A sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, March 20, 2022
As we’ve come into this season of Lent we began in the wilderness with Jesus, focusing on the importance of a prayer practice in order to build our strength in faith. We followed that up last week, as Jesus stood in defiance of the political and religious authorities because of that strength of faith, knowing that he would fulfill his mission and ministry as God had called him to, and that no one could take him off of that path. This week we unite these themes together as Jesus tells a 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 around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
Faith is not simply about belief.
Faith includes an actionable component.
Faith is about practice, intention, AND belief.
In order to connect to our strength in faith, in order to live into the practice of regularly connecting with God in prayer, a key means to accessing that source of strength, you have to put effort in, you have to work for it, you have to be intentional in your practices.
A tree cannot be expected to bear fruit if it is simply planted and told to produce without further attention.
Some trees can do this.
Some trees will bear that fruit.
Some of these trees will bear a whole host of fruit, bushels and bushels.
Some of these trees will bear just enough so that we assume they are healthy.
But, most trees cannot bear fruit without a little effort, a little attention, a little intentionality.
It takes time to grow a tree or bush to the point of bearing fruit.
In that time, it requires attention, care, and concern for the plant.
It requires attention to the soil, the sun, and the water.
In order to produce to its fullest extent it requires the caretaker who walks with that plant through this journey, ensuring that its needs are met, ensuring that your needs are met.
Are you ensuring that your needs are being met in your faith practice?
Are you ensuring that the needs of your neighbor who is sitting here today or watching from home online is being met in your faith practice?
Are you ensuring that the needs of your neighbor who is seeking a new church home, who is lost, who is hurt, who is wandering is being met in your faith practice?
You have to put effort, time, energy, attention, intention, into your faith practice so that it will bear many fruits.
You have to put effort into others with time, energy, attention, intention, through your faith practice so that you can help them also bear many fruits.
We have to see ourselves in two parts within this parable.
We have to see our own practice of faith as the plant that could bear so much more faith if only we focused inwardly and took the same attention and care that we expressly outwardly for so many other things in our lives.
We have to see the potential fruits of our neighbors if only we respond as the gardener and make the concerted effort to tend it for a full year, finding the right soil, the right amount of water, trimming back the dead growth so new growth might emerge.
We cannot have success harvesting fruit, whether our own fruits of faith or those of our neighbor, if we don’t put the effort into it.
For our own fruits, this looks like what Jesus has called us into, careful cultivation of a plant that is capable of producing a great harvest, as long as we feed it what it needs, tending for it, focusing on it, not neglecting it, not assuming it is fine, not assuming that we can get to it later, not assuming that it will somehow miraculously bear fruit without any effort on our behalf.
We do this through prayer.
We do this through connecting to the inherent strength that is in our faith.
We can find this through corporate worship on Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and wherever else the faithful gather to raise their prayers together.
And, we must continue to connect to this through our own personal practices of prayer.
This is the praying three times a week, for 10 minutes, that I put before you two weeks ago as a lenten discipline for each of us. If you haven’t started, today is that day to commit to this practice.
Think of this work as the necessary preparation that your heart, soul, faith needs for the deep spiritual experience of Holy Week that is quickly approaching.
Think of this work as the necessary preparation you need to bear many fruits, which then can fill you with the confidence and strength to become the gardener for those people in your life that have yet to bear fruit, not because they aren’t capable, but because they haven’t been given the attention and care and concern to give them the opportunity to grow in a healthy, supported way.
Most of us have likely invited a friend to church before.
Or, perhaps more accurately, most of us have at least contemplated inviting a friend to church.
But, we often leave it at that.
That one invitation.
That one almost invitation.
And, they didn’t come.
Well, that must mean they don’t want to.
Well, that must mean that this isn’t the church for them.
Well, that must mean we’re not really friends anyways.
Well, that must mean they’re atheist humanists and have no interest in church at all.
Don’t cut the tree down.
You just haven’t given it any attention.
You haven’t given it the right attention.
You haven’t figured out why it isn’t bearing fruit.
You haven’t figured out if altering the soil, or water, or sun, or, I don’t know, if speaking to the “tree” might change the course.
You might be surprised at the amount of fruit that can spring forth when a “tree” is properly cared for.
This is the call today we hear in the parable that Jesus offers.
We cannot simply accept the perceived reality that some trees will never bear fruits, whether that’s within our own faith practices, our prayer practices, our attention to our spiritual health and wellness, or those trees that are depending on us to step in as the gardener, ready to pay attention and cultivate those fruits.
Lent gives us a season to take stock, pause, and prepare ourselves to bear fruit.
In that work, we will find that we can also help others bear their fruit.
For when we connect in our prayer to our deep strength in faith, we know that we can be the gardener today, even if the actual act of real gardening in the dirt with like actual plants is really truly not our thing.
This is the fruit that we can, we must bear.