07 March 2010

Lent 3 C – Bearing Fruit.

Luke 13: 1-9

7 March 2010

St. Luke’s Burlington

There is a short story about the Fig Tree written by Edward Hays and included in his book “The Ethiopian Tattoo Shop” (Forest of Peace Publishing, Leavenworth KS, 1983) It goes like this:

After the owner of the garden has agreed to one more year, the gardener puts manure around the fig tree. The tree holds her head up as high as she can because she doesn't like the smell. The gardener begins talking to her about vocation, "Everyone and everything that lives has a vocation. It's the calling to be yourself."

The fig tree doesn't want to be herself because she thinks that being "only" a fig tree isn't very exciting. She's been trying to be an apple tree for years, but to no avail. "She even went to college and took all the courses necessary to become a pear tree, but no pears appeared. So she then resorted to taking a home correspondence course entitled, 'How to be a Banana Tree.'" All that has grown on her is frustration and the fruits of failure.

The gardener tells her that a job is a task, but a vocation comes from your very roots. And in her roots she is a fig tree.

HE tells her she can be "creative in the truest way by living out the

mystery of [her] 'figtreeness'". She will then "become not only something special but also something sacred!" HE tells her, "By responding to the challenge to become yourself you will find yourself in the presence of the real mystery‑‑God. However, both life and God will escape you if you attempt to be what you are not intended to be. And remember, you have only one more year...."

The fig tree wants to become like an animal and run away ‑‑ become a travelling tree, which would make her *special*. The gardener tells her that if she would only listen to what's in her roots, she would become the most special, creative and lovely tree in all the world.

When she asks "what's down there?", he replies that down there in her roots are her dreams, history, passions, desires and other mysteries such as memories of who she was even before she was a fig tree.

The tree thinks this is great, but how can she think with such a terrible smell everywhere?

The gardener replies, "I have surrounded you with manure. I realize that it's not the most pleasant of perfumes, but it is one of the 'real' smells of life. Your life, mine‑‑everyone's‑‑has its share of crap. We all prefer to get rid of it as soon as possible. But we have to learn to live with it if we wish to grow. You, like all of us, must be willing to live with the manure of defeat, mistakes, failures, sickness, pain, suffering and even sin. These are the fertilizers of life. They are really the stuff that enables you to grow, to get in touch with strengths you never knew you had. Yes, my young friend, manure is an essential companion for those who wish to be fully mature."

The fig tree ponders, but doesn't think her pain & frustration have helped her to grow into anything but a failure.

The gardener quotes e.e. cummings: "'To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, day and night, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.'" He tells her she's not a human being, but that doesn't matter.

The tree says she's BEEN fighting to be *special*, not "everybody".

"'But,' answered the gardener, 'that doesn't mean becoming a hybrid or having some graft done; it means being *nobody but yourself*. The source of what you desire is to be honest to your roots ‑‑ honest regardless of the struggle.'"

The fig tree is silent while she is thinking clearly for the first time in years. She decides she was fighting for the wrong thing, trying to be novel instead of creative. She decides to put all her energy into letting whatever is down in her roots flow upward and bloom on her branches and mature into ripe fruit.

As the gardener gathers his tools in the evening & prepares to leave, he stops by the fig tree and asks, "Well, my friend?"

"Taking a deep breath, she rose to the fullness of her height and said in a voice loud enough for all the trees in the orchard to hear, 'I think I'll be a Fig Tree!'"

Two thousand years ago, when Jesus walked this earth the common assumption which people had about tragedy and disaster was that it was in some way a punishment for sin. In the opening verses of today’s Gospel lesson , before the fig tree story, they ask Jesus about why The Galileans were killed by Herod in the very act of going to the temple to worship.

They seem to want some kind of assurance that somehow there was a reason for this to happen to them. Perhaps, they might have thought, they were revolutionaries, or they did something to deserve this. Jesus gives them no such assurance. In fact he stirs up their fear even more by giving them the example of another tragedy where 18 people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. These people seemed to be killed just because they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In both cases, when people want some kind of reason, Jesus says, “No.” and doesn’t give any reason.

Instead Jesus seems to be saying that these people who are asking him people are focused on the wrong thing. It isn’t about wondering what those people did wrong: instead it is about focusing on what you can do right.

We might think that we are ever so much more enlightened than the people in Jesus’ time, but most people still seem to ask the “why” question when confronted with tragedy. There seems to be a need to make sense of the tragedy. What did they do? What did I do to deserve this? What did she do? There seems to be a need to make sense of the tragedy. This is so strong that the Evangelist, Pat Robinson, in response to the earthquake in Haiti, said that it was God’s punishment for a apparently corporate sin of there being Voodoo in that land. Mr. Robinson should read his Bible. Jesus doesn’t give a rationale for tragedy.

Instead, he tells the story of the fig tree. Jesus seems to be saying that there is no punishment or reason here for these tragedies. Death happens. It will happen to each one of us. What we need to be focused on is how to live. We were created to bear fruit. That’s what we’re for.

During this season of Lent, ask yourself the question: How can I live more fully into the dream God has for me? Living in this way, you will bear much fruit, and you will be filled with the joy of living, and for the glory of God. Amen.

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