|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||November 13, 2016||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19|
|Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints||November 6, 2016||All Saints, Year C||Luke: 6: 20-31|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 30, 2016||Proper 26, Year C||Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 23, 2016||Proper 25, Year C||II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14|
|Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 16, 2016||Proper 24, Year C||Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32: 22-31|
|Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 9, 2016||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 2, 2016||Proper 22, Year C||II Timothy 1:1-14|
|Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||September 25, 2016||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
|Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||September 4, 2016||Proper 18, Year C||Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33|
|Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||August 28, 2016||Proper 17, Year C||Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14|
|Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||August 21, 2016||Proper 16, Year C||Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17|
|Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||August 7, 2016||Proper 14, Year C||Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Proper 14, Year C|
Third Sunday in Lent, Year C
Sermon Date:February 28, 2016
Scripture: Luke 13:1-9
Liturgy Calendar: Third Sunday in Lent, Year C
"Parable of the Barren Fig Tree" – – Alexander Master (1430)
Most of you know that my daughter and I visited Hawaii this past summer. In many ways, Hawaii is a true paradise—sun, sand, water, jungle plants, exquisite landscapes found nowhere else in the world, wildly varying climates within miles of one another—the list could go on.
But what struck us as we made our way through all this unparalleled beauty were the number of warning signs that appeared almost everywhere. These signs warned of life threatening dangers that were not immediately evident but that could suddenly and unexpectedly threaten people wandering through these beautiful landscapes.
At first I shrugged off these signs as simply amusing, but in reality, each one of these warnings, if taken seriously, could mean the difference between life and death for those who heeded them.
Today’s gospel functions in much the same way as these warning signs we saw in Hawaii.
When the crowd comes to Jesus to report that Pilate has murdered some people and mixed their blood with the sacrifices in the temple (and these people were probably innocent people coming to Jerusalem to make sacrifices in the temple, not expecting to end up as sacrifices themselves!) Jesus says to the crowd that these people did not die because of anything they had done to deserve these bloody and politically motivated deaths, but then Jesus adds a stern warning for those listening.
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Then Jesus reminds them of another tragedy—the tower of Siloam fell on eighteen people who died, not because they deserved it, but because they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And again, he adds the warning.
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
As we wander through our own landscapes, living out our days, we tend to forget that life is fragile. Life can end suddenly and unexpectedly. We all know this, but it’s easy to live in a state of denial and assume that death is a long way off and that we have all the time in the world to change the things in our lives that keep us from living in the fullness of life that God intends for us.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul, too, reminds his audience that life threatening dangers that aren’t immediately evident also await them, and as an example, he tells them about the Israelites in the wilderness, who succumbed to the temptation to indulge themselves to the detriment of others, succumbed to the temptation to put God to the test, and—this one is interesting—succumbed to the constant temptation to complain.
And what happened?
The Israelites of that generation all perished, without ever making it to the Promised Land.
Jesus warns the people listening to him because he loves them and wants them to make it to the “promised land” of the fullness of life lived as God intends us to live.
He wants them to avoid the dangers inherent in living unexamined lives.
So he warns them and tells them to repent.
The Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence (pg 267-269 in the BCP) provides a laundry list of things that bring death into our lives—things for which we come before God and one another in repentance.
“Lack of love toward God and one another, inability to forgive, deaf to God’s call to serve, past unfaithfulness, pride, hypocrisy and impatience, self-indulgent appetites and ways, exploitation of other people, anger, envy, intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, dishonesty, negligence in prayer and worship, failure to draw on the little faith we have, blindness to human need and suffering, indifference to injustice and cruelty, false judgments, uncharitable thoughts, prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, the waste and pollution of God’s creation, the lack of concern for those who come after us.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, all of us are guilty in some form or fashion of many, if not all of these things, and plenty of other things that aren’t included in this list—and every time we fall subject to these things, to evil and death, as Eucharistic Prayer A puts it, we fall off a cliff, get swept away in a flash flood, and end up dying to the goodness of life that God has laid out before us.
Jesus loves us.
And so Jesus warns us.
The Greek noun for “repentance” is metanoia—which in Greek means a change of mind leading to a change of behavior, a turning about.
To repent is to be intentional about turning away from the cliffs and slippery slopes of sin, the flash floods of uncontrolled passions in our lives and to turn back to firm ground, back to God.
Jesus loves us so much that he warns us to turn away and stay away from the dangers that can steal our lives away from us unexpectedly.
All of this being said, Jesus then follows his warning and his call to repentance with the parable of the fig tree.
In this parable, a man goes out into his vineyard, and sees that the fig tree that has been planted there has no fruit on it.
“It’s time to get out the ax,” he thinks to himself.
And so he orders the gardener to cut the fig tree down.
“This tree hasn’t had any fruit on it for three years, and it’s just wasting the soil!”
“Cut it down!”
The gardener suggests that the man give the tree a little longer to bear fruit.
“Let it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and put manure on it.” The gardener prefers to use a shovel rather than an ax.
This plan makes me smile.
If we think of ourselves as trees who haven’t lived up to our potential, then God, the gardener, who is faithful to us and merciful, and who has hope in us, is willing to give us a little more time—and this time is not going to be peaceful and undisturbed, but God plans to disturb the soil around our roots by digging up stuff, and not only that, but throwing manure into the newly turned soil around our roots–
Isn’t that life?
Disturbances at the very roots of our being, and all the things in our lives that happen that we could put into the “manure” category?
Disturbances and manure are probably the last things we want, and yet these often unpleasant things are the very things that can lead us to repent and return to God.
Disturbances and manure can be the very things that help us to bear fruit.
Thanks be to God, then, for warnings, for disturbances, and for manure.
Thanks be to God for God’s shovel, rather than God’s ax.
And for God’s faithfulness to us, and for God’s belief and hope in us.
And thanks be to God for yet another chance to turn away from danger and to claim the protection and the fullness of God’s love that God mercifully gives to all of creation and to each one of us when we repent and return to God.