2013-3-3 NBW Sermon <—-Click here to listen along. I swear it makes more sense to hear it than to simply read it.
Well, it’s parable day again boys and girls. And boy do we have a weird one. Today we hear the parable of the Fig tree. In this parable the Vineyard owner is frustrated that in 3 years his fig tree has not produced any fruit. So the vineyard owner is ready to just chop it down. To hell with it. It’s a waste of good soil. The tree had it’s chance and will never be anything but useless so the guy might as well cut his losses. But then the gardener steps in and pleads to give the tree one more year – a year when he can upturn the soil add some literal crap to it and see what happens.
Parables like this one are like Jesus’ subversive little stories of an alternate universe. But the alternate universe of Jesus’ parables is comprised not of alternate things but of ordinary things: coins and trees and wheat and sons and Fathers and widows. Yet it is in these ordinary things that parables allow us to see how the nature of God is revealed in surprising, even shocking or scandalous ways within the very ordinary.
Jesus’ parables tend to be deeply engaging and really frustrating at the same time: you can meditate on them, struggle with them, enter into them, speak of them but you just can not solve them. The best way to suck the life out of a parable is by attempting to figure out the so-called moral of the story. Parables aren’t about morals they are about truth – hidden, unyielding, disruptive truth. The kind of truth that simply can’t be contained.
Ok, that stuff about parables is all well and good, but I have a confession to make:
Every once in awhile, on Tuesday mornings when I read the Gospel text assigned for the upcoming Sunday – the passage sounds so totally unfamiliar to me that I think Oh my Gosh…is that like, a new, recently added part of the Bible? It’s like there are new parts that people just sneak in occasionally when we’re not looking just to mess with the preachers.
I honestly have zero familiarity with the parable we just heard – which is weird since you’d think that I’d totally remember a parable where poop is mentioned.
OK, so there I was, with this brand new parable wondering what in the world I was going to preach. And here’s where I’ll make another confession: it’s pretty common for me when looking at the assigned Bible text for the coming Sunday to be totally depressed about it. Inevitably I will read the text and think – “well, I’ve had a pretty good run. But the gig is up. There’s just no way I’ll ever find anything to say about this one.” But this week I really, really felt that way even though I was drawing deeply from some really great soil. I read commentaries by important well-respected theologians. I met with my weekly text study – which includes some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, I read the sermons of better preachers. And yet… nothing. Blank screen. No fruit on this vine. All I could think was “well, I think my preaching days have clearly come to an end. I had given myself plenty of time what felt like 3 years worth of time, so where was the fruit? Where was my sermon that would make you all laugh and cry and rend your clothing and repent?
So I can relate to the poor fig tree in our parable for today. The fig tree that for whatever reason cannot produce. I feel like that not infrequently, maybe you do too. Unable to produce. Produce writing, or results at your work, or completed job applications. Unable to produce the improvement in the relationship with your mother than you’ve been trying to accomplish. Maybe we are all fig trees in a way. Unable to start that exercise program we know we need, unable to make our lives “more spiritual”, unable to keep a clean kitchen. And sometimes we just give up.
I think the reason I couldn’t find anything to say about this parable is because I assumed in this parable, that God is the vineyard owner. Capricious and impatient and angry and ready to judge our pathetic fruitlessness and destroy us for our shortcomings.
There are not really assigned parts in parables, which is why we can always close one eye, tilt our heads and look a them other ways, so isn’t it weird how we tend to assume that in Jesus parables God is always the wealthy one? The king, the land owner, the vineyard owner. It’s not like that’s wrong it’s just not the whole truth of who God is. And this week it seemed to me that the vineyard owner doesn’t sound like the God I know, the God reveled in Jesus Christ. The God who came to dwell with us full of grace and truth, the God who doles out forgiveness like candy and eats with sinners and invites all to God’s table. No, the vineyard owner who was angry and impatient and wanting results doesn’t sound like God. The vineyard owner just sounds like me. I’m the one who judges myself and others wondering why I can never seem to pull off the things I say I want. Why others are drawing perfectly good nutrients from the soil and still languishing fruitlessly.
I feel like the vineyard owner and the tree all at once. Like I’m my own defendant, judge and jury at the same time. And I’d love nothing more than to stand here and say that this only happens once in awhile but the fact is it happens all the time. Impatience with myself and others. Which is why eventually this little parable really broke my heart. Because once I realized that I felt like the tree and the vineyard owner at the same time, both the one who does not produce and the one who harshly judges the lack of production..well when I realized that it felt amazing to make the next jump – which is to realize that God is the one in our lives who steps in with a big sledgehammer of grace and advocates for us saying “one more year”
Another year. Another month. Another week. Another day. This is what God comes to us offering like an endless deferment of your student loan
One more year, people of God. One more year to do what needs to be done. One more year to believe you really are the beloved child of God God has claimed you to be. One more year to trust in God more than money. One more year to forgive others. One more year to forgive yourself. One more year to put your mistakes behind you or better yet see them as the fertilizer God puts around you so that you can produce fruit. One more year to be fed at the table of God’s grace. One more year to be enchanted by the story of Jesus. One more year to help someone else. One more year to feel loved. One more year. This is the God we see in Jesus Christ. A God who tells our inner judge-y vineyard owner to back off because you are a beloved child of God who God has named and claimed and forgiven and loved as God’s very own so that you can bear fruit. So to all of you God again says…one more year. Amen.