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      Sunday sermons 

      Each week Pastor Keith’s Sunday sermon is posted on this site. Several other recent sermons are also available here. You can go back over it to review what he said — or if you cannot come to church, you can still enjoy his sermons.

      God Spreads the Manure

      Feb. 28, 2016
      Luke 13:1-9

      “This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons.”

      That line from Talladega Nights brings us to our Lent in a Bag item of the week. I love Fig Newtons also. And fig preserves. My dad used to can the best fig preserves ever. My grandparents had one fig tree that grew next to their home. It was tall and seemed every year to be loaded with figs. I can remember one year as a youngster being given the job of climbing the ladder to the top of the house and picking the figs from the very top of the fig tree. Then dad would cook them just right and seal them in a glass jar.

      The Fig Newton in your sack reminds us of a parable Jesus shares on his way to Jerusalem. A fellow has a fig tree. For three years he’s looked but there's never been any figs. What use is a fig tree that doesn’t make figs? All it’s doing is taking up space that could be used by a fig tree that would make figs. He wants to cut it down so he brings out the ax to have it chopped down. The caretaker convinces the owner to let it live another year. With pruning and fertilizer and water and care, maybe, just maybe, it would bear some fruit. But if it does not respond, the gardener agrees, then, yes, cut it down.

      “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Jesus then adds his own story of recent calamity — eighteen people died when a tower fell. Do you think they were worse than all the others in Jerusalem? Jesus asked. Jesus does not accuse the victims of doing anything wrong, anything that causes or warrants their deaths. We must not equate tragedy with divine punishment.

      “But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” We don’t know, for sure, what precisely Jesus means by “as they did.” What Jesus wants us to see in these events is how precarious our existence is. Life is uncertain. Life is fragile. Therefore there is an urgency to life. Jesus turns attention away from disasters, victims, and “why?” questions to address those of us who thus far have survived the perils of life and human society. We should not mistake our good fortune as evidence of God’s special blessing. They didnt die because of something they did wrong. We don't live because of something we've done right.

      When we read the parable of the fig tree, it’s common to assume that the landowner is God, the gardener Jesus and we are the fig tree. But think of that image. God in his anger wants to kill us but Jesus intervenes. The problem with that is that the Father and Son are One. They are not opposite sides. They are on the same side. Our lives are not dependent on a divine wrestling match between God and Jesus. Can Jesus take the ax away from God? Will God cut us down before Jesus can talk him out of it?

      Think of how in the Gospel of Luke Jesus portrays God. God is a father who scans the horizon day in and day out waiting for his wayward son to come home. God is a woman who sweeps her house all night looking for a lost coin, then throws a party costing even more to celebrate that she found it. Opposite the idea that God is an ax-welding tyrant seeking whom he can cut off at the knees.

      Suppose we look at it this way. What if we see God as the gardener. God is the one partial to fruitless fig trees. God is the one who vows to loosen the soil around us. God is the one willing to spread manure in the hope that we may bear fruit. God is digging around our roots, spreading manure in the hope that we’ll blossom and bear fruit. God loves us — loves us that much. That image of God better fits a God who searches for us. Who hunts us when we're lost. That is the image of a God loves us and wants the best for us.

      The parable reinforces ideas from the first half of this passage. A cultivated yet unproductive tree may continue to live even without bearing fruit, only because it has been granted additional time to do what it is supposed to do. Like Jesus’ earlier words in response to the recent tragedies, the parable warns against false reassurance. Just because you have not been cut down, do not presume that you are bearing fruit.

      Patience and mercy temporarily keep judgment at bay. The tree has not been left to its own devices. Everything possible is being done to get the tree to act as it should. In the same way, God doesn’t leave us to our own resources but encourages our repentance.

      So why do bad things happen to good, and sometimes not-so-good, people? Jesus doesn’t say and neither can we. Sometimes misfortune is of our own making and sometimes it is tragically unlucky. But Jesus, son of the all-loving God, uses those occasions to invite us to wake up — or in this case, turn around — so that we might look differently at our life and world. The question Jesus asks is not “Life is short; if you die tonight, will your soul go to heaven? The question is this: “Life is unpredictable; if you live today, will you bear fruit for Christ?”

      Charlie Brown and Snoopy are sitting on the dock, looking out onto the water. Charlie Brown says, “Some day, we will all die.” Snoopy responds, “True, but on all the other days we will not.”

      There is so much good we can do with the time we are given. We do not know how long that time is or how it will come to a close, but we do know it is a gift. A gift that is not to be squandered. Be fruitful in the pursuit of good things for God’s people.

      In the 15th century during a war between England and France there came to prominence a young woman, Joan, who went into battle for the French. She was ultimately captured and put on trial. When Joan of Arc knew that her time was short she prayed, “I shall only last a year; use me as you can.”

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      23208 Swift Church Road
      Foley, AL 36535
      Phone: (251) 943-8367


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