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AUDIO and TEXT of Sermon Preached 3/3/13- "Wasting Dirt"

click here for AUDIO

 

Sermon Preached by

The Rev. Fulton Porter, III

 The Third Sunday in Lent

March 3, 2013

at

St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Luke 13:1-9

 

Wasting Dirt

 

In the name of God the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen.

 

Journey with me if you will to Statesville Prison where the worst offenders of the law who have committed the most heinous and inhumane crimes are kept.  Among society’s worst, search out those who are the most vile and repulsive, those who will do or say anything, to or about anyone, without flinching, without remorse, without regret or without repentance.  Search out those individuals who have no respect for self, life, morality of God; whose philosophy is violence and whose creed is “I’m gonna get mine.”  They are so ensconced in evil that they are violent and wicked to the core.  It’s hard to imagine that these persons were ever babies with as much potential for good as for evil, and for greatness as well as disgrace.

 

It’s hard to imagine Adolf Hitler or Bull Connor or Jeffrey Dalmer or Sadaam Hussein or the drug lords of this era as tiny babies, needing their diapers changed and tears wiped from their faces.  It is hard to imagine them as needing the warmth of a mother and needing to be held and cuddled just like any other baby.  Lives that have become sour did not show up on the earth as the disgrace that they have become.  Lives that bear no fruit but bitter barrenness didn’t just show up.  They were once seeds.  They were once seeds bearing much potential to grow into a tree bearing much good fruit.  They started out innocently as some mother’s child or some father’s daughter or son.  She didn’t start out as a crack head.  He didn’t start out as a murderer.  She didn’t start out as a liar or a thief.  He didn’t start out as an abuser.

 

Lest we forget that every criminal, everyone we consider a waste of humanity is also a creation of God, planted as a choice seed to become a flowering and fruitful tree.  How then does it happen that it becomes a tree which bears no fruit?  What happened to life in any of us that turn from God’s divine creation to a disgraced creature?  What happens in school that turns some of our children from the road of tall and strong trees with figs of potential weighing each branch to the ground to dry and barren trees?  What happens in our careers to turn some of us to barren trees?  What happens in the church that turns some members into wild and fruitless trees?  What happens in the ministry that turns some of us into barren trees; Priests of God with no soul at all?

 

Somebody wants to know what happened in my home to turn my children into seedlings which appear to be barren, bearing no fruit at all.  Somebody wants to know what happened to turn my marriage into a barren tree after there had been so much potential.  How did this relationship that held so much promise go sour?  How did this fig tree bear no fruit?  It was planted in good faith, a seed with all the potential to be what the creator wanted it to be.  It has grown but its leaves are anemic, its roots are unsteady, its branches are withering, it has no fruit.  And I hear the echo’s of the orchard owner asking the crucial question: “Why should it be wasting the soil?”

 

This is the crucial question of our lives today, lives with the divine seed of God’s potential.  Are we but wasting dirt?  Are our lives a waste of good dirt that could be used to plant something else?

 

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, poses in his parable that question.  He was speaking to a people who had become fruitless after having a history which demonstrated God’s divine favor.  No other nation could claim a heritage like the nation of Israel, God’s covenant people.  No other nation could trace their deliverance from slavery and from their enemies to the direct, observable and identifiable miraculous hand of God.  No other nation had observed as many miracles in history.  What other nation could say that when they were slaves that the water of the land of their bondage became blood or the ashes became boils upon the skin of their captors or the first born of their oppressors were mysteriously slain in one night while death passed over all the homes of all doorposts that were covered with lamb’s blood.  What other nation could boast of having the sea open up before them so that they could cross over on dry land, and then watch as the sea closed upon those who were chasing them?  What other nation could boast of being led in the desert darkness with a pillar of fire by night?  What other nation could boast of being fed with manna rained down from heaven when they were hungry and water running from a rock when they were thirsty?  What other nation could boast that they had received their law not from any congress or parliament but from the fiery finger of God on tablets of stone?  What other nation could boast of military conquests gained simply by marching around the walls of a great city until it fell down flat?

 

God is like some of us parents.  Some of us have given our children everything, yet it seems that they are bearing no fruit.  We have sent our children to the best schools and given them opportunities to broaden their horizons and explore the world, yet there are no figs on the vine.  Some of us, because of our own struggles have tried to make life for our children as easy as possible.  All they have to do is walk around the walls and they will come falling flat to the ground!  We have provided them with everything that they needed and even that they wanted, yet the tree has not borne any fruit.  Unproductive lives, bearing no fruit.

 

The parable of the fruitless fig tree is symbolic of Israel. God's expectations that the people God had chosen would be fruitful and productive were unfulfilled. His Jerusalem had a reputation for killing the prophets, and the people of the covenant had fallen to testing God and playing mental games of self-righteousness, rather than respecting and obeying the Lord.  They had been settled into a land that flowed with milk and honey.  They had been protected and watch over by the same God who placed the stars in the midnight sky.  They had been planted a tree with all the potential of bearing fruit, but they had somehow become a barren and fruitless people, wasting dirt.  The nation founded on and by and through faith had become a faithless people, reflecting nothing distinctive in either its moral or political life.  It is like the Republican Party which claims to be the moral pulse of this nation and the party of “family values” who each day has unfolded and proven itself to be just like the rest of us. We find this week that even Newt Gingrich, the former high priest and potentate of moral authority, has even sinned and come short.

 

When we read the history of Israel we understand that there were a number of things that drew it away from the fruitfulness that God had planned for it:  David’s own sins that kept him from exercising proper discipline and authority in his own household; Solomon’s apostasy; the rebellion under Rehoboam and the split of God’s people into separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah; even a series of rulers whose god was their ambition and not the Lord.

 

This degeneration of God’s people did not happen overnight.   But it happened over time.  We do not move from good to evil of fruitful to fruitless overnight.  It is a process that takes time.  Some of us who want to loose weight think that we can diet for a couple of weeks and take off the pounds, and then when we don’t see a dramatic change, we become discouraged.  We’ve got to understand that we can’t lose weight in a week when we have spent years putting it on.  It is a process and a lifestyle change, and it takes time.

 

Marriages and relationships don’t soar overnight, but it takes time.  We don’t build loving and lasting relationships overnight, but we build them over time.  Changes in our sinful lifestyles and behaviors and to our characters take time.  Living in holiness and righteousness to overcome our sinful nature takes time.  Our character cannot be built in a day.  It takes time.  The body does not breakdown overnight, but it takes time.  Health is not recovered overnight, but it takes time.  Skills are not mastered and knowledge is not gained overnight, but it takes time.  Wisdom and experience are not gained overnight, but it takes time.  We don’t become mean and bitter, negative and cynical, selfish and self-centered overnight, it happens over time.  Neither do we develop sweetness and cheerfulness and generosity and unselfishness and positive attitudes overnight, but over time.  We don’t lose our souls, our values, our perspectives and our integrity overnight, but it happens over time.  Neither do we regain a sense of purpose or self respect or confidence or closeness to God overnight, but over time.

 

We stopped doing all the things that we should do over time, not overnight.  Here is the problem.  Did we allow some disappointments to turn our heads?  Did we allow circumstances to change our convictions?  Did someone hurt us and cause us to get off track and forget the fruit that we must produce?  Have we even been mad at God?  Have we been disappointed with God, a God who keeps on blessing us even though he has every right to be disappointed with us?

 

And this is why Jesus tells us today in Luke’s gospel that he needs a little time.  He needs a little time to work on us and cultivate us.  Jesus depicts his own ministry in the parable. God (the owner) has repeatedly looked to Israel and has been frustrated each time, and is now ready to do away with them. The vine dresser (Jesus) appeals to the owner to let him try for a year (the period of his ministry in the Synoptic Gospels) to make the tree respond.   Jesus is all that stands between the wrath of God and Israel.  This shows clearly how Christ is the advocate for sinners, the mediator between God and humanity. It also shows that God's patience is not to be taken for granted; while God is longsuffering, God still is the judge of all.

 

And so Jesus, our gardener, has pleaded on behalf of all of us just wasting dirt, for one more chance, a little more time.  And sometimes, just sometimes, as we are lamenting our circumstances, we must understand that in order for us to grow and bear fruit, sometimes God has to put us in more dirt.  What I mean to say is that God has to allow us to go through some mess and dig up the dirt around us and be surrounded by the manure of life so that he can cultivate us into trees that bear much fruit.  It is not until we have experienced the dirt or life that we can grow into trees that bear fruit for the kingdom.

 

That is why I say to you today, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I implore you, not to waste dirt.

Those challenges and problems and ugly things that you must face, meet them with God.  The dirt that you must face, the betrayal, the backbiting, the past hurts, the present disappointments, face all this dirt with God, for it is meant to cultivate you into God’s productive tree, bearing much fruit.

 

And so there is a word of hope today.  For all those whose leaves have dried up and whose branches have withered, there is hope.  No matter how much we have fallen, how much we have failed and erred, we can be redeemed.  God does not give up on the tree, neither does God cease being a good god because we have stopped producing the fruit that he intended.  Instead, God performs a divine drafting procedure.  When two plants are grafted, they are cut so that their cells are exposed and they are joined together so that they grow into each other and become one.  The two plants cannot be grafted together unless they are both wounded.

 

Glory be to God that on Calvary, Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities!  Glory be to God that when he was speared in the side, the blood of redemption and waters of cleansing flowed from him!  Glory be to God that when we bring our wounded lives and our dirt to him, it can never be wasted; when we bring our broken hearts and our contrite spirits and our need to him mingled with our desire to do better, we become grafted to Jesus and our character is replaced with his!  Glory be to God that our fruitless nature can be turned into a harvest of joy!

 

And I can hear the voice of Jesus say:  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

 

Amen.

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