God on the Move: Over the Fence
Pastor Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: LUKE 13:1-9
1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”
My garden was hailed on 4 times last year. The first time I was home and was able to run out and cover the tiny plants with buckets and chairs and they survived. The second time I was not home and the storm came so fast and strong that my family could not get out there in time. When I got home my husband didn’t especially want me to go out and look, because he already had…. I stood in the garden and cried over the shredded leaves and stems.
There was one small hope that the strawberries were saved by the mesh net he had put over them to keep the birds out. My loving, patient husband, promptly replaced the netting as I tried to coax the other plants back to life. The next two storms pretty much did the garden in. We had strawberries and raspberries but the new small apples on the young tree and the cherries next to them simply fell to the ground unripe. While the tears were shed, the small fruits we did have were very much appreciated. We didn’t cover the garden with concrete but instead researched ways to have boxes with netting and slats to have a better year this year, come rain, sun or hail. There is still a spark of hope that gardening is something that just maybe we can still do.
This spark of hope is like our text today where the gardner who will not give up on that fig tree quite yet. The gardner is not busy looking over the fence at the neighbor’s yard but focused on the growth, the hope, the care for the tree that lives in her space and time. Why, we may ask, is this story here.. In the middle of Luke.. .in the middle of Jesus telling stories of judgement and in the middle of Lent making our way through the stories that will lead us to the cross. As we walk through Lent, we are lead by still waters yes, but we are also lead through the reality of storms. Perhaps it is as simple as Hail comes and goes and the gardner continues to persist in the midst of it all.
In the beginning of the passages we read today we may think of that line, the grass is greener on the other side. Here is a text about comparison of sins. Those gentiles, aren’t they worse sinners than us the people ask… what is my life like compared to my neighbor… my father…. My sister… my friends… Are the sins of those killed in tragedy worse than ours? What did the people who died in Christchurch do to deserve that death? How can I make sure my sin is not the sin that brings down the wrath of God? These and others are question of comparison that can run through our minds, race really, around and around a track that has no end. And when we are in time of struggle, it can feel like a weight too heavy to lift.
And what does Jesus tell us here… well in biblical terms, I believe Jesus is saying stop it. Stop comparing. Stop believing the events in your life are better or worse than others. Stop believing the voices that tell you God is creating destruction. Stop looking over the fence and trying to figure out the growth and nurture of plants that are not yours and instead, remember the grace that comes through God in waiting patiently for trees to grow and produce fruit. That grace is the same for you… and for your neighbor. We all have sin, struggle, pain and hurt in our backyard. Yes, we all have sin and that sin is not about comparing and seeing who comes out on top…or on bottom. That sin is about how it changes us, how it affects our inner and outer lives, and how we live in the midst of it. We would love to say one sin is worse than another, and in our human ways we do. In our laws and our courts there is sin that is punished much more severely than other sin, as it should be. Yet here in this text, it is clear, that none of us escapes it. No one is clean, no one is above it all, no one is more deserving or less deserving than another of judgement.
And, Jesus says, it is is the same with grace. Just as we all have sin in our backyards, we also all have the gift of love to focus in on the nurturing that is within our own yard, within in our own sight and touch and ability to make a difference. Just like the gardner continues to wait and watch and nurture and beg for time with the fig tree, Jesus, is on our behalf, saying just a bit more time, just a bit more love, just a bit more blessing and promise in wine, bread, and water.
As I stood in the garden and cried, I was not just crying over shredded green leaves. I was remembering the hours and hours in the dirt, the coaxing of growth through sun, water, and time… the love of my children helping me plant on mother’s day, and the grace of my husband to dig up the weeds that were too deep and strong for me. The garden to me was not just seeds and leaves, it is an act of love and connection within our home and our community. The produce from the garden in past years was used to make meals for friends and family, make gifts for colleagues and neighbors, used to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to the food bank and communities in need. The garden we tend is not miraculous and is does not feed thousands, but it is a piece of feeding of and nurturing and those in my yard and that is enough.
Your life. Your family and friends. Your work and play. Your community. Your connection to God is not trivial and it is not dismissed as too sinful or less than or more than another. All of who you are and who we are together is tended to, loved, and held in grace. Yes, we are called to come to God with our sins, our troubles, our worries and our pain. Yes we are called to respond to the world in need around us and to especially tend and care for all that is falls into our yards. And yes, the promise is that when the hails come God will stand in that garden and cry with us. When the sun shines, Jesus will call us to bring light. When we open our lives to all that we can see from our own place, the Holy Spirit will bring love, hands, and promise of all the things in our lives being firmly planted in the soil of God’s grace. And this too is enough.