St. Mary Nanoose Bay
March 24, 2019
Have you ever noticed that people usually blame God when life is challenging but rarely credit God when things are going well? For example, how often do you hear someone say, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” when the doctor delivers bad news. Well, I’ve heard that more than once. You?
But how often have you heard the same words spoken when something wonderful happens to someone like finding the love of their life, or learning about the arrival of a new grandchild - “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” I rarely hear this. Yet for most people there are both wonderful and challenging aspects to their lives. But the attention often goes that which troubles or challenges.
So, in fairness, or in sanity, we either have to give credit to God for everything, or for nothing. Because if we are going to imagine God as a God who doles out reward and punishment, then we end up judging all our experiences in life as good or bad and in this black and white paradigm, we are not free because we become obsessed with pleasing God to avoid punishment.
In judging events in our lives as “good” or “bad” or ourselves as deserving or undeserving, we assume that we know what God is up to. Listen to the lines from our reading from Isaiah this morning - “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.,” and, “my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(Is 55:8-9)
In last Sunday’s sermon I talked about there being 3 kinds of business: Mine, Yours and God’s. Carrying this idea forward then, in judging our experiences as - “What did I do to deserve this?”” - we are definitely getting involved in God’s business. We are trying to figure out why something is happening, and then judging the part of what we can grasp as fully good or bad, as deserved or undeserved, as unfair or just.
Trying to understand God’s thoughts and ways can be interesting – that’s what theologians like to do – but ultimately, what gives us any traction in life is our response to God - to the fact that we have been given life, and how we choose to live that life, is the only thing we have any modicum of control over. Stuff comes at us all the time, stuff we planned for, stuff that we never expected, stuff we like, stuff we dread, stuff that confuses us, stuff that delights us.
We can receive the stuff of life and work with it, or we can let it bowl us over. And realistically, at different times and places, we do both. And our call as followers of Jesus is to learn how to find the peace of Christ in every situation, to embody and express the love of God regardless of what is happening in our lives.
The gospel reading today is all about this. Jesus is using the current events of the day to talk about where to put our focus needs to be. He refers to two horrible incidents: one involves the governor Pilate who mixes the blood of some Galileans into their sacrificial offerings; the other, a natural disaster where a building collapses and kills eighteen people. Sounds like a newscast you might see today where innocent people are slaughtered at prayer, and where a poorly constructed school building collapses and kills dozens of young children. Jesus asks, “Do you think any of these people deserved to suffer or die in this way?” Of course not. In other words, this is not a helpful question. There is completely different question to ask. We know this because Jesus goes on to tell a parable, a story that points to this other question. His parable is about a man who has a fig tree planted in the middle of his vineyard. The fig tree is healthy but after 3 years, it still does not bear fruit. The vineyard owner tells his gardener, “Cut it down, it’s not productive, it is not worth anything, it is taking up space and using up good soil” – in other words, “get rid of it.” The gardener defends the fig tree. “Give it some more time, let me tend to it, nurture it, I’ll add compost, let’s not give up on it.”
The vineyard owner relents, “Fine, do what you can, but next year, if there’s no fruit, cut it down.”
Why does Jesus tell this story after the talk earlier about disasters; about people being cut down in the middle of their lives? What is he saying?
Well, for one thing life is fragile. Life will end. That much is sure. How our life will end is not ours to know. No one deserves to die. Put simply, death is part of life.
So instead of focusing on death, Jesus wants us to think about our lives. Because there is life, and then there is life. There are people who simply take up space. Not sharing the fruits of their lives; not taking what they’ve been given and sharing it with others – their gifts, their talents, their resources, their love. There is life where one is simply breathing, eating, sleeping and waking up, and there is life where those functions support an expression of wonderful and amazing things. A way of being and responding that enhances and supports life.
Today, Jesus is asking us to focus on our lives. Not judging or worrying about external events or people, but fully receiving what we’ve been given and responding by being generous, by bearing fruit, by making the world a better place by our having been here for the time we are given, however long that may or may not be.
Life is fragile, fleeting. How do we make the most of it? What do we need to flourish?
The gardener tells the vineyard owner, “I will nurture that tree, dig around it, put fertilizer on it.” In other words, the gardener, whom we might call God, wants to nurture and bring to life that which is meant to bear fruit.
Are we willing to let God nurture us, bring us to life, help us bear fruit?
This is where Jesus is reminding us that our attention needs to be. Not on whether we deserve or don’t deserve the place and circumstances of our lives. That line of thinking is not helpful or fruitful.
So what do we need in order to bear fruit? Is it more time in prayer, more involvement in the community, more rest, more exercise, more joy, more time with friends, more study, less effort, more peace, more growth? What is it that we need? What do we need to do to absorb and then express God’s nurturing love?
We will all perish, this much we know. But how will we die? With a life well-lived? Leaving behind a legacy of love? Having born fruit? Leaving the seeds of love to flourish when we’re gone?
Gardener God, you are so patient with us; wanting to nurture and support our growth. Help us bring to fruit the seeds you have planted so deep within us. Help us respond to your gift of life with love.