3rd Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
“Life From Dead Trees”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 13.
My dear friends,
When Joanne and I moved to Crosslake, MN from the Seminary back in 2003 we bought a brand-new house. It was built at the end of a wooded cul-de-sac, but the soil there was pitiful. It was all sandy material that had just enough black dirt in there to sustain growth. The house was carved into a stand of predominately birch and balsam trees…until the storm hit, that is. On a Sunday morning in the spring of 2004 straight line winds hit our home like a freight train ripping tree after tree from the ground; it looked like the hand of God had literally pushed our backyard away. We cut and cut and cut dead trees; I lost count after 60 trees. Yet from the disaster came life. We seeded the newly deforested area and ended up with a really nice backyard lawn of green grass. True story.
Let’s talk about trees. Jesus begins his parable this morning, saying, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard” (v 6). Put simply, Parables are earthly stories that teach heavenly meanings. In today’s parable, God is the one with the vineyard and you – the believer in Jesus – you are the fig tree planted and living in the vineyard of God’s grace.
Like gardeners everywhere, God plants with the expectation of a harvest (who doesn’t), and in verse 6 Jesus tells us that “he came seeking fruit on it and found none.” Oops. So also in our lives, the fruit God is looking for in the life of the Christian is the fruit of repentance (Mt. 3:7–8) – the fruit that acknowledges my own sinfulness and asks God for forgiveness and strength to change/amend my sinful ways in the future.
Here’s the thing, though. Not every tree bears fruit. Like a hole left when a tree is displaced, I look around and see empty seats in the pews…spots that used to be occupied by someone whom God planted in his vineyard. I see holes where new trees could be planted.
When did the holes appear? For some it has been a month; others disappeared a year or more ago…but how many of us noticed? How many have done anything about it? Did we fail these living trees, whom God planted in the likeness of Christ’s death in the hope that they would share in his resurrection? Did you and I ever offer them the extra life-saving attention they needed to produce fruit? Did we dig around their roots and stay involved in their lives? Did any of us bring them an extra watering of the Gospel in the hope of bringing new life to dry, tired branches? Did we as a congregation give them everything they need for full, thriving, fruit-bearing life? Maybe. Maybe not. Yet that is always our hope, because the tree of Jesus’ innocent death now bears the fruit of life in all who believe.
Remember in the parable when the owner came looking for fruit? What will God find when he comes looking for some fruit in your life? Here is something to consider. Looking good isn’t good enough. In the parable, fruit is in season and the tree looks mature, but sadly, there is no actual fruit on the tree. Not a new problem. Israel thought that being one of the chosen people is good enough; “We are Abraham’s covenant descendants, we have the Temple.” But “with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5). Yet how many Christians today have a similar train of thought? How many think they can just plunk their backside down in a pew and that should be good enough?
But don’t lose heart! God is for you…not against you! God is on your side and wants you to flourish! Through Ezekiel God said, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11). It is for that reason that Jesus intervenes and intercedes on your behalf, doing everything possible to save you (Luke 13:8)! Through the Law, Jesus digs down to your roots and exposes sin. Of course He would; at the deepest level each of us has the same root problem…sin. It may be manifested differently in us all, but the root problem is still the same. But then, through the Gospel of forgiveness in all its forms, Jesus provides spiritual healing and growth and enables you to bear the fruit of repentance! Ironically, Calvary’s dead tree – the cross – bears the only life-giving fruit that is able to save you from being cut down and thrown in the burn pile.
When you stop and think about it, we’re a lot like trees. Some days we get to feel the glorious warmth of the sun on our faces. Some days we feel the bitter bite of the wind. Some appreciate our beauty, some think we’re ugly to look at. Like trees, when a problem gets way down into the roots, well, then it’s adios vineyard and hello burn pile, which is precisely what Satan wants. What winds are blowing against you today? What hole has been ripped open in your life these days? A financial hole? A relationship hole? A hole at work or home or at school? Are you standing too close to the edge of the foreboding chasm that is anxiety and doubt? Thanks be to God that Christ enables us by repentant faith to traverse those holes and bear the fruits of forgiveness from God and for neighbor. Thanks be to God that He helps us support one another when the stiff winds of life rage. Thanks be to God that He tends us in His never ending grace, love, and peace. May God find a bounteous harvest of fruit among us trees – His forever forgiven people – today and always.