Today we have an open invitation…
A both “we need to dig in the dirt,” and “we need a turning around.”
This is our invitation to share our stories, and to be “fertilized,” nourished, transformed.
And… it is an invitation I extend to you. For this is also an open, interactive reflection.
On this third Sunday of Lent, these 40 days of purposefully following Jesus in new ways, I’d like to begin by having you remember your Lenten word. The past few weeks you have been invited to take a word, a stone, a guide, for seeing things around you, around us, a little differently. If you have picked up a prayer stone, I invite you to remember your word now. If you are willing, please share your prayer word, your Lenten guide with us this morning:
Pastor Kris collected the words written on the prayer stones they had picked up that people shared. Lenten prayer words included –
Now, as we reflect on today’s bible passages, I ask you to hold your word on your heart. In your hands. Are there any spaces in which your word intersects with the parable Jesus tells today? Listen again as David Butterick translates the Barren Tree parable with these words:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit and found none. He said to the vinedresser, ‘look, for three years now I have come for fruit from this fig tree, and I found none. Dig it out, it’s taking up space.’ But answering, he said to him, ‘Leave it for another year, sir, until I dig around it and throw on [manure]. If eventually it produces fruit…. Otherwise you can dig it out.”
Do any of you have experience with caring for fruit trees?
How soon after you plant an apple tree, a pear tree, a cherry tree, would you expect to find fruit?
People in the congregation responded most frequently with the response “3 years”
And once the tree is mature enough to bear fruit, how many years would you wait before cutting it down? Digging it out?
Responses ranged from 5 to 7 years
This parable is not just about a 3-year process. This parable has been a long, patience filled process of planting, watching, and waiting. This year… just maybe this year… there will be fruit.
And… this parable… is not just about a tree. Just who are the characters in the story supposed to be? Is it God (the earth-owner) having a conversation with (the care-giver of the orchard) God’s self? Is Jesus the care-giver, healer, soil-stirrer, that is present with the tree? Is this a space of tension between God’s judgement (“Dig it out!”) being in conflict with God’s own mercy (“Wait! Leave it for another year. Care for it. Nourish it…”)? Is this a story of God’s Great Mercy in the face of that which God has lovingly planted to bear fruit—but has not? How long will God wait? And tend? And hope?
And… what is the “it”? For the fig tree is a metaphor, right? What is the “it” that has been planted, to which Jesus is referring? And… where is “it” planted? Is the “it” the Great Hope God has planted within each of us that God is patiently waiting to burst forth? Is “it” something inside of us that Jesus, the living Spirit, stirs? Nourishes? Prods? That we are to respond to… but… have… not…?
Or is “it” the transformation of our world into a space and time in which God’s vision for heaven on earth is finally – FINALLY – fully revealed? Or even maybe… even… revealed… in part? Is “it” a project, a community, a global uprising through which the Spirit is heaping on fertilizer, manure, stirring the soil?
How are we to dig around in this story? What are the possibilities around us today that we had hoped for—thought would take root—but now seem impossible? What are the causes that seem all but lost… to us as individuals and/or as a community… but through which God is still longing to have the Good News burst forth? Bishop Desmond Tutu says that, “God has not finished with God’s work. Creation is a work in progress. Evil is not going to have the last word. God has us as God’s collaborators, fellow-workers, and ultimately good—and those who strive for it—will prevail” (emphasis added).
I don’t want to ignore the first part of the reading form Luke, which draws in yet another place of tension, but I want to hear your thoughts on the Barren Tree.
How do we dig around in this story? How do you answer these questions:
What are the possibilities around us today that seem impossible?
Those in worship Sunday morning shared concerns such as…
- No school shootings
- Eradication of poverty
- The problems of aging
- Reversing climate change
- Stopping wars
- Hate filled rhetoric and fears
Now, I invite you once again to think about your prayer word for Lent.
Has your word “shimmered,” or emerged for you in unexpected ways? Has it surprised you? If so, would you be willing to share your story? Your experience?
Those in worship Sunday morning shared their prayer words and stories…
- Passion – “I live in a senior center, I’m confronted with things all the time that tend to be on the negative side… I am trying to have answers from God that will help me to get through these things… I am finding that the word passion emerges in (the senior center neighbors), their families, and children.”
- Wisdom – “I got to thinking about the choices we make in life and to… hopefully make wise choices (which we don’t always do). But hopefully in our lives we do the best we can.”
- Holy – “I have been looking for ways to find the holy in the mundane. It is grounding to encounter the holy in the day-to-day…”
- Fun – “At first I picked up one stone, but then I put it back. I picked up another, and it surprised me – it was “FUN.” While it wasn’t the word I was expecting, I do need to make more space for “fun.”
- Receive – “I wasn’t sure about “receive.” After all, I always hear that it is better to give than to receive. Yet, I am at a time of life where I do need to receive sometimes… so “receive” is a good word
- Restore – “My word “Restore” has resonated with me in several ways, both positive and negative during the past couple weeks… I keep my “Restore” stone on my dining room table and touch it daily before heading out the door to work. It’s helped calm and center me (during a challenging time in my professional work life).”
Desmond Tutu says that, “Without us, God won’t; Without God, we can’t.” In God’s abundant love and grace, may each and every one of us be God’s fertilizers, those that are stirred to follow the Spirit out into the dirt of the streets, sharing God’s Good News of radical hope and extravagant love with (and for) all. Amen.
~ Pastor Kris
Reflection offered March 24, 2019, on Psalm 63:1-8 and Luke 13:1-9
 Buttrick, David G. Speaking Parables: A Homiletic Guide. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
 “Desmond Tutu’s Recipe for Peace.” Beliefnet. Accessed March 23, 2019. https://www.beliefnet.com/inspiration/2004/04/desmond-tutus-recipe-for-peace.aspx.