GRACETIME with God. Luke 13: 1-9 March 24, 2019
Good morning. The first Sunday of Lent we looked at entering our own journeys into wilderness. We prayed that God would help us distinguish between our wild beasts and our angels, and we received the blessing of God calling each of us “Beloved.”
Last week we looked at Jesus’ tears in Luke 13, as he weeps with love, over the Holy City of Jerusalem. We talked of how he, like a mother hen, longed to gather all people underwing, how he called Herod a fox and all governors who would scheme and manipulate, and we named some Fears that we, like Jesus, need to name as foxes, fake and only bumps in the road. We also named in our own souls the rugged determination to be Followers of this compassionate rebel, knowing full well that it contains a cross.
Today we go back to the beginning of this chapter 13 of Luke and we hear Jesus answer a question about violence, telling two stories, back to back, the first about bad news syndrome and how to navigate that and the second, the metaphor of a barren fig tree. He was talking to a group of people, a mixture of disciples and Pharisees, ordinary town folk and people of means.
We want to examine three subjects: 1. Grace 2. Death and 3. Repentance.
Someone in the crowd asks Jesus about the latest bad news from the Roman Empire. Pilot and his troops had just butchered worshippers in Galilee. Some evidently blamed the victims and thought the tragedy was divine punishment. Jesus is quick to tell them that these poor victims were not killed because of any particular sin, it was not God’s judgment on them, nor we have the right to invoke judgment.
This reminds me of the minister who proclaimed that the 9/11 attack was because of sin in America, particularly homosexual sin, or the clergyman connecting the earthquake in 2013 in Haiti to the sins of the inhabitants there. No, Jesus is telling the crowd that contrary to the common belief that suffering was caused by sin, judgment is up to God, not us and we should not presume to judge persons, whether the tragedy is from Herod or from natural causes (like the tower collapsing on innocent bystanders). Instead of judging, we need to look at our own death and humbly receive God’s transformative grace, sitting with tragedy and allowing the sitting with pain to become a spiritual discipline, “grace time with God”. Some authors I have read call this “Holding space”, either for ourselves, our loved ones, or complete strangers. Death comes, but it is not the enemy if we hear what Jesus is saying.
In v. Jesus makes a statement about repentance and death. “Unless you repent, you, too, could be part of a similar calamity”. He’s getting his audience to consider tragedy. Calamity. Death. It’s this world’s least favorite subject, at least personally. For those who do not believe in God, death is an infatuation. But followers of Jesus learn that death pursues us all, whether we are victims of an empire or are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus also says that death is not as powerful as we think. He is saying that death does not overcome us—if we repent.
- Transformative GRACE- it’s a spiritual discipline.
Ann Hostetler, poetry professor at Goshen College, describes repentance as divine embrace. Think of a story, perhaps from your childhood, where you either give or receive repentance—a deeply sincere and humble “I’m sorry.” The next wave of emotion is to gather them in your arms and hold them. And that’s God when we truly repent. Repent in Greek is metanoia—we “turn around” and reorient ourselves toward God.
“Misinterpretations of repentance as punishment or imperfection—if I do this perfectly, or selflessly, or righteously I can avoid disapproval, pain and death—are ego-driven. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. We need to embrace our human limitations every day, to feel our regret and our need for greater guidance. We need to remember our place in creation, infused with the spirit and connected to one another.” (Ann Hostetler’s wise words)
I invite you to repent daily during this Lenten season—to find time every day to reorient yourselves to a loving God and to share that love in your daily life.
And then Jesus, in this passage, does what I love. He turns the story on its head. He makes his next teaching about the living, not the dead, and talks about the hearts of the ones in the crowd. (Because remember, Jesus could read hearts.) Jesus compares his audience to a barren fig tree. A tree that is just using up soil in the orchard, a tree that is doing nothing. They, like the tree, need to seek a change, to be fertilized with repentance so that their lives change, while life is left. He’s warning them: “Unless you change, you, too, will perish.
In this fig tree parable, the tree is not doing anything and the owner, who had had the tree planted, wanted to cut it down. The gardener, the one who tended the plants, persuades the owner to give it one more chance, one more year. During that time she would dig all around it and add manure to fertilize it. That should make a world of difference and it will surely begin to bear fruit. One more year. The Gardener agrees.
We who believe in a Triune God see the Owner of the Vineyard and the gardener also as God. Through the Spirit of Jesus, the Servant, we learn and are fertilized by a little suffering so that we can become productive in this life. We learn to engage in the same ministry of care that Jesus did, but always keeping in mind that judgment is up to God. Our role as Jesus’ disciples are to meet people where they are and serve them.
(This adding manure reminds me of a joke that even if a worship service is mostly BS, it can still help you grow.)
Sometimes God’s grace is like manure: stinky and messy, but ultimately nourishing and exactly what we need. What is holding you back from a whole and productive life in God?
The fruit tree in this parable, we could say, repented. It allowed the mess of metanoia (Greek for a change, a turning) to alter the way it grew. Buds, blossoms, and then fruit formed as a result of the stress of pruning, digging and applying manure.
Some people, like the fig tree, are planted in soil that could never lead to fruits of repentance if left untended. That is why the spiritual disciplines of listening, community, scripture reading, prayer, fasting, and solitude and service are the fertilizers in our lives.
How do we open our lives daily to Jesus as our vinedresser to dig around our roots and fertilize the ground in which we grow?
There are many references in the scriptures today that talk about thirsting for God, like David out in the desert, like Isaiah, calling all who are thirsty to come for a drink of living water.
Thanks, Mark, for talking to the children about David’s thirst for God in Psalm 63. He writes, “My soul THIRSTS for you, my flesh faints for you, (God), as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Sometimes when I go to pray for the people of this church, I start with this petition. “Make them hungry for you. Make them thirsty.”
I invite you to repent, not just today, but every day. Make it a daily habit. Check your thirst quotient. Perhaps if you do not see yourself as thirsty or weak, if you make sure there are distractions so you don’t feel the pain or the sorrow, then, my friend, you may be just like the fig tree- not producing much kingdom fruit.
It is only as we drink from God’s vast stream of mercy that we realize our daily need for repentance.
As I sing this song, written by Brenton Brown in the 90’s, I invite you to take some slow breaths and center yourselves, both feet on the floor.
Get in touch with the Spirit within you. Repent…..and live.
“All Who Are Thirsty”, All who are weak
Come to the fountain. Dip you heart in the stream of life.
Let the pain and the sorrow be washed away.
In the light of God’s mercy
As deep calls unto deep
Singing, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Holy Spirit, Come.
- Luke 13 - 1:9