces nothing, cut it down, but if it does, how good will that be? (pause)

My first thought upon reading this passage earlier this week was that this was two different situations that were stuck together for no good reason at all…because at first glance it really seems like the parable has nothing to do with what Jesus was previously talking about…but then I got to thinking about what happens to a tree when you cut it down…it dies…and even though this tree has yet to produce any fruit, its only three years old…this tree is still young…and to cut it down now would be very similar to any one of those people who were unexpectedly cut down in the midst of their lives. (pause)
And if that’s the case, well then we better start asking the normal question of just what is this parable trying to tell us? On one hand, perhaps that our lives can be snatched from us at any moment, regardless of if we are bearing fruit or not…regardless of if we are a good person or not…life ends.

Perhaps a different question to ask then, based on this parable, is what is the fruit that the master is looking for? And as I thought about that question I was reminded of another statement from John the Baptist…Bear fruit worthy of repentance…and funny, isn’t that sort of what Jesus was saying before…that unless you repent you will die as they did? (pause)
Here’s the thing…before we can repent…we need to recognize the problem…call it whatever you will…sin…harming others…selfishness…we can cover the gambit…but we need to recognize the flaws within us before we can repent of them…before we can turn away from them…before we can fix our eyes on the one who is able to overcome our failings and flaws. In short…this fruit that I’m talking about…its faith…our faith grows within us…but not by anything we are doing…it is a gift…a gift that needs to be tended.

That’s what the gardener is asking the Master for…give me a year to tend to this tree and let’s see what happens…It may work…it may not, but only time will tell. (pause) Now granted…if we’re talking about a fruit tree, its pretty easy to tell whether or not there is in fact, fruit there.

But when we are talking about the lives of an individual…well that can be a little harder to tell sometimes…because sometimes faith is a tiny voice inside their head that says “maybe Jesus is Lord, Lord save me.” And on the other end of the spectrum might be someone who wears their faith right out there for all to see…the fruit looks different, and sometimes we can’t even see it…but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

And so it begs the question…just what does tending to faith really mean? And perhaps another question to ask, who are we? Are we the gardener who needs to do some tending? Or are we the tree that needs to be tended…and truthfully…I’m pretty sure we’re both at the same time.

Sometimes we need to be tended…and that can be as simple as being honest with ourselves and repenting…of admitting that I can’t do this alone and I have failed and I need my savior.

But other times, we’re called to tend to others…and Jesus gave us a pretty clear command on this. Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit…and in a few minutes we’ll do just that…as Henry Sampson is brought up to this font by his parents and his godparents…and together we will ALL make promises to help him be raised in a life of faith…His parents will make promises…his godparents will make promises…and together we, will make promises to tend to him…because in this moment, he’s not able to do that for himself is he? But we can do it for him.

Now here’s the thing…Jesus promises us that the holy spirit comes upon us in the waters of our baptism…and that the Father claims us as his beloved child…and that one day, after we experience our own physical death, that we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his. This is a wonderful promise…one that we proclaim at every baptism…when we recognize that God is the one doing the work here…but that he also invites us to join in it.

Today, we will make a promise to tend to the life of faith of Henry Sampson…we don’t know if it will bear fruit or not…that isn’t for us to know at this point…but despite our inability to see the outcome in the long run…its still a blessing to invited by God…to tend to this life…and so now…together…let’s sing a song…and then we’ll get to the important work…Let’s do some tending. Amen.

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