Sermon: Hope

It can be hard to hope, especially to hope in the tough times. But Lent is a growing season, and hope is what gets us through any valley of the shadow. Hope creates, using imagination and, mostly –  time. Hope does not create in response to pressure, or to the insistence of any clock. So, when Jesus saw people tense up at the mention of the murdered Galileans, he responded with a story that had a space where hope could begin to grow:

An owner came to check on his fig tree – and everyone listening back then knew the fig tree was a biblical symbol of Israel itself – it’s the tree that lives for centuries, the one that gives fruit and oil and shade in the desert. But this one has no fruit, so – impatiently – the owner said, “Cut it down.” But the gardener said, “Let’s see.”

What are we to make of this odd story of the fruitless fig tree? Might it say anything to those people who want to know why calamity struck a group of innocent Galileans? Why do bad things happen? Especially, why do they happen to good people like us?

Do you ever wonder why we spend time looking for reasons behind other peoples’ troubles? If we can find  they did something wrong, or had bad genes, or live in a country where violence is rampant then perhaps, we can find a way to save ourselves – is that it, do you think?

Even those of us who claim to know better – and don’t blame God for the effects of nature or nurture run amok – react in a similar way. Crisis strikes and we spend time trying to find what went wrong. We check our behavior, our relationships, our diets, our beliefs. Give us answers, we beg. We need to understand what went wrong.

The notion that someone else’s pain is caused by someone else’s sin is a tempting concept because it seems like it might solve some problems. For once and for ever, it might answer the question of why bad things happen to good people: maybe they don’t. Maybe bad things really happen only to bad people. And we’re good, so we’re safe, right?

Then too, the notion that someone else’s pain is caused by someone else’s sin might give us a God who obeys our laws. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction: do something to upset God’s law, and God will get you good. That’s straightforward enough, right?

Jesus doesn’t go there. “No, that’s not how it is” he told the crowd, “but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” There is no connection between suffering and sin. Oh, good. But unless you repent of your sins, you are going to suffer too. Oh.

So what did Jesus do with this story? Let’s think about the fig tree as a way to explore the nature of judgment,” he said And at first glance, judgment does seems what this parable might be about.

We know that one way to try to understand a parable is to see if you can imagine who or what each character might represent. Is the landowner God and the gardener Jesus? Or might the tree be Jesus or even  you or me?

We’ve all had moments of bearing no fruit. Of sensing that the axe is at the roots, almost wishing  it would be there to end the misery. But that wasn’t how the story ended, was it? In the end, the gardener refused to cut down the tree and suggested instead that they nourish it and let it be for one more year.

Jesus never promised the fig tree would be standing this time next year. But it would have a this year, and it would receive the sun and rain and soft breezes and all the gardener’s care that the year could bring. For some of us, that may  not sound like good enough news.

But for others, it is gospel enough because it is a way of saying that – no matter what –  God is always with us. It is a way of saying that we are not in charge of days and months and years – or of what they might bring. It is a way of saying that it is enough to hope in the God who is  in charge of linear – and eternal – time  with  a loving kindness for every season, even the fruitless one.   Amen

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

Leave a Reply