3 Lent Proper C3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 13:1-9 Sermon
February 28, 2016

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
356 "Jesus Saviour Come To Me"
278 "Delay Not, Delay Not, O Sinner Draw Near"
409 "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus"
411 "From Eternity, O God"  


TEXT (vs. 6-9):  “Then [Jesus] told this parable: A man had a fig-tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'  'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig round it and fertilise it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

            I remember visiting my Aunt Florence (who’s my dad’s older sister) and Uncle Max in Costa Mesa,California some years back.  At that time, they lived in a very nice home with a lovely patio and pool area in their back yard.  It isn’t entirely cement out there however, as there are various things growing.  Near the edge of the property is a very nice looking peach tree.  Besides being an attractive tree, it grew some lovely peaches as well.  I know, because I ate from the fruit of that tree.

            I was sitting out on the patio one time I was there, and I was having a conversation with my Uncle Max, who has since passed away.  He told me a story about that peach tree, one that I found very hard to believe.  

            He said that for the longest time, they couldn’t get the peach tree to bear any fruit.  They went to the various nurseries and talked to any one of a number of professionals.  The tree was alive and healthy enough, but it just wouldn’t bear any fruit.  They tried all of the tips and tricks and chemicals they were advised to try, but it was all for naught.  Nothing ever happened with the tree.  It just kept on living like it should, but never bearing any fruit.

            Then my Aunt Florence was talking with someone one day.  The topic of the stubborn peach tree came up, and she recounted all of the sad tales of woe, and what they had tried with the tree.   

            The person to whom she was speaking listened.  And after she was done, this person told her to do something rather unorthodox.  The instructions had to be followed to the letter.  This person told her to take a baseball bat out to the tree atmidnight.  She was then to say the word “bear” and strike the trunk of the tree with the baseball bat as hard as she could.  She was to repeat this several times in a row, and then wait to see what would happen.

            As weird as it sounded, my Aunt Florence felt she had nothing to lose.  And so, she did exactly what she was told to do.  She got a baseball bat out of the garage, went out to the tree at midnight, and in her most stern commanding voice, she said the word “bear!” as she whacked the living daylights out of the tree trunk with the bat.

            You know what happened.  That year, the tree produced a bumper crop of peaches.  And they weren’t just scrawny underdeveloped ones either.  They were big and beautiful and sweet. 

            Now I can’t explain why this happened.  My Uncle Max couldn’t either.  Neither of us are arborists.  Maybe it had something to do with stimulating the sap in the tree.  Maybe everything they tried in the past suddenly started working.  Maybe it was just time for the tree to start bearing.  Maybe the tree started listening, fearing it would be cut down.  She was a school teacher, so she certainly had a commanding voice.  I have no idea.  But I do have a picture in my mind of my Aunt Florence out in her back yard atmidnightwhacking that tree with a baseball bat.  And I do know that the tree started bearing fruit after she did what she did.

            This is a story that comes to mind when I read our Gospel lesson for today.  The illustration Jesus uses describes pretty much the same situation, except the tree in Jesus’ story was a fig tree, and the gardener was going to use some more accepted forms of trying to get that tree to bear fruit.  The gardener was going to dig around it, mix some manure into the soil, and then make sure it was well watered.  The gardener in Jesus’ story was going to watch the tree carefully and give it some special TLC so perhaps it would bear fruit like it should.

            To have to cut a tree like that down would be a big waste.  It takes a period of years for a tree to grow from infancy to the point where it can be a viable fruit producer.  So to invest the time and money and energy into something that would just be cut down for firewood was to be avoided if at all possible.  But if it wouldn’t produce fruit after awhile, it would have to be cut down so that it could be replaced with something that would produce fruit.  A non-bearing fruit tree was nothing but a waste of resources.

            This fig tree in Jesus’ illustration was a metaphor for the people on this earth.  This wasn’t the first time that God used a tree metaphor either.  To understand how God’s people are to be, I’d like to share the words of Psalm 1 with you:

            “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.  For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

            Jesus most certainly would have had this Psalm in mind when he used the illustration of a fig tree which wouldn’t produce fruit.  God’s people are to be like trees that produce good fruit, it’s just that simple.  The trees that don’t produce will be cut down and discarded; or like the Psalm says, “…the way of the wicked will perish.”

            There are two very important truths that this text brings out.  First of all, God expects something out of the Christian.  He expects Christians to do good works.  He expects those who say they are Christian to act like it as well.

            There are a lot of folks out there who talk a lot of Bible talk, and who have been church members for years.  They know answers, and they can even recite numerous Bible passages.  But if they’re compared to a fruit tree, you can check their branches and the ground around them, and you can tell right away that they haven’t sprouted any fruit for years.

            Right along with this, you can find entire churches full of people who are more interested in fighting with one another, or engaging in internal power struggles, or who otherwise are looking so far inward at themselves, that there’s no chance any fruit will ever be seen.

            Jesus’ answer to this problem is to dig around the tree, fertilize it and water it.  But when it comes to some people, I think my Aunt Florence’s answer might be more appropriate.  Some people need a few good whacks from God and commanded to “bear fruit, or else!”  I guess we can be thankful that God goes about things differently than perhaps my Aunt Florence would.

            The second important truth this text brings out is the element of time.  Even though God is patient and deals lovingly with people, it won’t go on forever.  A time will come when a person’s time of grace on this earth will come to an end.  And when that happens, then the person will have to face a righteous judgment. 

             The absence of fruit indicates the absence of faith.  So the faithless are the wicked, which will be, as Psalm 1 says, "...blown away like chaff."  They will not be able to stand in the Day of Judgment, and will therefore perish eternally.  And that is not a pleasant prospect at all.

            It’s at this point that we need to put some things into proper perspective, and in consideration of our text for today, let’s start with that tree illustration. 

            God’s people are like trees.  A good tree produces good fruit naturally.  It’s something that just happens.  Apple trees and peach trees and plum trees and fig trees exist to produce their intended fruit.

            The Christian is to be like a good tree, and will produce the good fruits as they should.  Those fruits are the actions and good works that are God-pleasing.  The very fact that those fruits exist indicates that the tree is strong and healthy.

            When a Christian is strong and faithful, this is what happens.  The fruit is there.  However the fruit on the tree doesn’t make the tree healthy.  In the same way, just because someone does a few good works doesn’t make them a faithful Christian.

            That’s why we always start with the basics of faith.   Faith is something that God gives us.  We don’t create it on our own, or somehow manufacture it ourselves.  It is a gift of God the Holy Spirit.

            God is like that gardener who tends us.  He fertilizes and waters us through his Word.  When we are active in our church, we get the nourishment we need.  We gather here to be fed; and by doing so, we grow in our faith and are strengthened.  God patiently tends us and works with us so we will bear the fruit he desires.

            If we do an honest assessment of ourselves, we can see that we have not always borne the fruit God desires.  Because of our sin, somehow those fruits don’t seem too desirable to us.  In fact, we have often shunned and removed ourselves from God’s care.

            But he has rescued us.  He came and sought us when we were nothing more than brush on a pile waiting to be burnt.  When our sins had removed us from God’s garden, he found us and rescued us.  And then, he transplanted us into God’s garden so we would be fed and nourished by him. 

            God gave us faith.  He gave us the faith to know Jesus as our Saviour.  Through faith in him, our sins have been eliminated from our record.  Our past history of not bearing fruit has been erased.  Through Jesus, we have become a healthy viable tree, planted in his own garden, ready and able to produce the fruits God desires.

            Yes we have been saved.  We didn’t go seeking after Jesus, but rather he came and sought us.  And now we need to realize that we have been saved for something, for a purpose.

            Our entire lives are to be dedicated to the Lord Jesus, who loved us so much that he left heaven and came to this earth to rescue us.  Our good works, our fruits of faith are a response out of love for him.  We don’t do God’s will to earn points in heaven or to achieve glory on this earth.  Rather, our fruits are to be a natural by-product of our faith.  We do them to give God glory, and not ourselves.

            My Aunt Florence turned 97 a couple weeks ago.  She is in a nursing home, so she is no longer in the home she occupied with my Uncle Max for so many years.  She no longer can enjoy those peaches; in fact, she probably doesn't even remember the tree at all.  However, assuming that the tree is still there, whoever bought the house is enjoying the fruits of that tree.  And lacking any better explanation, one way or another, whether it was fertilization and care or whacking the living daylights out of it, her efforts were at least instrumental in getting the tree to bear. 

               Yes, thankfully God doesn’t use my Aunt Florence’s tactics that she used when her peach tree didn’t bear fruit.  God doesn’t tell us to “bear!” and whack us with a baseball bat.  What he does do however, is deal with us lovingly.  He looks after us, he fertilizes and waters us through his Word, and he exhibits an almost unimaginable amount of patience.

            In John chapter 15 verse 16 Jesus says:    “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that will last.”

            We haven’t been saved to just sit around on our hands and do nothing.  We are saved, and because of that, we are to bear the fruits of the faith that lives within us.  There is much we can do in the name of Christ and his Church.  By his help, may we always be led to show the fruits we bear to the world.