Creekside Church
Sermon of February 28, 2016

"My Share"
Isaiah 55:10-11 and Luke 13:1-9

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! You’ve heard scripture reading from both the Old and the New Testament this morning. The passage from Isaiah 55 is one of my favorites -- in part because of the musical setting by Pepper Choplin which the choir sang this morning. It’s one of our favorite anthems. And while we here in Northern Indiana are not always grateful for the snow which falls from heaven, freezing on our cars, making the roads slippery, and snarling up school and meeting schedules, it’s clear that in a desert climate like the Mid-East, rain and snow are good things. Rain and snow are the difference between crops which flourish or drought and starvation. The meaning of our text from Luke is less obvious, and I don’t know of any great choir anthems about putting manure around trees. Our opportunity today is to put these texts in conversation with one another: why were they paired together in the lectionary? What do they have to say about each other, and what do they have to say to us today?

I’d like to begin with the passage from Luke 13. One of the first, and the simplest, things to do when confronted with a puzzling passage of scripture is to put it into a larger context; that is, to read what comes before or afterward. These stories and parables weren’t originally written divided by chapters and verses, and sometimes there are concepts which are being developed throughout an entire chapter or even an entire book of the Bible. Chapter 13:1-9 is the end of a long section of Jesus preaching and teaching about judgement and the end of days. The news is not all good. Judgement is a topic which makes even righteous people squirm a bit, because if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have all fallen short of God’s will for us. That’s why we have included a time of confession in our Lenten worship services.

Chapter 13:1-9 is Jesus’ conclusion to his teaching about judgement. I find there to be an unnerving amount of contemporary resonance with verses 1-5. Jesus references random violence and a natural disaster which have claimed the lives of Jewish people. Jesus poses a question which pastors, politicians, and many of us have probably asked ourselves following events such as the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, three Manchester University students killed by a drunk driver, or 4 people killed and 14 wounded in Hesston, KS. Do you know what the question is? You may have asked it yourself: Did these people deserve to die because they were worse sinners than other people? Was it just their time? I don’t know what your answer would be, but I know what Jesus’ answer is: No, these people were no worse sinners than anyone else. But then Jesus goes on to say, we are all sinners who deserve to die. Unless you repent, you will all perish. Ouch. Jesus is saying that these people were no better or no worse than anyone else, but what we all have in common is that we all deserve to die. That is, in fact, the fate which awaits each one of us.

I’m glad our gospel reading doesn’t end there. Immediately after these sobering words about judgement, Jesus goes on to share a parable; a parable about a fig tree. It might be helpful to know as we go into this parable that a fig tree was often used as a symbol of the nation of Israel or the Jewish people. I find this to be parable of hope, especially right after the words of judgement. There’s a fig tree in a vineyard which is under-performing. In fact, the owner has been checking on it for three years, and it hasn’t borne any fruit. The owner tells his gardener to cut the tree down; why should it be using up good soil with nothing to show for it? But the gardener pleads for the life of the tree saying, Give me time to care for this tree; hold your judgement for another year and I’ll see if it can bear fruit.

I believe that what these passages tell us is that although we may deserve death, what God wants for us is life. God’s will is for us to flourish and be fruitful. How can we reconcile what we deserve with what God wants for us? The answer is, we cannot reconcile those things ourselves, but there is a gardener that can; a gardener who pleads for us to be given a second chance. And now Isaiah 55 makes more sense to me. The entire chapter is an invitation to abundant life. Of course, at the time of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus Christ, the gardener, had not yet come to earth. Isaiah and all the prophets of Israel are tied in the knots of promise versus judgement: here is what God wants for us, here is what we deserve, how can we possibly reconcile the two? An intricate system of laws and animal sacrifice couldn’t keep people from being sinful and corrupt; even God’s word through the prophets were ignored or scorned. And yet God made a covenant with us: God promised that God’s word would accomplish the task for which God sent it: just like the rain and the snow which water the earth and make it grow and be fruitful, God’s word will accomplish its purpose: to bring good news and new life.

What do we deserve from God? is a complicated question. Getting what we deserve is justice. We’d better be careful how we demand justice for ourselves. Not getting the judgement we deserve is mercy; we can receive mercy from God, but it isn’t really ours to give to other people, because judgement is God’s work, not ours. Getting something better than what we deserve is grace. Grace is the gift of a second chance that we receive from Jesus Christ. It is the gift I extend to other people when I stop worrying about getting my share, and start wondering what I have that I can share with other people. None of us deserve the gifts we have received from God or the second chance that we are given in Jesus Christ; holding those gifts with open hands and sharing them with others is the response which honors the grace we have received, and gives glory to God.

I want to end with a story. This fable was written about a hundred years ago. It’s been made into a play, a short film, and a song, but I’m going to tell it to you and let you imagine it yourselves. It’s called “The Selfish Giant” and was written by Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde.:

 

Top of page