A sermon preached at Brookmeade Congregational United Church of Christ
Isaiah 55:1-9; Luke 13:1-9
I bring you a tale of two gardeners: my mom and me. One of the great joys of recently living in South Louisiana for three years was gardening with Mom.
South Louisiana has a long growing season. That’s a lot of gardening time. Together. For two very different kinds of gardeners.
Mom is way more — shall we say — ruthless than I am. If a flower bed is not living up to her expectations — and she does have high expectations — she will decide on the spot that it needs to be dug up and replaced with plants that will meet her expectations. At 85 years old, she’s not so much able to pull that off by herself when no one is looking anymore. So, she would enlist me to do the deed.
Me? I’m more of a “wait and see” gardener. If something isn’t looking so great, I’m for taking less drastic measures. Sometimes letting it be is the best thing for a plant or fern or something that is struggling.
Every time I read this story in the Bible — the one about the fig tree with no figs, with the ax poised to cut it down — I think about my mom. This story takes me back about 20 years, back when there were 3 or 4 peach trees in Mom’s backyard. One of the trees had fewer peaches than the rest. OK, actually I think it had produced a total of one peach that whole year. Let’s just say that peach tree was not around by the end of the season. Indeed, it was not long before there were no peach trees in the back yard. Chopped down and dug up. That’s my mom!
To be fair, my dear mother has far more patience than that when it comes to people — far more. Still, I can just imagine that, if she had been coaching the gardener in today’s story, she would have insisted: “Cut down that useless fig tree.” I, on the other hand, would have begged for the fig tree to be given a new chance every year — for years and years to come.
“Chop it down” might seem like the easy answer. Tree gone. New tree planted.
“Let it live” could also be an easy answer. No change required. Simply keep doing for the tree what’s always been done for the tree, and pray for a different outcome.
How good it is that the gardener in today’s story is neither me nor my mother — gardener-wise.
Jesus, in telling this story, tells impatient gardeners to put down the ax of immediate gratification. Jesus also reveals that the alternative is more than “let it be” and see what happens.
Rather, take actions that lead to fruit — to results. Till, fertilize, water.
The wise gardener in this story knows there’s no such thing as a fast food fig.
Chop down the tree and replant. Those figs take time.
Leave the tree alone. Those figs will also take time.
Till, fertilize, water. Actions that yield fruit.
Not us. Not any more. Our food is fast food.
Food is drive-through.
Food is ordered off a menu and brought to our table by servers in restaurants. And, even when we cook it ourselves at home — the long way — we pick it up, all in one place, at the near-by store: frozen, boxed, bottled, stacked, and wrapped in plastic.
It’s all fast food, even the fruit. This is our culture.
There is no need to till, fertilize, water for food.
We are made of fast food, so it’s no surprise that fast answers are so very popular:
Deport strangers and aliens
Build a wall to keep them out
Cut assistance to the poor
Get a job and go to work
Sue the press
Sue the president
If my candidate doesn’t win the nomination, I simply won’t vote
As a pastor, I can almost cry to think that anyone can get up in front of the United States of America — and call themselves a Christian, claiming Jesus Christ as Lord — and then take an axe to ways of Jesus —
cutting off society’s means of caring for the elderly, the poor and the sick
chopping down the dignity of those on the margins
WHERE did they learn that?
NOT from Jesus, who:
brought good news to the poor
welcomed the stranger
respected women and outcasts
healed the sick
fed the hungry
walked through hostile territories
conversed respectfully with his adversaries
Jesus, who loved his enemies (slash) opponents
Jesus, who made the time to make loving God’s world his mission in life.
THAT’S how you can tell someone has been raised in a real live faith community.
I could cry because I wonder if we in the church have perpetuated the convenience faith that bears rotten fruit:
Do we make Sunday church attendance the goal of our faith. Do we call that fruit?
Do we make keeping the church doors open the goal of our plans and dreams — do we call *this* (building, place) our best fruit?
Do we measure the fruits of our labor anywhere besides a spreadsheet?
Have we become such a “let it be” “free to be who we are” kind of inclusion that we have substituted sharing gardening strategies in the theoretical — for actual fruit?
To do otherwise is nothing less than boldly counter-cultural.
To do “slow church” — “good church” — “authentic church” is to DARE to be a garden — a faith incubator — growing us to bear good healthy fruit in a fast food world.
Signs are everywhere that this is a place — a community — a garden — where faith grows and then bears fruit in the world. I point you to two of them today:
The first: We linger here.
We pass the peace and greet and talk and greet some more (and more and more…!)
We take time to share prayer requests
And then we linger some more later with each other over coffee and yummy things.
This is not merely hanging out and being friendly.
It’s Jesus work. It’s gardening.
Till, water, fertilize.
And the second sign is a sheet of paper. Maybe you have noticed it. Maybe you haven’t. I invite you to find this sheet of paper. It’s on a bulletin board in the Fellowship Hall. It is a list of the mission and ministries that you all have in the world. You leave here — fed and healthy spiritually — and then go bear fruit out there. You make a loving and lasting impact on the world.
That’s the whole idea. That is good fruit.
I would not be the least bit nervous to see any of you get famous and find yourself on TV talking about what’s important to you because you might not ever mention your faith or Jesus or church, but the fruit of your faith would be sweet and full of the love of Christ.
The poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Let’s always take care. Take the most loving care, the most growing and becoming care, the most bold and courageous care, the best and most fruitful — care. Amen.
One of the good resources that helped this sermon:
By Sharron R. Blezard, February 25, 2016