(6) "Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. (7) 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?' (8) He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put more manure on it. (9) If it bears no fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" (NRSV).
All across England shots rang out this week. For a nation that has outlawed guns it was an emotional sound. The gunfire was especially wrenching to farmers who were forced to slaughter and burn the bodies of their cloven hoofed animals in an effort to curtail the dreaded epidemic of hoof and mouth disease. No agribusiness can afford to waste their profit. It is a financial disaster that has especially hit hard on the many small family farms of England.
Also, this week in America we have been wrenching our hands as we have helplessly watched our retirement accounts, college accounts, and life savings dwindle in the stock market decline. It has been a week of loss and not profit. That short dead end street in Lower Manhattan has hit a Wall once again. What are we to do?
We are tempted to cut our losses and sell our stocks and bury what cash that remains in a hole in the backyard. But there would be absolutely no profit in that. Or, we could seek a more secure investment with less risk; but inflation would gradually steal that away. Then we remember that unlike the poor farmers of England, at least we have some bucks above ground and we are not totally wiped out.
And now we are confronted with a story that Jesus told two-thousand years ago that seems to speak to our dilemma. What is He trying to illustrate in this tale of the unproductive fig tree?
As in farming, and in managing Microsoft or Coca-Cola, turning a profit is absolutely essential. Jesus is saying that we must apply this principle to our spiritual lives too. It seems that God did not save us just to have trophies to display. Our lives have a purpose that matters in His Kingdom. He did not plant us for shade or for beauty, but to produce fruit. And yet we sometimes have the mistaken idea that we are merely one of God's collectibles, as though He is going to call Satan in to brag about this latest acquisition that He has sitting in His display cabinet.
God is not like
the rich widow who went into the Antique business in order to show off
her things and could afford to continually lose money. God is in the
business of constantly challenging us and He calls us to become His
agents of reaching others; or you might say, we are His Kingdom's primary
profit producers; thus, we are "God's Cash Crop."
For example, the problem that many church folks have with this wonderful time of Lent is that they have turned it into an easy matter of giving up some favorite food when it's really about giving up sin and beginning to live a productive life. Giving up chocolate is not in itself a bad thing but it would be a trivial sacrifice in a world where we are bombarded by so many terminal temptations.
As we work through Lent the common thread in this week's suggested scripture readings brings us face to face with the real threats upon our spiritual lives. "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts;let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy upon them,and to our God for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7,NRSV).
"We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did...God is faithful and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength,but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:8 & 13).
"I tell you, unless you repent you will perish..." (Luke 13:5).
The purpose of this Lenten/Easter season is for us to become spiritually ready to hear a higher calling from the Risen Lord. Unless our hearts are made right Easter will be a mere outward celebration. Let us allow the Spirit to work on our souls through an intensified focus on the spiritual disciplines. "Draw close to God and he will draw close to you." (James 4:8).
And as we draw close to God, we will naturally become focused beyond our picket fences toward a world that is hurting. He has determined to give us the privilege, responsibility, and joy of becoming His ministers of grace. Aren't we glad that we are all called and chosen to fulfill His special plan? Look around at the saints we admire the most; they are all living for others. They love you, care for you, and lead you with genuine concern. Their lives reflect the joyful purpose of God's call. Their fruit production is that of sharing the love of Christ and hoping that we will produce fruit in return.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor