March 20, 2022, Good Enough: Lots Of Things Can Be Medicine, by Pastor David
Luke 13: 1-9. At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 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? 5 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. 7 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?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Meditation - Did you hear what Sherry McNeely read this morning? We’re going to talk about the fig tree and the rose after a time of silence preparing ourselves to hear what God says.
March 20, 2022 Good Enough: Lots of things can be medicine
Many years ago in West Philadelphia, I lived next door to a master gardener. She specialized in roses. Their front yard had a number of beautiful varieties and it took quite a bit of attention. In January or February, she would cut back the plants severely. It was hard to imagine the roses could come back from how far she cut them back. But sure enough in the spring they would be beautiful and strong again. By May they would be gorgeous.
It takes some trust in the Spirit to cut plants back that far. It takes some experience to know that it really works. I’ve told you about the Japanese maple tree that Cathy and I love in our backyard. This winter we hired an arborist who cut it back - not as drastically as a rose, but we are looking forward to seeing how it does this spring.
It can be surprising what can help a plant or a tree - or a human - to grow and thrive. In our assigned reading for this morning, Jesus tells the story of a gardener who advocates for a fig tree with the owner of the land. The owner ordered the gardener to chop down the tree, since it hadn’t produced fruit for three years - (when it can take 3-5 years for a fig tree to be productive.)
The gardener says, “give it another year. I’ll dig around it and put manure on it. If it still doesn’t bear fruit next year, then you can chop it down.”
Jesus was responding to some people who were with him who were asking him about “Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” The implication is that some people from Galilee came to the temple in Jerusalem to worship and sacrifice - and that they had themselves been killed. Jesus’ followers saw them as becoming part of the sacrifice of life in the temple.
They ask the question that has been asked by all humans up until today - why? Were these people sinners? Had they done something wrong? A tower in Siloam fell and 18 people were killed. Had they offended God in some way that they would lose their lives? Were they not good enough for God’s love and protection?
It’s as though they were saying the Ukrainians deserve what’s happening to them. The people asking these questions could find some support for their fears in the Bible itself. There’s an argument in fact that extends all through the Bible and in most parts of the Christian faith - about whether people get what they deserve.
Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Bible, tends to reinforce the idea that people who are wealthy are receiving a reward from God and that people who are being ill or losing loved ones or wealth are being punished. Proverbs also has that kind of thinking.
Televangelists and other poor theologians continue to make that argument today. Every time there’s a hurricane or crisis, they say it’s because people need to be punished for their misdeeds and their shortcomings.
There’s another voice all through the Bible that takes a different point of view. The book of Job is clearly written to counter the Deuteronomy simplistic thinking. Job says God is bigger than that. We cannot understand everything in the world and sometimes things that we see as punishment are actually possibilities for growth. And sometimes bad things happen and there is no good reason at all.
Jesus in this passage is agreeing with the writers of the book of Job. “No,” he says decisively, “No, these people were not worse than anyone else, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.” … Does Jesus contradict himself with his comment that people need to repent to avoid the same fate as his fellow Galileans?
I don’t think so. It’s just a little hard for us to understand the nuance. Jesus is not saying that we get what we deserve. He constantly preaches that God’s grace and love is always available and it’s more than we deserve. We are always falling short. Jesus is suggesting that every difficult time is a chance for us to notice and to turn our lives toward right action. Every time we face a set back or a fallback or a cutback we can take the opportunity to use that hard stuff as manure, fertilizer to reorient ourselves toward what we know is God’s calling and God’s will. To do that we have to accept God’s grace, like the fig tree that is taking it’s sweet time.
God is not a cashier, dispensing what we’ve earned. God’s will is to give us what we need - which is always grace. A tree that is not fruitful needs nourishing and sometimes some pruning. A person who is not righteous needs healing, and sometimes a wakeup call. Jesus is saying that we can learn in all situations and grow toward our purpose in life. But to blame people who have lost their way, to delight in other people’s suffering because we feel like they deserve it - well that’s part of the growing that we all need to do, to let go of that kind of thinking.
We as a congregation are going through a time of being pruned. We lost our deacon. We lost our music minister. Your pastor is retiring. These are not punishments or a sign of God’s disfavor. These are challenges, a cut back that we use to get stronger and get ready for a new day. We are used to going full tilt and doing everything. Now is a time to just be the loving community we are - to fertilize our roots, and take care of each other. With God’s grace, we are good enough, just good enough to grow as a community toward what comes next.
So let me just suggest today that we accept God’s grace as willingly and as openly as it is given. This Lenten season may we take in the sun and the air and the nourishment that will allow us to be fruitful after a difficult time. We as a congregation are worthy of patience and persistence and grace. We have come this far by faith, and God will lead us the rest of the way. May the fertilizer in your lives be rich and may we allow ourselves the time to rest and grow.
Responsive Song: Enough for Me