March 20, 2022 / St Luke 13:1-9
Pr. David E. Schafer
“Producing Perfect Fruit”
For the most part, I like to start working on my sermons about a month ahead. This gives me plenty of time to review and to fine tune my conversation from this pulpit. When I began to do the research for this homily, there was only talk about Russia invading Ukraine. Unfortunately, the talk has become an all-out terrible and ugly war.
With the 24 hour news cycle, we seem to be bombarded with a steady flow of the atrocities caused by the Russians against the men, women, and children of Ukraine. As I watch the news, I think what would happen to us if we were in the same horrid position?
It is a sad commentary on us, as humans to be arm chair quarterbacks by blaming people when they seem to experience more than their share of human misery. All too often, we conclude that the person - or the persons - who have encountered the hardships and the disappointments and the heartbreaking circumstances of life - must have deserved their lot.
When bad things happen to people, we ask the “why” question. Why did this or that happen to my brother; my cousin; my daughter; my next-door neighbor; or that guy down the street?
This is certainly the situation as it is presented in this morning’s Gospel. Our Lord Jesus Christ provides for us some answers to these difficult questions.
St. Luke begins by telling us that there were “some present” who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. When St. Luke speaks of a group of unknown persons, he is using a code that is intended to include each of us.
How often do we ask Jesus the question of why would someone experience a terrible or a deadly outcome in their lives?
And who among us have not concluded that they must have done something awful to deserve their punishment? To those present and to us, Jesus replies to their thought with a question. Jesus asked “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all of the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?”
Before those in the crowd formulate an answer, Jesus answered his own question. Jesus said “No, I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish!” Ouch! Their ears must have burned.
And the same goes for me and you! Ouch! Jesus’ words hit us on top of our heads and pierce our hearts.
The matter is not a philosophical discussion on the nature of another person’s sin – but – the matter is one that deals with our own sinful lives. And there is no discussion as to the question “if” we are sinners. And even “if” we might have committed some small innocent seeming sin, should we be punished any real way?
Jesus cuts right to the chase. For Jesus - and for us - reality is that we are all condemned sinners who deserve nothing more than God’s damnation for our great wickedness - for our hideous transgressions – and for the iniquities that fills our hearts.
To drive home the point, Jesus spoke of the people in Siloam who died when a tower fell on them. Jesus tells us that unless we repent of our manifold sins, we too shall perish.
And just so we don’t get confused about our need to change our lives by repenting of our sins, Jesus tells us the story of the fig tree. It seems that a fig tree did not produce fruit. We are told that the man who owned the tree wanted it to be chopped down. The owner asked the gardener “Why should the tree use the ground?”
The gardener must have had a soft spot for the fig tree. The gardener pleaded to the owner for a second chance. The gardener pleaded the owner to spare the fig tree - at least for a time. The gardener said “Sir, let it alone this year also, and until I dig around the tree and spread out some fertilizer. If the tree bears fruit, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
When I finished the proclamation of this morning’s Gospel, I ended the reading by announcing “This is the gospel - the good news - of our Lord Jesus Christ!” To which you responded with these words Praise to you, O Christ!”
Are the words that we have just spoken nothing more than a part of our ancient worship tradition? Or is it something more?
The answer is simply “yes” – “yes” - both statements are certainly only the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a most profound and wonderful way. And as a bonus, the story of the fruitless fig tree - given three years - to produce fruit - is certainly nothing less than the incredible promise of Jesus Christ to save our lives from eternal death.
You see, we are the “fruitless” fig tree that Jesus is speaking of. In the story, the owner is God. It is God who owns our very lives. God is our creator. He formed us in his own image. Moreover, God formed us in his own likeness.
This means that because we are formed in God’s own image and likeness - God expects us - to bear the fruit - of God’s own image and likeness.
And what does it mean for us to produce such fruit? It means that God expects us to produce the fruit of his generosity, kindness, patience, acceptance, compassion, embrace, mercy, grace, and love.
But what do we actually produce? Some would say that we produce sour rotten fruit. In all honesty, we don’t even produce sour rotten fruit. The truth is that we produce nothing. When God comes looking for fruit - the fruit that he expects of us - the fruit that reflects his image and likeness - we have nothing to show for ourselves.
And so God is justified to demand our lives be terminated. With nothing to show for ourselves, why should we be allowed to take up territory - to enjoy life - to consume pleasures - to make merry – and to breathe the breath of life?
It is the Owner – the Owner’s Son – the Gardener – who advocates for us. It is the Gardener – the Son - Jesus Christ – who produces the fruit of generosity, kindness, patience, acceptance, compassion, embrace, mercy, grace, and love for us.
The fruit that Jesus produces is perfect in every way. The fruit that Jesus produces has no blemish, spot, or imperfection. Such a wonderful fruit! Such delicious fruit! Such satisfying fruit. God is well pleased.
And for us and for our salvation - Jesus takes his fruit - to the top of Calvary’s Mount. From a tree, Jesus was nailed to the tree the produces only the fruit of suffering, agony, incredible pain, emptiness, and death. All of this - all of this heart wrenching – terror - produces the fruit of blessedness, holiness, innocence, purity, merit, redemption, life, and eternal life.
Soon, we will sing “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”. (LBW 499) The closing verse goes this way “I heard the voice of Jesus say, I am this dark world’s light; Look unto me, your morn shall rise, And all your days be bright. I looked to Jesus, And I found in him my star, my sun; And in that light of life I’ll walk Till trav’ling days are done”.
In the midst of our daily struggles and our everyday trials, we often wonder why. We ask “why must I suffer so”? All too often, we conclude that God must have something against us, as an explanation for the misery in our lives. But in truth, God does not “ZAP” us because of our sins. The truth is that God - through Jesus Christ - gives us the gift of time to amend our sinful ways and to repent of our transgressions. Against the darkness of our lives, Jesus Christ is the light of our lives. The light of Jesus Christ, may we see his mercy, forgiveness, and love. In such love, may we be certain of the promise of life everlasting through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.