Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

Hope for fig trees

February 28, 2021
Martin Baker

28 February 2021                             Hope for fig trees                                 Luke 13:1-9          

Luke 13:1-9

13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He 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.’”

I was coming down West Road last Sunday afternoon, and stopped at the red light. And the sign told me it was 4 and half minute’s wait. And so, I got to reading something I had with me. It was quite interesting and I didn’t notice that the red had turned to green. Until someone behind me gave a pleasant enough honk. And I said something to myself, and sped off. Has anyone else ever done that. You get caught out and you speed off a little more quickly than normal?

Never a good feeling being caught out.

And to pause and think, when really was the last time I admitted I was wrong about something?

When was the last time I came to terms with the fact that I was heading in the wrong direction perhaps?

Jesus says today “unless you repent, you will all perish”. The you is plural. To the crowd.

Jesus says words today that are among the most challenging in all scripture.

Unless you repent, (the word is metanoia) - unless your lives change direction, you will all perish.   Unless you change, here it is again, you will all perish.

You see, I thought it was them that had to change, I thought it was those people over there, that had to change, I’m naming those people in my head, right now, yep I’ve got my list, yep they had better change. That person I had an argument with last week. Do they have to change!

After 15 minutes on hold to the bank. That person. They had better change.

Perhaps the greatest sin is our passion for defining ourselves by who we are not.  We’re not sinners. It’s them. In fact, I know. It’s that guy there. That gay, NZ First, coloured, white, republican anti vaxer, nationalist, right wing, red necked socialist. That’s who Jesus is speaking to.  

The other who is somehow less loved. Others are somehow less worthy of dying for.

Unless you all change. You will all perish.

One commentator described our time as one of woke Olympics. That even people who are doing really good things now have the minutiae of their histories examined by others who are all very ready to point out faults and mistakes  of the past as a way of undermining the value of what a person is doing today.

This cynical and super critical righteousness that can undermine even the best and most heroic acts.

And at the most extreme there are these atrocity stories. If you have even been in situation of conflict or war, I very briefly was when I lived in Northern  Israel in the early 80’s.   But you will hear stories told of the atrocities committed by the enemy. Whatever side you are on. That’s what we hear in scripture today.  Did you hear what they did. Those Romans. Pilate. The Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

Every war has it’s atrocity stories. They circulate around. They create a sense of righteous anger. Often very hard to verify. Our side never commits atrocities. It’s those people over there. They deserve every imaginable punishment. That young women who may have been married to an ISIS fighter trying to get back to New Zealand with two young children. She deserves every punishment coming to her. We do not want a terrorist back in our country. The Australians have already revoked her citizenship.

Unless you all change Jesus says, you will all perish.

Listen to these verses we heard today.

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 This is an atrocity story again. Those Romans that Pilate.

And then 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.

You can see why Jesus was so unpopular.

As long as you keep blaming, kept seeing the problem, the enemy, the sinner out there, you’re not going to be addressing what’s going among us, or within us.

Those who inflict injustice and those who suffer from it, both need to repent to change in a fundamental way.

What did Paul say to the Romans. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Then we get to the story about the fig tree and the Gardener.  

Should the tree go?

I would never claim to be great gardener.  I’ve got a small patch of tomatoes, that I would have to say have done quite well this year despite the fact that they have now spread across the garden like an out of control hedge.

We planted a fig tree about 4 years ago. It’s doing pretty well and is producing red figs. But we also planted some almonds and they have done nothing much.  And we look for some hint of some almonds. And even if there is nothing we always want to give it the benefit of the doubt. Leave it for another few months just in case.  

God as the gardener. It’s a theme repeated. Genesis, Isaiah Joel. An ancient word for garden gives us the word paradise.   Jesus on the cross says to the confessing criminal executed beside him, today you will see me in paradise.

The story Jesus tells. The absentee land owner returns and sees that the fig tree remains fruitless. Year after year. 1 year, 2 years, 3 years. And he says to the gardener. Cut it down. It’s taking up space, wasting the soil.  And the gardener replies 1 more year. I’ll cultivate around it. Put manure on it. 1 more year.

The story is about patience. It’s about God’s hope for us all.  About the potential, the extraordinary mystery of bearing fruit.  The story of cultivating, of manure.

What’s going to make a difference?

Jesus’ life is turning toward Jerusalem. Turning toward the confrontation with fear and sin and hatred and evil and the things of death. Those powers that will overwhelm and lead to his execution.

God’s love for us confronting all those things that would destroy, turned into the Easter proclamation that Jesus has been raised.  But we are on the way to the cross. The tomb. The abandonment. The mystery,  the waiting.  

The patient gardener, the fertiliser, God’s love for all people shown in Jesus. The potential we all have to bear fruit. The time of metanoia the call for repentance.  The call for repentance to us all, to move beyond our own self-righteousness and know that we are in this together. The certainty that life will end in destruction when we are led by fear, sin and hate and anger.  

One of the things I love about this church and the people here, is the generous support for new mission. Our ministry with the community, with children and parents, the dinners we hold on Sunday night.  Sometimes we have to hand things and people over. There is a mystery in how God may work in all of this.  To embrace a mystery. The patience we need. The hopeful waiting, the fruit that might happen. Can we work with God in the garden? 1 more year.

Maybe the fig tree will come right. Our task is to labour, without having all the answers, to acknowledge the deep mystery of it all. The task of the disciple is to witness and then wait, to take our best step and leave the rest to God. We labour now for a future, we are not meant to control.  Jesus taught us to pray, not "My kingdom come," not "Our kingdom come," but "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done"

This is the time for repentance. To change the direction our lives have been taking. That’s not something we can do on our own. Here we find the essence of repentance:  Paul spoke about that to the Romans, the faithful affirmation that "while we still were sinners Christ died for us"

There are a lot of different trees in the garden. Be the fig tree. The grape vine. The plumb tree. Be fully the person God created you/intends you to be. A loving fruit bearing follower of Christ. Be part of our community because together we learn about the fullness of God’s love for us in our very diversity.

We all need to change. We can’t do this on our own. God has already done that in Jesus. God’s grace is offered to us as the most precious gift. A gift that transforms our lives and sets us on the right path.  AMEN