Sermon 24 March 2019

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 28 FEB 2016, LENT III

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-24-march-2019 

 

The gardener said to the landowner: “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.”
Luke 13:8-9

 

Two contrasting fragments of poetry about the soil beneath our feet.

Irishman, Seamus Heaney’s homage to his grandfather and rural life – Digging:

 

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

Childhood memoires awaken in the poet’s head:

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

 

The earth figures too in Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai’s: The Place Where We Are Right;

but in contrast to the peat bog, the land is rock hard.

 

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

 

“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it….
If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

 

It was a desecration and a warning.

Pilate, Roman Governor, had killed people from Jesus’ home province of Galilee,

while they worshipped in Jerusalem’s old Temple, near the Tower of Siloam.

Sacred and ancient things had been violated;

It was a humiliation for the nation at the hands of Rome – it was a mockery of God.

At least that was the story in circulation.

 

That was the story they came to Jesus with;

tales of atrocity, true or exaggerated for effect (?)

Two “givens,” accompany the telling of the story: two expectations about Jesus.

As a fellow Galilean he should react with righteous anger

against this attack on some of his own folk;

righteous anger against the hated Roman regime.

 

Jesus will not go along with it.

Instead of focusing on the Romans

he turns the attention back to his own countrymen.

Jesus does not deny that the Romans are oppressors –

but he will not let himself be defined by his enemies.

 

Jesus regularly confronted those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous

and regarded others with contempt.” Luke 18:9.

In a time of raised voices and extravagant blame for the ills of the world –

Brexiteers/Remainers – Hard Left/alt-right – Independence/Union –

liberal/fundamentalist – Christians/Muslims.

Jesus’ advice: best to examine the log in one’s own eye,

Before fussing over the speck in someone else’s. Luke 6:37-42.

 

The second expectation about Jesus is how he will understand the recent headline news –

the atrocity of those killed in the Temple

and the tragedy of those who perished in the tower’s collapse.

The implication from Jesus’ questioners;

those who died somehow, deserved what they got;

at least that is the question Jesus intuited.

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way

they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

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

 

Jesus will have none of – This was somehow their fault

Don’t presume to invoke God’s judgment on someone else.

You never know enough, to declare what is, or what is not, God’s will.

 

The crowd, looking to co-opt Jesus to their world view,

confidently hold the moral high ground,

but Jesus sees them as hard and trampled ground,

the place from which flowers will never grow in the Spring.

 

So, rather than answer the questions, to which they already believe they have the answer,

Jesus tells a story: “Consider the fig tree.”

From which blossoms: “Are you bearing fruit, or just taking up space?”

Are you digging, labouring for the harvest, or scorching the earth?

Searching for the beauty, or seeking to blame?

 

There is a tiny, Hasidic wisdom story about how we portray ourselves,

that might make us smile:

A king visited a prison in his kingdom and talked with the prisoners.

Each one insisted on his innocence –

except for one man, who confessed to a theft.

“Throw this rascal out of the prison!” cried the king,

“If not, he will corrupt the innocents!”
[The gift to see us, as others see us – springs to mind.]

When we point the finger, see only others as source of the world’s woes,

Jesus summons us back:

“Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”

Stern words; a seriousness about time and its gift,

in the face of our mortality. Yes.

But try also to recognise the voice/the love of the speaker –

the Gardener, pleading another chance:

Grant me one more year. Let me see if I can draw forth the true self,

the bearing of fruit, for which it was created.

Voice of Jesus – passionate – about stony ground and harvests, a hundred-fold.

 

Jesus reminds us, we are born for fruitfulness, each with talents to employ:

For Seamus Heaney, admiring of his labouring grandfather:

I’ve no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.

 

The fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience,

kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Empires may roar and towers fall, but we are born for fruitfulness:

Doubts and loves dig up the world

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined house once stood.

 

We are born for fruitfulness, the gardener ready to work with us this day.

Behold his spade, its wooden handle, so like a cross.