Pastor Jay’s sermon from the Third Sunday in Lent.
Readings: Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, I Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9.
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t want to preach this week. I don’t like judgy Jesus. It makes me very uncomfortable. I like my Jesus as he was in last week’s Gospel, spreading wide his wings and gathering all his chicks under his wings. This Jesus of repentance and chopping down trees is just not the kinda guy I want to think about.
That’s not my Jesus. Coming to chop down my tree and I’m trying to defend it.
But…then I read, reread, rereread this gospel and I realized something, I’m not the gardener, I’m the tree.
You know, it’s something we don’t like to think about. We don’t like to think about the expectations God has for us. We like to jump right to the cross, actually, past the cross to the resurrection and the assurance that everything turns out okay because of Christ. And while that’s true, we shouldn’t forget that there are expectations for us. God has laid out plenty of them, but if you want the short list, there are two: Love God above all else and love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself. And living into those expectations, our trees flourish, our whole orchard bears fruit beyond measure, more than we need.
But, my sisters and brothers, time and again we fall short of expectations. Our branches are bare, our trunks are withered. Do you know what happens to a dying tree? It begins to turn all its energy inward to keep itself a live. And the leaves and flowers and fruits suffer. They don’t produce. And time and again that is where we find ourselves, we hoard and we scrounge and we save up for ourselves and we distance ourselves from our neighbors. We look first and foremost to save ourselves and if there is anything left over we might pop out a leaf here or there. But as long as we keep ourselves alive, that is what matters most.
My sisters and brothers that is not the life Christ call us to. Christ calls us to bud and flower to the world as signs of God’s love and mercy and grace and peace and reconciliation and hope in the world. Christ calls us to open our leaves, bear fruit, grow and blossom for all we’re worth. Because you know what, in growing we find the ways and places that, in the end, feed us as well.
That is what the psalmist sings about this morning: O God, you are my God; eagerly 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. Think of this psalm as a song of the dying tree. The tree thirsts and longs and yearns for God. And God yearns more than ever to water the tree with love and life in abundance. But if the tree is too focused on saving itself, on dealing with what is happening in its core, it cannot open its leaves to drink in the sunshine, it cannot open its roots to soak up the water and nutrients it needs to grow. Not if it is only focused on keeping itself alive. In fact, in trying the hardest to keep itself alive, it closes itself off from the nourishment of the sun and the rain and the soil which are what will keep it alive. See what happens? Do you see the cycle?
It is exactly what Luther explains as sin: in curvatus in se, curved in on the self. For Luther, the chief definition of sin is being curved in on the self, distance from God and from neighbor, closing one’s self off to the many and various ways God nourishes us in our growth as disciples of Christ. And isn’t sin exactly what we are called to confront in this forty day journey to Jerusalem? Isn’t this exactly what we began this season acknowledging? Acknowledging that we are closed off from God and our neighbors and we need a savior to come and straighten us out, open us up, so that the nourishment of God’s love and life can sink deep into our roots and we can, indeed, bear fruit for the world as signs of God at work even here, even now.
Well, we have no further to look that right here, right in Jesus’ promise here in his parable. For, just as we are not the gardener but the tree, you better believe that it is Christ who is the gardener. The gardener who tries time and again with seemingly inexhaustible patience to help us grow. The gardener who comes to us every day, every moment, and digs around our roots, churns our soil, waters and fertilizes our roots, plucks from us our dried leaves and dead branches. And give us love and encouragement to grow to our fullest potential as his beloved. And the disciplines of this season are in every way trying to live into all the work of Christ for our growth: fasting from self-indulgent ways, thinking of others before ourselves, opening ourselves to God’s work in our life through prayer and scripture, and most important to be here, where in water, word, wine and wheat, God nourishes us, down to our roots, builds each of us up that out there we may sprout and grow and live into the life Christ calls us to.
And thanks be to God that whenever we trees get together, Christ our gardener is here to tend to us, to care for us, to love and nourish us with his very self, that we might be for the world signs of Christ’s life in the world, bearing fruit.
Huh, I guess there was something worthwhile in that text after all. Just took some digging. Amen.