Sermon: Lent 3 RCL C – “Sin of the Fig Tree”

A kindergartner was practicing spelling with magnetic letters on the refrigerator: cat, dog, dad, and mom had proudly displayed for all to see. One morning while getting ready for the day, he bounded into the room with his arms outstretched. In his hands were three magnetic letters: G-O-D. “Look what I spelled, Mom!” with a proud smile on his face. “That’s wonderful!” his mom praised him. “Now go put them on the fridge so Dad can see when he gets home tonight.” The mom happily thought that her son’s religious education was certainly having an impact. Just then, a little voice called from the kitchen: “Mom? How do you spell ‘zilla’?”

No matter the age of a child, from infant to adult, I’m certain parents sometimes wonder if perhaps their child was swapped at birth. Just when you think they are finally getting it, they ask you how to spell “zilla.” Unfortunately, because God, the Father of us all, has probably looked at us in the same way, shaking his head and saying, “Oi! You were created in my image, so how did you get yourselves into this one!?”

In the time of the patriarch Abraham, God made a covenant with his people. It is found in Genesis 12:1-3, The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Last week we read about God renewing this Covenant with Abram.

This is an eternal covenant that is still in effect today. However, as all children sometimes push their parents to the edge, the children of Abraham – his descendant throughout history – also pushed God to the edge.

Yet, because the covenant with God is eternal and because the children of Abraham survived throughout history – in good times and bad – they slowly began to wrongly think that they would be saved, not because of God, but because they were the children of Abraham. For their salvation, they relied on their inheritance – who they were – and not who God is.

Into this atmosphere strolled the prophets, the last being John the Baptist. Standing on the banks of the river, John cried out to the children of Abraham, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” He is saying to them, simply being related to Abraham is not enough. You must also produce good fruit. There must be some evidence of God in your life. A rose by any other name is still a rose, but if that rose smells like a pile of dung, then it’s not coming in my house.

Paul teaches us that we, as a Christian people, have been grafted in to the family of Abraham. He wrote to the Galatians, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Like the Israelites, we are children of Abraham, and our grafting in was made possible through the new covenant, the one made in Jesus’ blood. Remember: Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Through the shed blood of Christ a new covenant was made and we stand as the children of Abraham, but if we simply rely on that grafting in, that name – “Oh, I’m a Christian. I’m covered.” – but fail to produce good fruit, then we stand the chance of being condemned for the exact same reasons as the Israelites.

That is one of the points of the parable of the fig tree that we heard in our Gospel. Jesus said, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So 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?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

When fertile soil is at a premium, which it is in that part of the world, then what is planted is expected to produced. A newly planted fig tree takes three years to produce fruit, so in the third year when this tree produced none, the owner told the gardener to pull it out. It’s no good. The gardener asked for mercy, a bit more time, but the message is clear, “Produce or be replaced.” That was the message to the Israelites and it is one we should hear as well.

One of the desert fathers said: “If a man settles in a certain place and does not bring forth the fruit of that place, the place itself cast him out, as one who has not borne its fruit.” The implication being that not only does God desire that we produce good fruit, but so does the land. It too wants to fulfill its purpose in the Father’s plan.

As a Christian person, we have time to grow in the Lord. To gain knowledge and maturity in our faith, but after a time, it is expected that we will begin producing good fruit in ourselves and in others. This is not saying that we earn our salvation – not possible – but there should be some sign of God working in us.

What are those signs? Paul provides us with a pretty good list to start with: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Jesus’ list is a bit shorter, but perhaps more difficult. It includes loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving yourself.

The sin of the fig tree was that after it had reached an age of maturity, it failed to put forth that which it was created to produce. We can be found guilty of the same thing if we fail to produce evidence of God working in us. It’s OK to still need to know how to spell Godzilla, but work to achieve a maturity in your faith that is evident through the good fruit of your life that you were created to produce.

Let us pray: God, our Father, You redeemed us and made us Your children in Christ. Through Him You have saved us from death and given us Your Divine life of grace. By becoming more like Jesus on earth, may we come to share His glory in Heaven. Give us the peace of Your kingdom, which this world does not give. By Your loving care protect the good You have given us. Open our eyes to the wonders of Your Love that we may serve You with a willing heart and produce good fruit. Amen.

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