Wanted: Fig Trees That Produces Figs
Lent 3C Luke 13:1-9
(A preacher needs to create a powerpoint presentation of the visual aids for this sermon.)
Have you ever had a favorite tree, perhaps at your house? Like an apple tree that produces the best apples ever? Or a shade tree that really gives shade on a hot sunny day? Or maybe it is some of those flowering plum trees with their pink blossoms in the spring.
People in Biblical times loved fig trees. Fig trees could grow tall and leafy and become shade trees. People could get out of the hot sun and rest and relax in the shade of their fig tree. The Bible tells us that “during Solomon's lifetime, Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees.” (I Kings 4:25) I like those words, ALL of them under the safety and shade of their vines and fig trees.
Did you want to live “the good life” in ancient Israel? Then you needed a fig tree in your back yard for shade and fruit. Imagine yourself taking a nap on a hot afternoon under the branches and in the shade of this fig tree.
How about a hot day in hot summer in hot Palestine with no air conditioning? Where do you go? Where do you get relief? Can you imagine living down there in Arizona during their hot summers without air conditioning? How would you survive the heat? Yes, under the shade of a fig tree like this one in the photograph. And the next one.
If I were in a dreadfully hot climate, I would like this tree to rest under its shade. And the next one too.
These are all fig trees. We can see that fig trees can grow tall, as tall as 40 feet, four stories of a building.
In a modern world, if you are out for a ride in your pickup on a hot day, it is a relief to stop and take a rest in the shade of the fig tree.
You don’t stop your car and rest in the hot blazing sun. You find shade, like the shade from a fig tree. And fig trees can grow REALLY old and large.
Such as this old, seasoned, veteran fig tree. This man knows that it is time to sit under his fig tree and relax in its shade.
In Biblical times, the Israelites not only loved fig trees because of the shade that they received in the hot, dry summer, they also liked fig trees because the loved figs. Figs, like grapes and pomegranates, were delicious, delectable, delightful and mouth watering to the taste. Figs were soooooo good.
The PRIMARY purpose of a fig tree was not to produce shade as nice as shade is. The PRIMARY purpose of a fig tree was and still is to produce figs. That is rather basic.
Here are pictures of figs. Figs were and still are a delight to our taste buds. The Israelites of the Old Testament remembered the savory tastes of figs, grapes and pomegranates.
This is what a healthy fig looks like when it is on a healthy fig tree that produces fruit.
Let’s stop here a moment and look at this particular photograph. Notice that this fig is growing out of the branch from which it draws its growth and energy. Notice the base of the fig is growing out of the branch. Focus on the connection between thefruit and the branch. In the Bible, Jesus taught that he was the vine and we were the branches. When we are connected to Christ, we begin to bear “much fruit.”
This picture is so graphic, so visual, so illustrative of the truth that for the fruit to grow, it must be connected to the healthy branch. You and I need to be connected to the love of Christ, so the love of Christ can flow from Christ into us and from us into the world around us. When we are connected to Christ, we produce fruit of love for our family, friends, communities and world.
A picture is worth a thousand words and this picture is definitely worth tenthousand words.
Focus on that connection between the fruit and the branch. We will come back to that later in this sermon.
But back to figs. The PRIMARY purpose of a fig tree is to produce figs. That’s a no brainer.
Figs were not only delicious to the Biblical Israelites of old, but also to us who live in the modern world. We still like our figs.
Don’t these figs look yummy and scrumptious? People throughout the world go to their local markets and buy their fresh food and fresh fruit.
Don’t these fruit look scrumptious when fresh at the market? This picture is from Barcelona, Spain.
It is with these images of fig trees and figs; it is with these images that fig trees are desirable for two reasons, for shade and for fruit, but the PRIMARY purpose of a fig tree is to produce figs, that we approach the gospel lesson for today. We all know by now about the PRIMARY purpose of a fig tree: to produce figs. And we know the SECONDARY purpose of a fig tree: shade.
Here is the gospel story for today. It is a good one.
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was traveling from Galilee up north to Jerusalem down south. It was an eighty mile journey.
While on that journey to Jerusalem, some unnamed people came up to Jesus and told them about two nasty disasters which apparently had recently occurred.
Listen carefully. It gets a little complicated.
The first nasty disaster. The notorious Pontius Pilate, who had been ruling Israel for four years and had been a monstrous cruel ruler who put down riots viciously, this Pontius Pilate had mixed the blood of Galileans that he had executed with the blood of their Jewish sacrifices. This was offensive, disgusting, revolting, sickening, nauseating. This was appalling as it gets, for Pilate to have mixed human blood with the animal blood of sacrifices. Talk about repulsive.
Jesus had this ability to read minds and know what people were thinking. Jesus said to them: “I know what some of you folks are thinking. I know that some of you are thinking that these Galileans were killed and then their blood mixed with the blood of sacrifices because they were worse sinners than others.. Isn’t that right? Aren’t some of you thinking that way? I want it to be clear to you, that is not true. Just because people suffer a nasty, horrible death, that does not mean that they are bigger sinners than everybody else. That is just NOT true.
Rather, when someone dies so suddenly and abruptly, so tragically and brutally, as these Galileans did at the hands of Pilate, it is time for you to think about your own lives and how you are living them. That terrible tragedy is an occasion for you to come to grips with your own death, with your own unexpected end and abrupt death. How are you with the Lord God? Are you ready to die suddenly like those Galileans did? Are you ready to die? Are you ready to meet God face to face? How are you with your poor neighbors? How are you with your wife, family and friends?
While there is time, you need to repent, turn your lives around, and come back to the Lord. Otherwise, you will die eternally. There is still time for you to change your ways.
Second disaster. Then Jesus continued. “You heard about the tragic news of eighteen people being killed when a tower fell over near Siloam, just south of Jerusalem. That was awful. Talk about tragic. A disaster. Eighteen people mind you. Men, women, children. How do you explain that?
And those eighteen who died so tragically: were they any worse than the rest of the folks who live in Jerusalem? Is that why the eighteen died? Because they were worse sinners than the rest of the town? No, of course not. They died in a moment, died in a blink, died so unexpectedly. We are to be ready at all times to meet our God face to face. Are you ready to meet the Lord God for all eternity? Are you ready?
There is still time to amend your ways, change your lives and become ready to meet God in a moment.
Jesus then them a parable to explain himself more clearly. Jesus often follows a teaching up with a parable. Jesus said, "A man planted a fig tree in his garden. The man came looking for fruit from that fig tree. For three years; yes, for three years, he came looking for fruit from that fig tree. He finally became frustrated with that fig tree and said to his gardener in exasperation, “I have been coming here for three years and that tree does not produce any figs. Cut the thing down.”
The gardener replied, “No, sir, give it another year to produce figs. One more year. Some more time. Some more space. Let me dig around the roots and put good manure on it. If after a year, it still does not produce figs, then let’s cut it down.”
That’s the gospel text for today.
Where do we do from here? There is so much in this gospel. What does this gospel mean for your life and mine?
You ALL know that if…
You own an apple tree, you expect it to produce apples. Right? Of course.
If you own a pear tree, you expect it to produce pears. Right? Of course.
If you own a cherry tree, you expect it to produce cherries. Right? Of course.
If the tree doesn’t produce fruit, we all know what to do. Right? Let’s get rid of it and find a tree that will produce apples, pears or cherries.
We all know that the unproductive tree is a waste of time, space and energy.
But the gardener reasons, “Boss. Hang on there a moment. Let’s give this tree one more chance. More time. More space. One more year. New manure. Good water. Let’s give this tree one more chance.”
That is what the parable is about for us today. The Lord God wants to give us another chance, one more chance, another season, another year, some more space to begin living our lives in ways that the Lord God expects.
We have another chance, another moment, another space, another period of grace that begins now…to change…to live the quality of lives that God wants from us…to produce the life of love that the Lord God expects from us. The Lord God gives us more time to shape up, to live life as God wants us to.
We all know that...
The Lord God created apple trees and expects those apple trees to produce apples.
The Lord God created cherry trees and expects those cherry trees to produce cherries.
The Lord God created pear trees, and expects those pear trees to produce pears.
The Lord God created you and me to be loving people, and expects us to live lives of love for God and our neighbors.
Those are the Lord God’s legitimate expectations of us. The Lord God has legitimate expectations of us: to produce fruits of love, for God and neighbor. It is all so very simple.
I love the opera, LES MISERABLES, and the song “One more day, one more hour.” I love that song by Valjean. I love that opera. I love the story. And I know the song, “One more day. One more hour” that Jon Valjean sings.
Tomorrow we'll be far away,
Tomorrow is the judgment day
Tomorrow we'll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!”
The Lord God gives us one day more...to change... grow up...to mature...to do the right thing...to live as God created us to live...to be people of love for the Lord God and neighbor.
You may have been drifting along in life, not doing much with the life that the Lord God has given you. Your life may have been like a fig tree, providing shade for people around you, providing pleasantness for those who are your family and friends.
That is good. That is wonderful. That is a secondary purpose for you, to provide shade from the hot sun of life, to provide pleasantness for your family and fiends.
But the Lord God created you and me for another purpose, a primary purpose, to produce fruit, to produce the fruit of love for the Almighty good God of creation who fashioned you in the first place and wants you love and adoration. The Lord God created you primarily to love God and your neighbor in need with all your heart mind and soul.
You still more time, one more day, one day more. Don't you see? Don't you get it? The Lord God is giving us another chance to live the way God wants us to.
Back to that one picture again.
That fig is a symbol of love. It has grown ONLY because it is attached to the vine. When you and I are attached to Jesus and his love, his love through in us and through us to the world around us.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, pictures are worth ten thousand words. You need to be intimately connected...I need to be intrinsically connected with Jesus Christ and his infinite Spirit of Love. As we are "in Christ," his love begins to flow in us and through us and we produce quality of life that God wants from us.
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