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SERMON    3rd Lent   20/03/22                                                                

I don’t know how many of you are gardeners, maybe some have a houseplant or two to look after. I have a cardamom that my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day a couple of years ago. It was a lovely plant and when the sun warmed it up I would get a waft of the scent as I walked passed.

By the following winter the original leaves were beginning to look old but there were new shoots coming. That’s good, I thought. But those new shoots failed to grow, by the time the 3rd pair of leaves open the first were going brown. What was wrong?  I was doing the right things according to the leaflet.

Perhaps I should do it all even more. I gave it more water by standing it in a shallow dish of water, I gave it more light, in the summer I put it in the Garden Room during the day where it got more light and warmth …… and it has grown and grown and grown so I now need to pot it on to give it more room or divide it to make more plants?

Food , Water, light, warmth  just what the plant needed to flourish

So I can identify with the gardener in Jesus’ parable.  Rather than cut the failing fig tree down immediately he said he would dig a ditch around and give it more water and manure

Why did Jesus give his listeners a gardening lesson?

Like all his parables  there was a human interpretation –  He was concerned for their spiritual health. It was not looking strong and wasn’t likely to produce the fruit of the kingdom of God he came to plant. They were thinking other people’s disasters were a consequence of sinfulness. The fact that they were fit and well pointed to their righteousness! Must do!  WE follow the Law more or less!

Jesus wanted them to know that a new time was beginning The first covenant I will be your God and you will be my people was always a starting point in God’s act of salvation.  The final piece of the plan was about to happen.  It would no longer be anchored in the Temple with its priest from the tribe of Levi and animal sacrifice for forgiveness. Jesus himself would be the priest, the sacrifice and the way to the holy presence of God each and every day. For all people and once for all into eternity.

The kingdom of God is near but the people were still living according to the worldly values and historical interpretations of their special identity. They were reliant on religious rituals and laws of their ancestors.  It was as if they remembered part of the covenant ….. that they would be God’s people but had forgotten the part that The Almighty  would be their God and he expected them to be worthy of him . Ignoring him and choosing their own way was not part of the package. Their lives did not produce the fruit of godly people.

What are our 21st century mindsets that leave us spiritually weakened, and undernourished?  The current world political situation has spotlighted the complexities of society – international, national and local communities.

How can you defend those being attacked without compromising your own safety?

How can you  refuse to trade with a ruthless dictator without harming one’s own financial stability?

How can you make a decision that brings good to many without challenging you own standing among your peers?

The wider picture so often is one of Self at the top, tolerating the ‘whatever truth’ …… so long as it doesn’t upset me, a lack of those moral parameters that hold a society together. Many of our contemporary values are seen as the products of civilization, the human world has come a long way since early 1st century Palestine. Is God pleased with the progress do you think?

If Jesus came here in his human form today would he again be saying to us …..? what makes you think you are any better than any others? do you really think you are fit for the kingdom of God just as you are?

And that leads to his parable, his story telling to make his hearers think.   The Owner of the vineyard comes to check the quality of his crop.  He has high expectations, nothing slipshod, or half measures, and certainly no failures.  So the fruitless tree must go!

We don’t often talk about God’s anger, his wrath in the face of unrighteousness, but Luke reminds us of it here.  The familiar quote the wages of sin is death is decidedly unfashionable but we can’t pick the nice bits in the Bible and press the delete button on the bit we don’t like.

God is a holy and righteous God; none of us can begin to match him as we are.  If we were that fig tree would he be wondering about our fruitfulness? Our fitness to be in the kingdom of God? The wages of sin is death, God’s first thought about ungodliness is to eradicate.

That is one message of the parable on gardening.

But look again – the gardener then says to the owner, let’s give it a second chance. I’ll work with it, dig a trench right around it and make sure it has all the water and feeding it needs to flourish again and be fruitful so that you will be pleased with it. But if it doesn’t respond to my efforts then it will be chopped down.

The God the Righteous wants justice, God the Father is merciful. His Son does what is needed to transform the unrighteous into righteous, to be fit for the kingdom of God.

Jesus said unless you repent you will perish as they did’

We are fast approaching the time in the Church’s calendar when we focus on the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection after 3 days.  Jesus did what was needed to cover our unrighteousness so that God the Father would receive us into his kingdom. HE has given us all a second chance. He dug into the ground, so to speak, and was buried in order that we would be nourished to live again in the joy of God’s kingdom.

That is why Good Friday is GOOD Friday.

The words of Isaiah in the Old Testament reading are still relevant for us today

Come all who are thirsty come and drink, come and be fed with the food God is offering you.

Not just plain bread and water but wine and milk, eat what is good, delight in rich foods. God doesn’t do things by halves!

It is  about a 2-way process of renewal, nourishment leading to a new meaningful life. God provides – his people receive.

But notice this –

To receive we need to come,  seek, to call out,  to listen in humility and repentance.

May this Lent be the time we realise more clearly our thirst and hunger to know God better and live more fruitfully for him.

How will we be fed?  By thinking more carefully about the words we hear and say each Sunday, is a good start, They can be so familiar and routine.

By studying the Bible at home with study notes or in a Homegroup where we can discuss and learn from one another?

By praying more often, which means talking to God and listening to him. He knows just what you need to flourish.

And it is good to give ourselves a review – am I fruitful for Jesus? Not just what have I done but more – who have I been that will show God to others? Am I inspired by love rather than judgement?

WE can start right now as we take Communion allowing Jesus to feed us again through his spirit as we remember his dying so that our unrighteousness  is made righteous in God’s eyes.

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