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The Third Sunday in Lent                                            February 28, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Isaiah 55:1-9Psalm 63:1-81 Corinthians 10:1-13;  Luke 13:1-9
Pr. Steve's Sermon: Repenting Like a Fig Tree
Pr. Steve's Sermon: Repenting Like a Fig Tree

Children's Sermon: Figs and Leaves
Children's Sermon: Figs and Leaves

Choir Anthem - Lenten Sanctus
Choir Anthem - Lenten Sanctus

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...

It happens every once in a while, and it seems to come out of the blue! It may happen at work, or at home, or even online. Somebody comes up to me and starts telling me a story. And as the story goes on, I find myself wondering, "why are you telling me this?" How does this affect me? And what do you want me to do with this information? Probably, this happened to you, too.
And it happened to Jesus at the beginning of today's Gospel reading. Unnamed people, from an unknown place, simply arrived on the scene and "told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices."
They just told him about it. But why? Why did they tell Jesus and what did they expect him do with the information?
Because we don't know whether these folks were friends or adversaries, it's really hard to figure that out. And Luke doesn't tell us their motives. Perhaps they wanted:
  • Jesus to simply be informed of the evil going on in the world, because after all, a lot of religious folks seem to have their heads in the clouds and aren't very attentive to the "real world"... (or at least, that's the impression a lot of people have....)
  • to get a rise out of Jesus and have him angrily condemn the Romans (after all, it was Galileans - Jesus' own people - whom Pilate had killed, and apparently all they were doing was trying to fulfill their religious obligations by offering sacrifice...)
  • Jesus to explain to them why, in his opinion, bad things could happen to seemingly good people. Shouldn't good people offering sacrifice have some kind of special protection from God, or were these people perhaps not as "good" as they appeared to be...?
We don't really know why these folks told Jesus the story, but Jesus decided to use the story to ask a bigger question: "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?" Or, just to up the ante, in case you're not including people who die from seemingly random accidents, what about "those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them - do you think that they were worse offenders than all others living in Jerusalem?"
And to both groups, Jesus answers, "No." No, they didn't die as a result of divine retribution because of their sins. No, they weren't any worse than anybody else. And no, you don't get to feel morally superior by blaming the victims.
But then Jesus goes on to say something pretty strange. "Unless you repent, you will all perish, just as they did." What's that supposed to mean? Clearly, Jesus didn't mean that his listeners would be killed by Pilate at the altar or have a tower fall on their heads. And Jesus has just told them that how bad you are doesn't cause your untimely death.
So what is this all about? How is it that those victims perished? And how were they the same as the folks who told Jesus about them?
To answer that, Jesus goes on to tell a story about a fig tree that isn't bearing fruit. As far as we can tell, the fig tree is alive, in a good place to grow and perfectly capable of bearing fruit. But it doesn't. So maybe the fig tree figures:
  • It looks pretty good (it's probably got lots of pretty leaves), and it's providing shade for people and a place for birds to nest, so it's doing fine...
  • It's got a long life ahead, and it has plenty of time to bear fruit, when it gets around to it...
  • It's doing pretty well on its own, and doesn't need anybody messing around with it, digging around it and throwing manure on it...
Maybe that's the way those ancient victims thought about their lives. Maybe that's the same way the folks who told Jesus about them thought about theirs. Maybe they all figured that they looked pretty good; that they had plenty of time to bear the kind of fruit God was looking for; and that they were doing just fine going about their ordinary business, thank you very much. They wanted a little protection from bad stuff, but they didn't want God to go messing with their lives.

And so to all those folks - and to us - Jesus says the same thing: Repent. It's a word that frequently appears in the New Testament, and it literally means "to turn around" or to "change one's mind." And often, we think about "repentance" as simply stopping a bad behavior, or beginning a good behavior.
But in this parable, Jesus uses a fig tree as a symbol of repentance. And here's the thing about a fig tree bearing fruit - it can't do it overnight. Bearing fruit is a process that takes a while. It's about steady and gradual change. And it requires help from the outside to dig around its roots and dump fertilizer on it.
So perhaps the repentance that Jesus is calling us to isn't just a quick and easy exchange of a couple bad behaviors for a couple of good ones. Instead, the repentance that Jesus calls us to is a commitment to a process of growth and adaptation that requires us to:
  • Change how we think about ourselves - are we content with how good our leaves look to ourselves and others (are we OK with "relatively good as compared to other people we know" - probably this was at the heart of the question about the victims in the story; or are we asking ourselves who God intends us to be and what the mission of our life is really supposed to be about...?)
  • Re-evaluate how we're spending our time and our energy - are we exhausting ourselves for the kind of fruit God is calling us to bear? Or are we putting a lot of time and energy into stuff that keeps up our image or our status, instead of on the things that help us to really bear the kind of fruit that we're capable of producing...?
  • Let God mess with our lives - are we willing to let God start digging around the ground in which we've comfortably sunk our roots? And are we willing to accept that sometimes the "crap" that gets dumped on us isn't a sign of God's displeasure, but might actually be God trying to help us grow...?!
Jesus calls us to a kind of repentance that isn't quick and easy. Instead, it's often a slow and gradual process of helping us to change into people who don't just take up space but actually bear the fruit of God's love in the life of the world around us.
And the good news is that we're not alone in the process. God is always there with us giving us help and encouragement, even when it feels like our roots are being dug up. God is always using the moments and opportunities of our lives - even the difficult and uncomfortable times - to help us to bear that fruit. And each new day God gives us new opportunities to grow and change, and like that fig tree, God doesn't give up on any of us.