March 20, 2022———–3rd Sunday in Lent————Rev. Bob Kelley
1 Corinthians 10: 1-13; Luke 13: 1-9
Luke 13: 1-9
Karma, we all know what it is, and most of us pretty much believe in it. And karma tells us, that in life, we are generally going to get what is coming to us. If we are good, God will bless us, and if we are bad God will get us. If not now, then when we die. And we think that is pretty much true, because, after all, God is not fond of sin, and will do what it takes to eliminate sin from our lives.
The people in today’s scripture passage probably never heard the word karma, but they knew the concept. And they also believed that you could tell what kind of a life people were living, by what happened to them. If someone was prosperous, had good health, and nothing awful had happened to them, well, then, they must be living a pretty sinless life.
But if someone was poor, or was sick, or had just experienced a tragedy, well, that was evidence that they must have done something pretty sinful. A lot of people today still believe this.
And they might have agreed with the people who came to tell Jesus the story about the Galileans, who had been slaughtered while making their sacrifices. They were convinced that these Galileans had been killed because they were sinful and their sacrifices were not acceptable to God. They were also the kind of people who could watch a tragedy, and say, “Yup, if old Ed had not been so sinful, that wall never would have fallen on him.”
Jesus, however, disagrees with their logic. He points out that those who were killed in Galilee were no more sinful than anyone else. Just as the people who were killed when a tower collapsed in Siloam, were no more sinful than those whom that falling tower missed.
And then he tells them that perhaps they should be the ones watching out. Because they were making a pretty fatal error. They were making the assumption that when tragedy strikes, it is the result of sinful behavior.
But they were also making the assumption, that if things are going well, it must be because whatever they are doing is not sinful. After all, if we are well, we must be good.
But that is kind of like making the assumption that if we are exceeding the speed limit, and do not get caught, and are not struck by lightning, then speeding must be okay. Of if someone were to murder someone, and nothing bad happens to them, then that murder must be acceptable to God. It is making the assumption that if we are not being punished, then we must not be doing anything wrong.
But Jesus tells them, and us, that if we are not repentant about our sins, then we are all going to perish, just like those Galileans. He is telling all of us that, yes, we are sinners too. And just because we have escaped -so far- does not mean that we will continue to escape. Jesus is telling us not to look at what is going on, and then make decisions about what God is going to do. He is telling us not to look at what mighty and momentous things are happening to other people, and from that make decisions about what we think is a consequence of someone else’s sin.
This does not mean, of course, that there are no consequences to sin. Jesus points out that there is a pretty definite consequence for sin. “If you do not repent, you will perish.” Period. Our sinful behavior will bring about our deaths, sooner or later. And that has been true ever since God told Adam and Eve that eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would bring about their death.
But what it does not mean, is that we can determine how much sin is in someone else’s life, by what might be happening to them. And it means, that this is not how God acts to eliminate our sins. God’s plan for our life is actually not to zap us every time we do something wrong, and leave us alone when we are acting okay. And thank goodness for that, because we would all have to carry a lightning rod with us everywhere we went.
The people in today’s gospel passage did not have a good understanding of how God deals with people. So, Jesus tells them this parable of the fig tree. It is not doing well. After three years, it still has not produced any fruit. And so the owner of the vineyard wants to pull it out.
However, what is not said in this passage, is that three years is actually the minimum amount of time, in which you could expect a fig tree to produce fruit. This tree was not necessarily unproductive, it was just slow to get productive. And if given enough time and care, it had the potential to be very productive. But thus far, it had not produced anything. And this impatient vineyard owner wanted to yank it out. It was wasting his ground he said.
Quite a few people see God as being this way. If someone is not up to God’s expectations immediately, we feel like God should quit wasting God’s time with them. And sometimes if we do not see some immediate good works out of a prospective Christian, we often feel like we should not waste our time on them, either.
Unfortunately, what they are doing there, is they are saying that neither we nor God should put more than a minimum amount of effort, into helping people produce the fruits of righteousness. That is not even three strikes you are out, it is one strike you’re out.
But is that truly the way we want God to be? Do we want God to spend only the minimum time that God can get away with, on us? Do we truly want God to stand there watching us to make a mistake, so God can get rid of us, and turn God’s attention to someone else. Somehow, I doubt that is how we want God to treat us.
And the good news is, that this is not how God treats us. Because in this gospel story, God is not the impatient owner of the vineyard. God is the gardener who intercedes for the fig tree. God is the one who says, “Wait, and let me see what I can do with the tree.” God is the one who says, “Wait, and let me see what I can do with this unproductive sinner.”
God does not feel like any of us are a waste of his time. And in God’s vineyard, there is no wasted ground. Perhaps this vineyard owner has only a limited amount of time, or a limited amount of space in his vineyard. But in heaven, there is no lack of room. There is not a limited number of slots available. Nobody will be denied an opportunity to go to heaven, because someone else is taking up too much room. We are not competing for the privilege to get into heaven.
Nor is it the case, that if God is spending too much time, with one of those difficult cases, then God does not have time for us. For just as the space in heaven is unlimited, the time that God has available is unlimited. And there really is no need for us to worry about someone else’s sins. Because their sins will not affect how God is going to relate to us.
What we need to worry about, is our own sins. What we need to worry about, is the fact that God expects each of us to be producing some of the fruits of righteousness. What we need to worry about, is the fact that our sinfulness can cause us to perish.
And yet, even as we are worrying about our sinfulness, we still need to not be afraid of God. Because even though God does have some expectations, our God is also a very patient God. If we have not met God’s expectations in the minimum possible time, God is not going to cut us off at the roots. We will not be yanked out of this life if we are slow to get going.
No, what God will do in that case, is to nurture us even more than before. What God will do is to push us harder than before, to begin producing fruit. And the reality is that some of us will need a lot of extra nurturing. Some of us will need a lot of extra pushing. Well, the good news is, is that God will do a lot of nurturing. And God will do a lot of pushing, too.
For, after all, what this passage is about, is the elimination of sin from our lives. It is also replacing that sin with the fruits of God’s righteousness. And it is about the fact that all of us, from the most productive to the least productive belong to God. And God wants our fruit. Every bit of fruit that we produce still adds to the Kingdom of God.
God will do whatever it takes to get us producing. Even including sending his son Jesus to die on a cross, so that we get pushed a little bit about how the fruit of sin is death, in this case, Jesus’s death. And also so that we can find nurture in the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from that death on Easter Sunday. Amen