Mar 25, 2022
Focus readings : Isaiah 55:1-9, Luke 13:1-9
The picture of God in today's Gospel reading (Luke 13:6-9) could be a picture of a severe judge ready to cut down any tree that does not bear fruit and burn it in the fire. The parable is a call to repentance. To repent, literally means to turn around. Jesus is calling us all to turn from our selfish ways, and turn to God. The parable and the picuture of God it paints may not be as severe as we might first think.
First, even though we may not bear fruit, God is offering us the opportunity to repent. Second, the tree is not cut down, it is given fertilizer and another chance. Third, this is not the first time the owner has come and seen no fruit. Time and time again, year after year, the tree has been spared. God's love and mercy is enormous and so while we are living, it is never too late to accept God's offer of a new life, a life turned round, and turned to God.
Questions for discussion or reflection.
Has your life been a fruitful one? Are the fruit of the Spirit growing in you? (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.)
What images of God do you relate to best the ones from Isaiah 55:1-9, or those from Luke 13:6-9?
Do you need to accept God's offer of a new life, and turn (or be turned) to God?
************ SERMON TEXT ************
The conventional view of the New Testament is that it’s about
God as love - Grace & kindness while the Old Testament about
following rules, God as a severe Judge, & being Good.
Today’s readings seem to stand these understandings on their heads.
The Old Testament words we heard read were first heard in either exile or siege in a setting of hunger, hardship, and perhaps working hard for a foreign government in exile. It is a picture of abundance of God’s free provision- v1 Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. It’s not a call to repentance or words of judgement but words of invitation to experience God’s freely given love. It’s a picture both of a future time of abundance and of God’s provision now. “I have and I will provide everything” god is saying so “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” Verse 2
These words must have sounded the exiles like Daniel working for King Nebuchadnesser in Babylon. They were labouring for position, power, money, possessions, but none of these will fill the stomach. They also knew that God provided for them and protected them even when they were forcibly dragged off to a foreign land. They knew that all that is necessary for life, God provides.
I wonder if we have that confidence. It’s easy not to trust God and spend money for that which is not bread,
and labour for that which does not satisfy? Verse 2
What are we working for? - Brand names? (Shoes) Position. Gadgets. Luxury items. Financial security. These won’t fill us if we are hungry or shelter us when it is raining. At the moment those in Ukrane are almost certainly not concerned about designer shoes or prestige motor cars.
For us, for them, for the besieged and exiled in ancient Israel and Babylon that question from the Old Testament is very powerful. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Verse 2
It is especially powerful because God in this reading invites us to a great banquet freely given and this banquet is not just for us, this wonderful blessing will be spread to all nations. “See” the reading says:
“5 ...you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,”
So that’s the Old Testament reading for today. A promise of God’s abundant provision not just for us, but for the whole world. It tells us to come and freely receive, and asks why we labour for things we don’t need especially given God’s overwhelming generosity.
This wonderful picture of God’s abundant love, a banquet for all the nations is contrasted with Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.
You’re all sinners, Jesus says and you all need to repent. No one is better or worse than anyone else.
The same fate awaits us all if we don’t repent. All of us will die. Specific sin may not lead to specific judgement, but because we are all sinners we all face the Judgement. To quote Paul “The wages of Sin is death...” If we don’t repent we will be damned.
And repentance is not just saying “I’m sorry” and it isn’t even a change in behaviour - it’s a change in life; a change from a life dedicated to ourselves and getting for ourselves that which is not bread, to a life dedicated to God and others. A tall order, even impossible but it’s a change God has done everything to make possible.
The people of Israel, the disciples and you and me are all like the fig tree.
We have been placed in the Garden watered and cared for.
Everything has been done for us- nothing else is needed for us to bear fruit!
The people of Israel believed that they were the children of the promise to Abraham, that they were rescued from slavery in Egypt, and later when they are conquered and carried off to Babylon God returns from exile and restores them to their home.
As Christians we have an even greater gift. We have the gift of Jesus. God become one of us. God who died for us. God who was raised for us. God who revealed to us that he is like a loving Father and a loyal Son who shares a perfect relationship; who shares that relationship with us as a gift.
We have been nurtured and cared for like the Fig Tree and yet some of us have not borne fruit. We taken all that we have been given and chosen to spend it on that which does not satisfy so our life and growth are stunted.
So our Old Testament reading tells us that God has so abundantly
blessed us that, that blessing like a light or a beacon will draw
the whole world to us but the New Testament suggests we have wasted
that blessing. We are like a well cared for fruit tree which does
not bear fruit. Or we are like a light hidden in a basket.
You and I are all sinners, who time and time again fail to repent and there is a warning of judgement here! Next year we may be pulled out and burnt in the fire, BUT this year God has not abandoned us.
Think about the fig tree. The owner (God) has planted it. Year
after year the owner provided for it, visited it and even after all
those years of no fruit the owner had not destroyed it. He gives it
at least one more year. Perhaps if we do not fruit next year he
will give us another year. I don’t know. God is abundant in mercy
and steadfast in love and also just. Will that mercy last forever?
Will we put God to the test and keep wasting God’s generous care
This too, was the story of the people of Israel, they did face judgement, yet time and time again God rescued them, called them back and healed them.
This was the story of the first followers of Jesus. They misunderstood him fought about who was the greatest, abandoned, betrayed and denied, him when he faced death and trial. Yet Jesus did not abandon them. From the cross he cries out “forgive them”. In the end he re-commissions them.
I believe it is your story too, (I know it’s mine) there are times when you and I are selfish and waste the blessing. When we hide our light in the basket, instead of setting it on the hill.
God is the great and just judge who will set things right and rightly condemns your sin and mine. God is also Mercy and Love
It is in this wonderful context of God’s love, Grace and forgiveness that you and I, are called to repent - to a change of Life.
This is true in the OT and the NT. God promises a Banquet big enough for the whole world and is prepared to give the Fig Tree one more year even after many years of no fruit.
So in the wonderful light of God’s mercy and love, have you heard God’s call to the banquet, Christ’s call that you should live fruitful lives, his call to turn from a life dedicated to ourselves, to a life dedicated to God. Are you ready to stop spending your money on that which is not bread and labouring for that which does not satisfy? Are you ready to turn, and be turned to him? Are you ready to shine the light, and be a beacon of hope for your community.
Take a few moments of silence now to think about your lives, God’s love and mercy and God’s desire that your lives should be fruitful.