The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 13th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 [Jesus] asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8 He replied, "Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' “
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes God’s help comes in completely unexpected ways. God can use the gross stinky things in life to help us.
In the first part of our gospel lesson people are asking Jesus about the connection between tragedy and sin. Jesus explains that the people who suffered at the hands of Pilate and the people who died when the tower crashed were no guiltier than the rest of us.
A sin is a sin is a sin. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. The world is broken because of our sin. Things don’t work the way God intended. Because we all sin, we all suffer. It isn’t fair and it isn’t just. I might suffer more for your sin that you do, and you might suffer more for my sin than I do.
Jesus is doing some truth telling here. This is the law and it convicts us. All of us. We all sin and we are all going to die because we all sin.
Now what? Where’s the good news? I would like to propose that the good news this week is found in the stinky fertilizer. You heard me right, the good news is in the manure.
Then he (Jesus) told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, "See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8 He( The Gardner) replied, "Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' “
One of the things many of us are good at is procrastination. If there is something I really, really don’t want to do, I will probably put it off as long as I can, and do everything else I can before I do it.
So, I wonder if maybe the fig tree is procrastinating. Maybe it just doesn’t want to bear fruit this year. Or, maybe the tree did need fertilizer to bear fruit. It could be the soil wasn’t very fertile. Or, maybe there wasn’t much rain so there wasn’t enough moisture in the ground. Maybe there was a frost that killed off the buds early in the season.
Maybe the fig tree doesn’t have those excuses, though. This tree seems to be singled out. It seems likely that the land owner had more than one fig tree and the others were bearing fruit.
Did you ever feel like that? Like everyone else seems to be able to get things done, easier, faster, better than you do? Everyone else seems to be able to learn how to solve that work problem easily and it just makes no sense to you?
Or everyone else seems to be able to use their computer or their smart phone, but yours just makes you feel dumb?
You feel like you could probably do it if you just had some more time or maybe if someone would just take the time to help you out. But you don’t seem to have more time and energy. And others don’t seem to have the patience or willingness to help. Or maybe it’s all they can do to get by themselves.
Or maybe you feel like you are the one who always gets dumped on? Like you never get a break? Like you could use some of that good fertilizer and a little more time.
I heard this story a number of years ago on the radio. It is a Russian fable.
A little bird that lived in the north wanted to see what winter was like. Her parents tried to tell her that she should fly south with them. She refused and they waited as long as they could, but ultimately, she insisted on staying and they left without her. Another flock of birds came through and tried to encourage her to come with them, but again, she refused.
It started getting colder. The leaves had all fallen off the trees. Soon, there was frost every morning, but still the little bird held to her desire to see what winter was like.
She was doing alright until it started to snow. She got so very, very cold that she decided she should try to fly south. It was too late though, and her wings became so snow covered that she fell down in a field.
Before long, she was buried under a deep layer of snow. A cow came along and dropped a load of manure on her head. The pile of manure felt nice and warm and it brought the little bird back to life. She was warm and happy again, so she began to sing. A cat came by and heard the little bird singing, so the cat dug her up and ate her.
This is a fable, so there are morals to the story:
Listen to your elders and the people who care about you. They may have wise advice.
Not everyone who dumps a pile of manure on your head is your enemy.
Not everyone who digs you out of a pile of manure is your friend.
When you are under a deep pile of manure, it is best to keep your mouth shut.
Sometimes, God’s help comes in completely unexpected ways. The good news for us is in the pile of manure. That’s right, the good news is in the gross, stinky fertilizer. In spite of our sin and our shortcomings, God is able to take the manure that falls on us and use it to help us grow and bear fruit.
There was nothing that was grosser, nothing that stunk worse than the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. God was able to use that, the worse thing that ever happened in history of the world, for our salvation. God transformed the greatest sin and evil into the greatest good.
All of us will have times in our life when we don’t seem to be able to bear much fruit. All of us will have times when we feel like a pile of manure has been dumped on our heads. Maybe it is because of our own poor choices or maybe it is because of someone else’s bad decisions. Or, it could just be because we live in this broken world.
The good news for us is that God doesn’t waste anything in creation. God can and does use that pile of manure to help us grow. God is willing to give it some time. The tree will bear fruit. After all, the cross became the tree of life for the healing of the nations. Amen.