Exodus 3:1-15 Psalm 63:1-8 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Luke 13:1-9
It sounds like today’s psalm is the perfect response to Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem from last week. Remember the lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often have I desired to gather your children…”. And an eloquent response:
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
And then this happens. The next line, (conveniently) left out of our reading today, is this:
9But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals.
So much for the exemplary nature of the psalm! The complete version might be a better example of our humanity than of our abiding piety.
Aren’t we like the psalmist, though? On Ash Wednesday we make an acknowledgment of the depth of our separateness from God. We declare our failures, our faults. We are determined to live in humility, to give up something of meaning for the next 40ish days.
We make it through Thursday: no candy, no soda; we crack the spine of our bible and dust it off. We leave the “given up” things in the cabinet and put the bible in a prominent place. So far, so good. “My flesh faints for you, Lord.”
On Friday we set the mail on top of the bible and we gaze at the cookies on the table at work. On Saturday we pop the top on that can of cola, take a long drink, and set the open can on top of the mail that is on top of the bible –
“May wild animals eat you if you point this out!” Right?
Jesus laments again over his precious Jerusalem, over you and I.
(If we really stretch what the psalmist is doing/saying, it is kind of like this: If we cannot live up to the things that we believe about ourselves [the longing and pining and fainting] and if you dare hurt me in some way [by pointing out our hypocrisy, perhaps], then – it’s you who must live in eternal punishment.)
My sins, my separation, we think, are at least not as bad as yours…
Yes, Jesus still laments over our failings, over our walking away from that which we said that we would do. HOWEVER, there is gospel – GOOD NEWS – in this story from Luke and in our Lenten journey.
Let’s talk about the fig tree. What did/didn’t it do? (Not bear fruit. Take up “good” soil. Nothing.) All true.
What else did it do, one positive thing: it held up the vines that were growing grapes. It held up that which was bearing fruit. What is a fig tree doing in a vineyard, anyway?
Pliny, an ancient writer,
The ancient farming manuals provide one answer. It seems to have been a common practice to plant fig trees in vineyards to aid in the trellising of vines. In fact Pliny recommends that trees be used for growing grape viines since “high class wines can only be produced from vines on trees ” Pliny specifically mentions the fig tree as a preferred tree for use m trellising “The choicer wines,” he says, “are made from the grapes at the top of the trees.” (Pliny, Natural History pp.136-139)
Last week we talked about a barnyard; this week we are in a figurative vineyard – we can’t get away from the farm, can we? Anyway,
The farmer is not happy because the fig tree is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is not growing figs. We might not argue, after a bit of knowledge gained, that the fig tree is doing part of what it is supposed to do; it is living partly into its identity.
Are you with me? Can you draw a line to the fig tree and to ourselves? We are most likely living partly into the person and into the ministry to which God has called us. Does that make sense?
We are mothers, fathers, spouses, children, workers; we give and we worship and make food for others;
AND we are not failures because we drank some soda or left the bible on the table. We are not failures, ruining up good dirt that could be otherwise productive. Can you hear this? Because Jesus is still lamenting for us, is still with us, still loving us even as we get halfway through Lent and our walk to Jerusalem. Even then. Even now.
Because we are given another chance. The connection between bearing appropriate fruit and being cut down is not a direct line. (Sorry, psalmist.) There is room – there is room – for another chance. Let me work with this tree just a little bit more. Let me give it food, manure, water, and just the right kind of care. We’ll talk about this next year.
In the meantime, there is room for one more chance for a tree, for you, for me.
The work that the leaders of St. Peter’s are doing right now reminds me of this tree. Do not for one moment forget the wonderful fruit that St.Peter’s is holding up. Do not forget for one moment that Jesus is with us and loves us so much that there is always room for another chance.
The leadership (vestry) right now is working and praying and pondering what care it is, exactly, that St.-Peter’s-if it-were-a-fig-tree needs in order to bear the abundant fruit that it is meant to bear. We are meant to bear the love of Jesus Christ to others. We have that love in ourselves. And before you give up on whatever it is that you are doing or have not done for Lent, give yourself another chance. Try it again. Do it again. Jesus is with you.
Now, fortified with that love, ask what it is that St. Peter’s needs to be a growing community in sharing the love of Jesus Christ.
Every person here is part of that tending and of that care. We need your ideas, your passions, your hands and feet in service to our mission. Our mission is sharing the love of Jesus Christ in the way that we are called to do so. What is the shovel that you are called to pick up? Consider what it is that you are called to spread, or prune, or dig up. If you have been silent and silence is not your call, come forward and speak up; offer your gift. If you are silent and that is your call, then fill your silence with prayer and the powerful transformation that happens when we pray.
Come forward. Go and tell. Get strong and courageous in our Lord Jesus Christ.