“Making Change” Luke 13:1-9
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Third Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2016
How many of you get your car checked out when the “Check Engine” light comes on? If you are like me, you notice it and begin to worry what could be wrong. But you keep on driving, thinking of how expensive it will be to even get it checked. After a while, you have convinced yourself that the light has malfunctioned and the car is running just fine. Have you ever tried this approach? Can you ignore it? As one car repair shop says on their website , “The short answer is yes, you can certainly take a black marker, color your check engine light in and forget about it. But is this in your best interest? It’s understandable that time and money are of the greatest concern when it comes to auto repair. But think about this: you can drop your car off for a day and pay $200 now or drive with a check engine light on and end up spending twice as much time and money later.
In our text this morning, Jesus tells a story about the dangers of ignoring the check engine light God had been giving on the dashboard of their lives. He obviously couldn’t use a check engine light as an example, so he picked a fig tree, perhaps because there was one nearby that would serve as a handy visual aid. He begins his story with a man who must have either loved eating figs or who knew that other people around him did whom he could sell them to and make a profit. Whatever the case, he has one of his gardeners plant a fig tree. Three years later, he comes back to check on it, only to find that it is has not produced any figs. It was still alive but fruitless. Frustrated at its apparent sterility, the man tells his gardner to just cut it down. Its a dud. Its been three years and this tree has done nothing but take up space and resources. The gardener intervenes and asks the man for another chance, “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.”(18-19) And that’s all folks. That’s where Jesus ended the story. But that’s not where the story ended. For some of the people there listening to this story, they got it and could see themselves in that tree. Others no doubt stood there waiting for the rest of it, unable or unwilling to find themselves in the story.
I wonder which of these camps we are in today as we hear this story. I would like to think that I would be one who got it and who felt not only the grace of another chance, but also the sense of urgency about the fruit that must be borne in my life before time runs out. I know there have been plenty of times I heard the warning, felt the urgency, but still did not do what was necessary to be prepared for time of accountability. I’m thinking your responses have been similar, as we all tend to know the anguish of pending accountability for a deadline, the relief of another chance and more time, and the feel of the familiar rut of procrastination that got you into trouble the first time, the one you so easily slip right back into. But that’s not how Jesus wants the story to end for us. He doesn’t want us to waste our lives and perish in our unfruitfulness. So what can we do?
How about getting your hands dirty? Making your life productive for God in this world sometimes requires of you to chip away at the hardness of the soil in your life, to scrape off the debris that prevents growth and makes it malnourished. It means that you will need to remove the impediments of sin that rob your life of the nutrients it must have to be healthy and grow. You will need to add good stuff to the soil of your life, which first requires removing the bad stuff. That’s one thing we do during Lent, getting our hands on the things that aren’t doing us any good and getting them out of the way. Jesus called that kind of work repentance and its what we all need to do these days.
I also believe the answer to bearing fruit with our lives is a pile of . . . Yes, that’s right. I could have said it more graphically, but you get the point. Once we get all of the impediments to growth out of the way, we are ready for an additive. Its the manure that is going to make the difference. Its the waste of life that will ironically produce growth; the decay that will bring forth life, the loss that will result in gain, and the ugly that will become beautiful. That’s what the gardener knows will happen. And that’s what Jesus knows will happen when we do what is necessary to turn things over and around in our lives. Its what happens when we allow God to take the waste of our lives and turn it into growth.
One of the movies up for an Oscar tonight is Martian. It is about an astronaut who gets left on Mars when his crew leaves after they think he is dead after a terrible storm hits their outpost on the planet. The rest of the movie is about his—and the world’s—realization that he is still alive but has a limited amount of time before his food and resources are used up. There is no food source on this uninhabited and inhospitable planet, but he comes up with an idea of taking some of his remaining potatoes and plants them, with soil from Mars and water from his tanks. What makes the seeds grow, however, is human waste. His experiment works and produces an abundant crop of Martian potatoes. His awareness of the looming threat of dying of hunger caused him to make life-saving changes.
On this third Sunday of Lent, are you willing to make the necessary changes in your life to become the fruitful creation God has intended for your life? Are you ready to do more than just take up space and use up resources until your time runs out? “Unless you repent . . . ” is for our crowd here today as well. The words of Jesus inform us that the day of accountability is coming; that the owner of the vineyard is on his way; that our days are indeed numbered. Now is the time to allow God to redeem the waste of our unfruitfulness to bring the kind of fruitful harvest our world is missing.
[Audio of the sermon is here]