Lent 0319- “Sinners, Sacrifices, Manure and Figs.” Luke 13:1-9
Lent 0319- “Sinners, Sacrifices, Manure and Figs.” Luke 13:1-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Luke, the 13th Chapter.
“1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’””
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
What is the connection between sinners, sacrifices, manure and figs? Jesus often leaves his hearers wondering what they just heard. Even Jesus’ disciples were often unclear about Jesus’ words and they spent much time in his presence.
We come to another moment in Jesus’ ministry when he uses news events and a parable to make a fine point for all to understand and apply to their lives. What is the news? There was murder and mayhem in Jerusalem. Pilate apparently entered the Temple grounds and had his soldiers put to death a number of Galileans. These people were on pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem in accord with God’s command to offer sacrifices at the appointed times. There were three feasts all were to attend in Jerusalem; the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Booths and the Feast of Pentecost. Apparently something went amiss and the pilgrims from Galilee felt the swift judgment of Pilate. Their life’s blood was poured out and mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
What do we notice about this account? What is the crime that led Pilate to put these people to death? Well it must have been something bad. They must have really deserved it.
Now it seems as if Jesus is trying to one-up them. It’s like he is telling them, “You think that is bad, listen to this one.” Jesus then recounts the Tower of Siloam story. Eighteen people were killed when a lifeless tower fell on them. The tower was not angry. The tower did not hold a grudge. The tower was not jealous. The tower just fell on these eighteen souls and took their lives. What’s with that?
Is that not the way we are? We look for sensational reasons to spread gossip and become incensed or in some other way excited about events. Today in these United States people are united in the outrageous. If you have a Facebook account you can see this truth with your own eyes. How many bandwagons roll past your eyes? Each one has an unspoken invitation for you jump on and join the latest response to some scandal. How many of you press the share button, or the comment button, or the like button when those little frames of excitement appear before you?
Facebook just “improved” the like button so that you can add an emoticon to your response. With those little colored buttons you can really let people know how you feel.
In almost an instant you can have breaking news at your fingertips. Tornadoes, election polls, candidate scandals, police actions, all find their place on the Internet. Like those who bring news of the tragedy in Jerusalem, we can be the first among our friends to share the latest tragedy. Some will even post their intentions to commit acts of violence or other information that would be better left unsaid. You can easily fuel fires of unrest and discontent on just about any political or social issue as well. We are becoming a nation that is outraged at even the most minor issues. We probably need to unplug from the internet, calm down, lift our heads and come up for a breath of fresh air.
What happens when we become so engrossed in commenting on the wrongs other people commit? What happens when we become consumed with thinking others must have been exceedingly bad to receive such treatment or injury? Our Lord gives us the answer as he takes the people to task regarding their comments about Pilate and his actions against the Galileans in Jerusalem and those who lost their lives when the tower fell?
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? … Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”
Why did Pilate kill the Galileans and why did the tower of Siloam fall on those people? Why did the twin towers in New York City fall killing some three thousand people? Why did the farmer in Nebraska lose his life trying to rescue people from the flooding? Moreover why this recent flooding in Nebraska and Iowa? What did those people do to warrant the rain and flooding?
Life on this earth will not continue indefinitely. Everyone born into this world is subject to death. Paul wrote of this in his letter to the Church at Rome. “Through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, so sin spread to all because all sinned.” There is not one who is more guilty and deserving of God’s judgment. God does not arbitrarily take the lives of any sinner. Rather, these things happen to bring us to repentance and contrition. God wants us to take immediate stock of our lives and prepare for eternity.
To this end Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”
Our lives are like the fig tree. God expects us to bear the fruit of repentance and faith, as is fitting for those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. God desires us to put away our idolatry in its various forms. God desires us to rejoice in the comfort of the Gospel rather than the creature comforts of this world.
God would have you stop comparing your life to the lives of those around you and simply confess and believe you are a poor miserable sinner in need of forgiveness. Do not think you can have an “understanding” with God that will exempt you from judgment. The only understanding is that we are worthy of temporal and eternal punishment. This punishment is removed only by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
We who are called to faith through the Gospel of Jesus Christ live under the patient will of God. He gave the vinedresser, Jesus Christ, charge of our lives to feed us on the Word of God and the Sacraments of Life that we bear the fruit God desires from His people. Yet, in all of this patient waiting of God there is the warning that grace will come to an end.
It is strange to think that God’s grace and patience will come to an end. Yet that is what we hear when Luke records Jesus parable of the fig tree.
“Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”
What should the owner of the vineyard expect from his trees? He should expect fruit. Yet here he finds no figs on his fig tree. The owner pronounces judgement on the tree. Cut it down. The tree is dead to me.
This is not a new teaching. Nor is it out of character for God to have an end to his patience. In times past the Lord lost patience with His people. Consider the words of warning Paul writes to the Corinthian church. “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses … and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. … Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
Moses wrote of this end of God’s patience and the reason for that end. The people were engaged in idolatry, sexual immorality, putting God to the test by rebelling against Moses and Aaron, and grumbling against God who provided them with everything they needed each day of their wilderness journey. They rejected God’s mercy.
What is the consequence of rejecting God’s mercy? The consequence is God’s patience comes to an end and instead of mercy there is only the fear of certain judgment. This judgement came upon those who rebelled, and after forty years of wandering the wilderness of God’s judgement that generation of idolaters was no more. Their desiccated and sand-lasted bones were left in witness to God’s warning against rebellion and sin.
God’s judgment did not end with the children of Israel whose bodies littered the wilderness. Jesus is tell the people of His day the same judgement will be fall them is they continue in the way of those who came before them. Jesus reminds them of God’s warning at the end of the Ten Words given through Moses. Perhaps you remember reviewing these words during your Lenten Midweek services.
“I the Lord your God am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them who hate me.”
We notice that there is one who speaks on behalf of the unfruitful fig tree. The vinedresser seeks to bring the tree to fruitfulness. We are that fig tree. Jesus is the vinedresser. He feeds us with His Word, Body and Blood that we become bountiful in the works of faith. as the vinedresser digs around the tree, so Jesus turns the soil of our lives and reveals where we need the nourishment of God’s word. He applies that Word so that life and vigor are given.
Lastly, we notice the parable is unfinished. What happened to the fig tree? Did it finally produce fruit? Remember you are the fig tree. What is your life’s story?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen