Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love



We like Jesus. Especially when Jesus talks about love and forgiveness. We like the good stories - The Good Samaritan makes us feel good; the Prodigal Son has a great ending; We love to hear Jesus say “Let the little children come to me”. The beatitudes are beautiful. But sometimes Jesus can make us really uncomfortable; sometimes Jesus can be really harsh. Sometimes we don’t like what Jesus has said. The stories of the rich young ruler who wants to follow Jesus and Jesus sends him home. The story of the man who wants to follow Jesus, but only after he buries his father and Jesus said “Don’t bother to come back.” That Jesus doesn’t fit our picture of the Jesus of love and mercy. Sometimes Jesus says difficult things to us - we the people who just want to follow him; people who just want us to be loved by Jesus; people who just want Jesus to care about us…. sometimes Jesus has stories that challenge us; stories that remind us that Jesus does expect us to get up and do something for him. If we are going to enjoy the happy stories of Jesus, then we do have to struggle with the more difficult passages.

In our last house, Tim and I had a very old peach tree. We had been told by the previous’ owners daughter that at one time the tree had been very productive and had produced lots of peaches. But the first year we were there, the tree only produced 3 peaches. They were good peaches, but there were only three of them. So I asked one of the many farmers that were in my congregations what we could do. The farmer came over to the house with a ladder and a bunch of pruning tools and went to work on the tree. He worked for many hours and there was a lot of tree now cut off and on the ground, but he guaranteed that now the tree would bear a lot of fruit the next season - and it did! We harvested a bushel basket full of large, delicious peaches. I was amazed.
But then it became our turn to keep the tree. We didn’t have a good ladder or the proper tools and we didn’t have a whole lot of time and so we kind of worked on the limbs we could reach and neglected the top of the tree which began to grow a little tall and unwieldy and once again the fruit began to be a little less numerous and a little smaller and eventually we quit working on it at all and the last year we lived there, there were no peaches at all from our tree. Our thought, then, was to just cut this old tree down….
The connection with today's parable of the Fig Tree is evident. Jesus tells us a parable about a man who has a fig tree. The man who had the fig tree comes and checks on the fig tree and there are no figs on it. So he instructs his servant to cut it down. Get rid of it. “Why should I waste my time on a fig tree that won't produce any fruit?”

Time and time again God has shown his impatience with people who do not take advantage of the opportunities he has given them. Time and again God has judged his people and found them falling short. That is the message of today's Epistle Reading - a reading in which Paul reminds us of all the opportunities that God's chosen people missed - and the results. The people of Israel in the Wilderness had seen God's goodness, and had their opportunity to praise and to trust God - but they grumbled and complained instead - and they were struck down. God’s people had been given all that they needed to have by God, they had been given freedom from slavery, but rather than placing their trust in God, they worshipped the golden calf and the success it was supposed to bring - and 120,000 of them died in a single day. None of them were allowed to enter the promised land. These things, Paul writes, occurred as examples to us, that we might not desire the wrong things as they did; that we might not fall into the trap of worshipping something other than our God; that we might not become people whose only desire is to eat and drink and play. That we not become the people who only want the benefits of being followers of Christ with none of the responsibilities.

So in this fig tree story, what Jesus is saying to us is, “What good is a fig tree if it doesn’t bear any fruit?” which means ‘What good is it to be my follower if you are not willing to bear fruit for me?” Jesus actually says in

Matthew “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”. That is scary stuff, don’t you think?
But on a practical level I want you to think of this: The owner of the fig tree doesn't ask anything extraordinary out of the fig tree. He isn't asking the fig tree to become an oak or a redwood. He doesn’t ask the fig tree to

produce bananas. He asks only that it accomplish what fig trees ought to accomplish, bearing figs.
You and I have differing gifts. Some of us have nice singing voices. Some of are good problem solvers. Some are artists. Some are good with numbers; others are good with people, some are powerful prayers. All of us have some natural ability. The secret is to find our natural abilities and give them all we've got. Doesn’t have to be in church either. Regardless of where we are - working, playing, volunteering- we do our best at what we are good at doing.
All Jesus is saying is that we give maximum effort in the area of our lives where he has gifted us. That's it. That's the secret of being fruitful - find what we're naturally good at and give it our best and God will bless that and God will honor that and God will produce fruit through us. But we have to be willing to do whatever God has asked us to do wherever God asks us to do it.
Then we have to go one step further. Before Jesus told the fig story he told another one. Both of these stories happen as Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. For over 2 years, Jesus has been teaching and preaching and now that the end is near, it seems as if Jesus is going into fast mode. He has a lot to say before he leaves and he wants to get it all in. Luke sort of leads into these more difficult lessons by having Jesus say in a round about way, “Are you ready for these new lessons I have for you? These new lessons are not going to be easy……”
And then, suddenly, there is news about a construction accident and a massacre of Jewish worshippers. It appears that Pilate massacred a group of Jewish worshippers while they were sacrificing in the temple. And Jesus recalls the story of 18 construction workers who were killed while they were building a tower.
The first thing Jesus points out is that we are not to think these stories are of God striking down sinners - which was the first Jewish reaction. It was a standard Jewish belief that tragedy was God’s way of punishing sinners. Jesus says - “Do you really think that these people who were killed in these tragedies were worse sinners than any one else in Jerusalem?” “No’, Jesus continued, ‘they were not’. Jesus is separating tragic death from the idea of punishment due to sin. Jesus says, “I bring this up to point out to you the importance of doing what God has asked you to do.” In another words, if we put off doing what God has asked us to do; if we put off using our talents and gifts to allow God to produce fruit for the kingdom - then we have missed out.
Jesus says, “but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” The idea of repentance in this instance is not the idea of stopping whatever sin you have in your life - the word ‘repentance’ means to turn back, or turn around. Turn back to the responsibilities God calls you to. Turn back to putting the things of God first in your life. Return to using God’s gifts to do God’s work.
Jesus says. Just like those people who perished found out, the time for seizing those opportunities is shorter than you expect. You never know when a tower may fall or a tragedy may occur, so don’t wait around to live as the people of God. Don’t wait around til ‘the time is right’ to begin to bear fruit for God.

Understand, however, Jesus is not threatening us in these stories. He is not saying “You better be fruitful or I’m going to throw you in the fire or allow a tower to fall on you!” He is pleading with us - the way God does in every moment of the stories of his people. Jesus is simply and realistically telling us that the course of our lives is shorter than we think and that we would be foolish not to seize the opportunities to enjoy one another, to love one another, to do what we can to make sure there is a little less suffering in the world by the way we live of our lives - while we have the time.
God has given us all gifts and abilities and ways in which we can make this a better world, and we can’t wait around until we think the time is right. We need to start now - because we don’t know what may happen tomorrow.
This Lent, think about yourselves; think about what you are good at doing - and do it!Doesn’t have to be spectacular; you don’t have to save the world; you just have to do what God has gifted you to do - and God will honor that.
But Jesus says don’t put it off. The time is now. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to feel that satisfaction of knowing you are living and giving for God!