Sermon: One More Year for Figs and Manure

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • Jerry Hayes

    Nadia–What a fantastic look at this parable. I have been going through severe depression for the past several months and the I thought, like you, that I was the unproductive tree. Thanks for helping me to see that I am also the vineyard owner–my own worst judge and critic. Thanks for helping me to remember that I AM a beloved child of GOD who gives me one more year. I enjoy following you from the tiny burg of Blissfield, MI. GOD’s grace and peace to you.

  • http://www.hearttales.net Jim Cyr

    Nadia, shifting point of view in a story often yeilds much fruit (No pun intended). Great job helping us to see this parable from another angle. Guess that’s why God puts so many different points of view in the body of Christ, so the gems of His truth can shine from many different angles. If you ever get tired of being a pastor you should become a storyteller!

  • http://clevertitlehere.blogspot.com Teri

    I love this take!

    We used this parable for Bible study at our church council meeting yesterday, and it was super interesting to see how many different ways we heard it or could look at it. One of my favorites though, I think, was to look at the fig tree as different ministries of the church, and the conversation between owner and gardener as our conversation with God–don’t get impatient when things don’t happen on our time, but if we do nurture and pray and put energy and still it’s not working, it’s okay to let that go and focus on other plants in the vineyard. There can be grace at the end of the year too. And that’s just one of probably a dozen interpretations offered during that hour. Love those parables!

  • http://margaretfeinberg.com Margaret Feinberg

    Awesome commentary, Nadia!

  • http://emmykegler.blogspot.com Emmy Kegler

    You always take such a fantastic turn on the parables. Love the re-casting move (that you do over and over again) to help us find something new in something that can sometimes seem dead… or even full of manure. Thank you for this.

  • Shibui

    Ah, Nadia. Here I sat, in pain from two knee injuries delayed from treatment because of insurance hassles, discouraged because of what I feel is repeated rejection in one arena by my church, suffering from two nasty attacks by my only-child daughter, in limbo waiting for a delayed new house to be completed. Feeling older than I am and that my life has been a waste. Friendless. All overstated, I know at some level, but basically the main fruit this fig tree is bearing right now! Then, out of the blue, here is your fig tree sermon.

    Thank you. You’ve linked me with the love for even the barren fig tree… and reminded me: “In divine time!” You’ve watered this fig tree.

  • Brooks Gardner

    Nadia, thanks for your take on this parable. I heard a sermon from my Presbyterian (USA) minister from the same text. My first opinion was why didn’t the vineyard keeper take care of the fig tree earlier instead of waiting for the owner to condemn it. Yours and his sermons illustrate the grace of God.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Tim Chastain

    Nadia, I loved it as always. I never miss any of your posted sermons. You are an humble source of wisdom and inspiration.

  • Kathi Worthington

    Wouldn’t you know, our Lenten bible study at school, McCormick Theological Seminary, this last Friday was this very text, and we came to see this about the fig tree, which seems to be us, is that it takes fruit trees a long time to get big enough, their roots spread deeply and broadly enough, their branches strong enough, to actually produce fruit. And, some varieties only produce very other year. And, in a drought year, there isn’t enough nourishment and water for the tree to bear. And so, we, or at least I, came to see that becoming fruitful is an arduous process that remains so for life. We have to be patient with ourselves, to stop being our own vineyard owner stamping feet like a 3 year old because the fruit we want hasn’t yet formed on our branches. Wait. Be strong. Take heart.

    • http://www.laurelmasse.typepad.com Laurel Massé

      Young fig trees typically don’t set fruit till the third year. So, yes to everything that Rev. Nadia said, PLUS the fact that the tree wasn’t yet mature enough to bear fruit. Which the gardener, I think, knows.

      I am constantly surprised by the stealthy insertion of new passages into my Bible… And I’m not talking about an Amplified. I’m talking about verses I swear were never there before. Because surely I would have seen them if they were, right?

      Apparently not.

      Blessings to all –
      Laurel

  • Little Christ-Bearer

    I hear this is a reference to Ecclesiastes.

  • Sandra Orrick

    Simple clarity, from your heart to ours. Why we insist that our harsh judgments are called for, rather than grateful acceptance of God’s grace, is a mystery.

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/sobargo Rick Reiley

    Well done! Thank you……

  • Keith Thomas

    This really touched me in a profound manner in my life where life’s failures seem to pile ever higher around me. We’re never too old for a little renewal (poop).

  • http://www,livingfaithscv.org Pam Challis

    Nadia,
    Thank you! I had the privilege of “going to church” while reading your sermon. I have been fed and am so grateful for one more year – for me, for the communities I serve, for my family. Thanks be to God!
    Pam

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  • hannah

    thank you! I’ve been, for whatever reason, waiting to read this … the page on my safari has literally been chilling for a few days. and I read it at the perfect time. so, really, I’m saying thank you to God but also honoring your obedience to Him. thank you.

  • Lynn Willis

    Well, bad news — your preaching days have clearly NOT come to an end. No time off for you! The Good News is that Jesus would be oh so proud to have you carrying on in His name. Thank you.

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