A sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, Luke 13:1-9
The bearing of fruit is an ever-present theme throughout the gospels. It really is a handy way of thinking about the time and care and attention that is required of people of faith in order to bear the fruits that are inherently within us, that we have been created with to produce. We have fruits in the form of the spiritual gifts that we all possess, that have been inherently placed within us, whether we have tapped into them, whether we have allowed them to blossom and grow, or not. These spiritual gifts, these charisms are what we are called to give to the world. The fruits we produce are for the betterment of this world. And when we bear these fruits to the world, we do so in acknowledgement of the attention and care that was placed in us for these fruits to be fully realized, to come ripe, to be a blessing upon this creation.
Here again today we hear of the bearing of fruits, we hear a parable of a fig tree. This fig tree has not produced any fruit. For three years the blooming and production simply has not been there. And the owner is frustrated. Why keep this tree when it isn’t productive? Perhaps it has always been defective and will never produce. Perhaps it just isn’t a priority of this owner and not worth his time. But, the gardener intervenes. The gardener asks for one more year. A year where care, attention, fertilization, will come together to give this tree every chance to finally produce fruit. A chance to fulfil its purpose in this creation. Without the gardener, this tree would be cut down, discarded. Without the gardener, this tree would not know that love and care and attention that is so crucial to the life and success of any plant.
This reality is always reflected in our own experience of bearing fruit. When we fail to care for ourselves, when we fail to care for each other, then it is impossible for the fruits we have been blessed with to bloom and grow. And, without fruit being produced, we are placed in this same place as the fig tree today, we are left asking what is the point of continuing on in this work, what is the point of continuing on in seeking a relationship with God, what is the point in continuing on when not only are we not producing but because of these we are disposable, we are not worth the attention and care that others who produce receive. This is of course not accurate in any way. But, when we fail to put in the effort, when we assume that simply being a fig tree with the most basic needs met (water, sun, air) is enough to produce the fruit, is when we see the reality that a lack of care is what creates the lack of production. This is what makes the intervention of the gardener so important and so powerful.
Why does the gardener offer to put in extra effort and care and time and attention into this one fig tree?
Why would this gardener, who has a whole and full garden to tend to, with plants that produce to the expectations, take extra time out of his day to care for this one fig tree that seems uninterested at best to be productive?
Is it fair for the fig tree to ask for this extra attention?
Does the fig tree deserve it?
If we see ourselves in the gardener today, we could do worse than be inspired to seek what it means to provide extra care. This is about our own education. This is about our knowing what it takes to give that little extra something so that the fig tree can bloom and grow. This is about knowing that when we put that little extra in, we have the potential to reap a greater harvest because we have created one more plant that produces and shares its gifts to the world.
If we see ourselves in the fig tree together, wondering why we haven’t produced fruit yet, wondering what fruit we’re supposed to be producing, then this is also about our own education. This is about knowing and receiving the care and attention of another. This is about knowing and seeking out education so that we can ourselves bear fruit. This is about knowing that when we rely on those extra resources that are available from the gardener, we can see our purpose fully realized.
Ultimately, whether gardener or fig tree, our experience of education, of learning and growing in the knowledge of what it takes to bear fruit, must lead us to answering the call of God to share this knowledge of others, to follow in the footsteps of Moses to stand up and skep where no one else is willing. And, like Moses we face a challenge in this call. WE have a feeling of inadequacy. We have a feeling of being a fig tree that has yet to produce and is in danger of being removed and discarded. We’re not the beautiful, blossoming, productive fig tree. But, like Moses, we must realize that this reality is totally fine, at least for now, because God can work through us to produce. We have to allow that master gardener to fertilize the soil, to provide us that extra presence and care to nurture the production of our fruits. And, when we are ready to take on this mantle of Moses and share the reality that, even if we are subjugated, put under foot, readily cast aside, fruit can still be produced, we do so with the knowledge and authority that “I am has sent me to you.”
We constantly thirst for God to be in our lives. It is a thirst that can only be quenched through knowing God’s presence, care, attention in our lives. When we are in relationship with God, when we open ourselves to that relationship with God, that thirst is quenched. And, from this place, we bless and praise the Lord. We are content in our place because we are filled with comfort and knowledge and assurance. The stresses are stripped away and we simply can be. There is no more pressure to produce. Rather, we produce because we cannot help it. When we are in a place of contentment because we are in a place of harmony and balance with God, we cannot help but bear the fruits that have been placed within us. We cannot help but share those spiritual gifts that we have been blessed with, and in so doing, point the direction back to God. Speaking to the reality that it is through our relationship with God that these gifts are fully realized, that through the extra care and attention we put into ourselves and our relationship with God, we give the glory and blessing to God and show to the world what is possible in and through a relationship with God and Christ.
And, this reality is accessible and waiting for all, it’s just that for some, it requires a bit more attention and care.
Perhaps we are unsure of our faith, hungry for more education but not knowing how to access it or knowing what it is we are really seeking. Perhaps we assumed that simply by being a fig tree, being a Christian that comes to Church on (most? some?) Sundays was enough to bear fruit without any other work. Perhaps the tree needs more attention and care because it is hard to focus on God, on bearing the fruits that we have, when we don’t know where our next meal will come from or where we will safely sleep on a given night. Regardless of the cause, we all need rich soil, attention, care, in order to produce fruits. Just look around at our world and you will see that, except for a very few extraordinary people of the entire course of human history, we have all been that fig tree standing in the garden, not knowing that we were supposed to be producing figs, not knowing why we weren’t producing figs, not knowing that we weren’t in fact producing figs. It is from this common starting place, this shared reality, that we can come together and help one another fully realize our potential to bear fruit. It is from this common starting place, this shared reality, that we should see all of our siblings in this creation as fig trees that just need that little bump from some extra care and attention, the same care and attention that was given to us so we could produce and bear fruits.
In knowing that the bearing of fruit is a very real, tangible, knowable metaphor for what it is we are called to do in this creation, we can put into context not only our experience of faith and the work we are called to do from that place of faith but also the reality of others around us who are lacking, who are not producing the fruits that they could with just a little bit of extra attention and care. We are spending our Lent hearing from organizations in our community who provide this little bit of extra attention and care to trees (that is, people) that have been neglected and ignored. Be inspired by their missions. Be inspired by the fruits that are possible, by the harvest that will naturally be greater because we have put the effort and energy into fostering the fruit from a tree that has yet to produce. Be inspired to give praise to God for the blessings that we have received and the blessings that will come when we bear the fruits that have been given us.