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March 11, 2007 (Third Sunday in Lent)—“Bear Fruit”
Interim Pastor Steven Jensen
Did you hear the recent juicy rumor? It will make the hair stand up on your neck or at least cause you to shake you head. How do people get themselves into such predicaments? Perhaps the best explanation for their misery is that they are being punished by God for something they or a family member did. That is what we hear Jesus address at the beginning of today’s Gospel lesson.
How different are we from those that Jesus challenged?
We know that the paparazzi make a good living taking photos of the rich and famous, usually in less than ideal circumstances. The tabloids continue to increase in number and make millions on the facts, rumors, and fabrications they print.
Television programs reporting on current and past lives of stars draw large audiences.
Newspapers, news programs, and talk shows pique people’s curiosity with banner headlines and juicy promos about tragedies like Anna Nicole Smith, broken marriages, and relationships like Brad and Jen.
Recently I was asked to attend to the family of an elderly female visitor stabbed to death by her husband and to conduct her memorial service. As I always do in such circumstances, I told only those who needed to know where I was, but little of the detail. I have experienced too many occasions when reporters wanted an inside scoop and gossip mongers wanted to burn up the “coconut wireless” with juicy details of another’s misfortune.
In talking with me, the victim’s son shared that beyond the obvious pain and hurt of this tragedy, there was the additional pain caused by those titillated by the story. He and his sister were trying to comprehend what had happened for themselves. He and his wife were trying to sort that out for them and find some way to explain it to their two young children. Having the media intrude with phone calls, knocks on the door, microphones and cameras stuck in their faces, and satellite trucks parked on their lawn made it all the more difficult. Editorials, articles, and letters to the editor giving their opinions and suppositions about life in that family or assignment of blame stabbed at the hearts of the next of kin.
Some chose to believe and repeat that they thought the husband was driven to such action by the attitude and behavior of his wife over the years. Others suggested the wife brought it on herself by not leaving him sooner. Still others opined that it was the payment for sinful living.
The people in Canada and the people in Hawaii who simply expressed their sorrow, their support, their love, and their faith in God were the people who ministered most to this family.
I choose to believe that those of you in the pews today would be among the latter group. If so, had you met and talked with the son, you would have heard a moving account of a woman who took seriously vows made before God, a woman whose love of God caused her to continuously look for and try to bring out the best in people—even her abusive husband. Had you listened, you would have heard of a child of God who for gave 70 times 70 times 70—and more. And you would have heard a son give God thanks for a mother who daily demonstrated her faith despite desperate conditions and enabled her children develop their own faith in a loving God.
Christ has no patience with the first group, or for those who believe themselves to be so pious, so spiritually superior to others, that they foster and proclaim a belief that all misfortune—especially that which befalls others—is a punishment by God. The One who would suffer the punishment we all deserve—because He and his Father love us with a holy love—would not abide such a notion. That is not the Father he serves, it is not the message God proclaims in sacrificing his only Son that we might be forgiven and have life in Him both now and for eternity.
Jesus expects his followers to be so renewed and empowered by that great gift, that we will make the most of the time and the abilities we have been given to praise our Creator and to bring others to know him.
The fig tree in our Gospel account is a familiar metaphor for Jerusalem and for the Chosen of God who lived within that holy city. It is an unproductive fruit tree, sucking up the nutrients in great amounts. It crowds out others, blocks the life-giving sun, and takes sustenance from those who might bear more fruit. After having the time normally necessary to mature and begin giving back, it simply continues to take. It does nothing but take up space.
It therefore seems reasonable that the tree might be cut down and space made for another that would repay the investment and efforts with worthwhile bounty. However, the gardener pleads for and is granted one more year—the year that Jesus proclaimed as “the year of the Lord’s favor.” It would be a year, an era of forgiveness, restoration, and second chances.
Toyohiko Kagawa’s poem is appropriate for us:
in a book
that a man called
Went about doing good.
It is disconcerting to me
That I am so easily
We, the church, are expected to be both faithful and fruitful. Christ has mediated for us, paid the price for us, and obtained new and abundant life for us.
Do we simply expect God to continue to bless us with his bounty and grace and, like the fig tree, bear no fruit in joy and appreciation?
There are many things that demand our time and our attention these days. Many of you, I am sure, have been introduced—perhaps more than you might wish—to the Total Quality Leadership emphasis of the last decade and Steven Covey’s books.
Do you remember one of Covey’s demonstrations I saw at one of his workshops? On a table he had a gallon jar and he took out a container of large rocks and asked the audience how many they thought he could fit in the jar. After the rocks reached the top, he asked if the jar was filled. Most said yes.
He then brought out some gravel and pored it into the jar and shook it, until that, too, was even with the top. He asked again if it was full and many wiser participants indicated it probably was not.
A bucket of sand was produced and he filled what appeared to be the remaining spaces with it. Asking again if the jar was now full, participants shouted, “NO!”
Proving them right, he took a pitcher of water from beneath the table and poured it in until it reached the mouth of the jar.
He then asked what the point of the exercise might be. After quite a number of suggestions, he assured them that it was not that you could always fit more into your schedule. Rather, the point was that if you do not start with the big rocks, you will never fit them in.
We fill our daily lives with many things. But for us Christians, among those big rocks should be God and the significant others in our lives, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are very productive people, but do we bear the fruit we were planted to bear? We promise day after day that, after we take care of all the other “stuff,” we will get around to it.
Today, as a reminder, I have a gift for you...a round “tuit.” Carry that in your pocket or purse and the next time you hear yourself say, “I need to get around to it,” take it out. God has given you all you need, along with Jesus’ admonition that the time is now. Get around to it—today.
Copyright © 2007 Steven Jensen
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org