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Luke 13_1-9

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TITLE:  Manure at Your Feet  SCRIPTURE:  Luke 13:1-9

SERMON:   

Things change!  During the Great Depression, people suffered.  Stocks and bonds became worthless.  Jobs disappeared.  Banks failed –– but often, before failing, they foreclosed on people's homes and farms. 

In the Midwest, the Dust Bowl years struck during the Depression.  The rain stopped –– and the wind blew –– and the dust flew –– and nothing grew.  Farmer's by the thousands packed up what few belongings they could cram into their old cars and headed for California.  Californians called them Okies and treated them like dirt. 

Whose fault was it?  Whose fault was it that businesses failed –– and banks failed –– and farms failed –– and hard-working people were suddenly cast into poverty.  In those days, people tended to blame themselves. 

There was some justification for that –– for blaming themselves.  Stocks and bonds failed, in part, because of rampant speculation.  As stocks kept going up, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.  They paid higher and higher prices for stocks.  They paid too much and borrowed too much on the assumption that they could pay back the money when they became rich.

There was some justification for farmers blaming themselves too.  They plowed ground that should have been left in pasture.  They did other things that degraded the soil. 

But there were things that weren't their fault too.  Lots of hard-working people lost their jobs –– people who had never speculated in stocks or borrowed money.  A few months of unemployment was all it took to move them from middle-class to poverty. 

And the farmers couldn't be blamed for the rain stopping.  Sometimes that happens. 

But I started by saying that things change, and they do.  If those people were too quick to blame themselves, we are often too quick to blame someone else.  If we lose our job, we are likely to blame our boss.  If all of us lose our jobs, we are likely to blame the president.  It must be someone else –– not us –– who is at fault!

So who really is to blame when things go wrong?  I suppose that there is plenty of blame to go around.  It might help if we would try to find a middle ground where we could accept responsibility for the things that we did wrong and demand accountability from our public officials when they do something wrong.

It was this sort of "blame" question that people were presenting to Jesus in our Gospel lesson today.  Some Galileans had been offering animal sacrifices in the temple, and Pilate's soldiers had killed them.  We don't know why that happened, but the blood of the people was spilled onto the floor where it mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.  The people who told Jesus about this wanted to know why it happened.  Were these Galileans worse sinners than other people?  That must be it!  They must have done something terrible to have died so horribly!  But Jesus didn't agree.  He said:

     "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did."

What Jesus was really saying is that there is some randomness with regard to suffering.  Sometimes good people suffer just like bad people.  The story of Job comes to mind.  Job was a righteous man, but he lost big time ––lost his wealth –– lost his family.  His body was covered with boils. 

So Jesus was saying that the Galileans who died weren't necessarily any worse than anyone else.  But then he went on to say:

     "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did."

That was a very pastoral thing to do.  Jesus knew that it wouldn't do these people any good to worry about the Galileans.  There was nothing to be done for the Galileans.  They were dead. 

No, what these people needed was to focus on their own lives–– on their own behavior –– on their own faith.  They could change those things.  They could head off disaster in their own lives.  That's what they needed to be doing.

Then Jesus brought up another incident.  The tower of Siloam had fallen and killed eighteen people.  Were they worse than other people?  Jesus said:

     "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did."

In other words, stop trying to figure out what someone else did wrong and start trying to correct the errors in your own life.  Repent!  Turn yourself to the right direction!  Start living the way that God would have you live.  You don't have control over the lives of other people, but you do have control over your own life.  That's where you need to focus.

And then Jesus told them a story –– a parable.  The parable has two people in it –– two people and a fig tree.  One person is a landowner.  The other is his gardener. 

The landowner has the gardener plant a fig tree, and the gardener does so.  The landowner comes back periodically to check on the fig tree.  When three years have passed, the landowner loses patience because the tree has produced no fruit.  He says to the gardener, "Cut it down!  Why should it be wasting the soil?"

But he might as well have driven a stake through the gardener's heart.  The gardener planted the fig tree.  He fertilized it and watered it and watched it grow.  That tree was his "baby."  He kept watching for fruit, and was surely disappointed when he saw none.  But he just knew that next year would be the one. 

But he was too smart to tell the landowner how he loved that tree.  Instead, he spoke a language the landowner could understand.  He said:

"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 it not, you can cut it down."

So what do you think?  Will that gardener take good care of that tree during the next year?  You bet he will!  He will dig around it so the water soaks in.  He will fertilize it.  He will carry water to it during the dry season.  He might even pray for it.  If there is any hope for that tree, that gardener will bring fruit to its branches before the year is out.

But he knows that the landowner won't put up with an unproductive tree forever.  And so he says:

  "If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but it not, you can cut it down."

When I studied this parable, I was intrigued by this question:  Which one of these men represents God?  Is the landowner God?  In most parables of this sort, the landowner would be God.  But in this parable, it isn't the landowner but the gardener who has God's compassion.  I came away from the parable with the impression that both the landowner and the gardener represent God –– represent the two sides of God –– one side wanting justice and the other wanting mercy –– one side wanting to punish the sinner and the other wanting to save the sinner.

The parable gave me a good feeling.  It gave me the feeling that God is up there rooting for us.  No matter how bad we are, God is trying to give us another chance ––another opportunity to turn our lives in the right direction –– another opportunity to begin a life of faith –– another opportunity to take his hand and to allow him to guide us.

I really like that, because I need another chance –– and I suspect that you do too.  We aren't what we ought to be.  We have done the things that we ought not to have done and we have failed to do the things that we should have done.  We have failed the Lord day by day, and one side of the Lord is itching to slam the door on us so that he can turn his attention to someone else –– someone better.

But the Lord can't quite do it, because he has another side –– a softer side.  The Lord loves us.  The Lord is up there rooting for us.  He wants us to succeed –– to lead productive lives of faith.  He wants to help us to become fit for the kingdom. 

You can be sure that, during this coming year, the Lord will be digging the soil around your feet.  He will be piling manure at your feet.  He will be hauling water to you during the dry season.  He will be doing everything for you that anyone could possibly do.

That won't always be pleasant for you.  The digging around your feet will disturb your comfort level.  The manure around your feet will stink. 

But some of it will be pleasant.  You will welcome the water that the Lord brings during the dry season. 

And then it will be up to you.  You can keep going in the direction you have been going, or you can let the Lord guide you in a new direction.  You can keep on being who you are, or you can let the Lord help you become the person he wants you to be. 

There are three parts to our Gospel lesson –– the part about the Galileans who were killed as they gave their offerings in the temple –– the part about the eighteen people who were killed in the collapse of the tower –– and the parable of the unproductive fig tree. 

In all three parts, Jesus calls us to look at our lives –– to examine ourselves –– to see where we are in accord with God's will and where we are not.  Then he calls us to repent –– to be sorry enough for our sins that we begin to change –– that we begin to let God lead us in a new direction.  How we respond is literally a matter of life and death.

God is rooting for you.  God will be doing everything he can for you over the coming year.  Pray to him.  Listen to him.  Take his hand and let him guide you.  Let him redeem your life and make something wonderful of it.  If you will do that, you will be happily surprised to learn what a wonderful thing it is to be blessed by the Lord.  Amen.

Amazing Grace (BH #330; CH #546; CO #447; CP #352; GC #612; JS #460; LBW #448; LW #509; PH #280; TH #671; TNCH #547, 548; UMH #378; VU #266; WR #422)

Just as I Am, Without One Plea (BH #303 & #307; CH #339; CP #615; LBW #296; LW #359; PH #370; TH #693; TNCH #207; UMH #357; VU #508; WR #354)

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