Sacred Soil

I Like to Win
March 3, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Sermon, March 3, 2013
Lent 3c

Isaiah 55:1–9
Psalm 63:1–8
1 Corinthians 10:1–13
Luke 13:1–9

I love a good game of Scrabble… so long as I am winning. As long as my score is sufficiently high, my goal is build a beautiful board with strange and elegant words. If I think I’m winning, I’ll whisper good places to play, and offer higher scoring words. (If you put the j on that triple word score, you’ll get more points). I like to think I’m being altruistic.

But the truth is the score matters. And at the mere whiff of losing my lead, I become much less helpful. There’s a part of me that feels that since I’ve memorized the two letter word list, I deserve to win.

I don’t think I am alone. We are a score keeping people. We like to measure up all the risk in our lives and find a way to avoid it—for fear that too many negative points will result in horrible things. Like losing. Nope, it’s much preferable to win.

And this is no game. It’s serious business. We are compelled, often, too often, to ask, “God, what did I do to deserve this?” I thought my score was pretty high… I thought I had some room…

This is the question that folks bring to Jesus in our text today—what did these Galileans do to deserve such a terrible death at Pilate’s hands?

Indeed—we’d like to know this answer, wouldn’t we? What did this other person do to meet such a terrible fate? We want to know all the details, so that we can also avoid this. So we can understand it. So we can blame, pointing the finger away from ourselves.

Perhaps they’d been mean? Ungrateful? Perhaps they had failed to pay their taxes? Not loved God enough? Or the right way…

These questions are intoxicating. The explorations for how we might blame another for their own misfortune, eager to find some measure by which they deserved it… If only they’d eaten better, kept a cleaner house, went to a better school, chose a better spouse, had memorized the two letter word list… then, then they’d get a better score. Then they’d have gotten better—gotten what they deserved.

Thing is: our God doesn’t keep score. Despite all our desires to the contrary, our God doesn’t sit and tally all our good choices and our bad choices, handing us a report card at the end. That’s what grace is about. And I’m grateful—for I’m pretty sure I’d lose. And we already established—I don’t like to lose.

And while this makes me feel a lot better—loads better—it turns out, while Jesus is clear that God’s not keeping score, it’s also true that God doesn’t want us to get too comfortable.

After considering this story—this question about whether the folks killed by Pilate’s hand had deserved such a fate—Jesus turns to them and says: unless you change your heart, you will also be ruined.

Change your heart.

This is what is meant by the word repent. Change your heart and turn toward God.

Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that keeping a careful accounting of my good choices and my bad choices will never actually lead to a change of heart. No matter how many Scrabble games I win, or lose, my heart will not be changed. No matter how good or bad my luck is. There no list of good deeds or accomplishments, no amount of careful planning, can, on its own, lead to a change of heart.

That’s just not how the human heart works.

In our text today, Jesus tells a simple story about a fig tree—the landowner, seeing this barren tree, plans to chop it down. It has failed to bear fruit in three years. In the world of keeping score—it’s got a big old goose egg on its side. Zero. Nothing. And so it must pay the consequences.

But the Gardener begs, instead, that he might aerate the soil, that he might lay down manure. That he might nurture growth, that he might fertilize and foster new life.

I think this gardener points to Jesus—the one who desires for us fruit and life. The one that begs us to repent, to turn our hearts toward God. The one that knows, chopping down the tree will not cause it to bear fruit. The one who is willing to whisper over the really good word—so that we too might win.

Perhaps Jesus is the one that begs for another year, that the roots may flourish, that the fertilizer may have time. That the tree may turn it’s heart toward good fruit, not as a desire to win prized figs, but as a response to the love and nurturing of the gardener.

And the thing is, bearing fruit matters. There isn’t any escaping this as we look at this text. The question is how it matters. I don’t think God is the foreboding landowner, keeping tally as one would in bingo, making a blot for every deed we do right, for every fig we bear. No, rather, I think God is heart broken, longing for us to bear good fruit so that we might turn toward God and change our hearts. And we are broken too—we who refuse to bear fruit become brittle with stubbornness, shriveled by our cold hearts.

But what’s fascinating, and lovely to me, is that God doesn’t urge this by chopping us down. God does this by tilling the soil, and spreading the manure. God does this by loving us. Loving us into wholeness. And this is good news indeed—because no one wins at playing games with God.

It seems to me also, that this becomes an invitation for us. An invitation to stop keeping score ourselves. To end the tally of good and bad that we make for others. To end the list of wrongs and rights, and instead seek to spread some manure. To till the soil of our relationships, to nurture each other, as the gardener did. For it seems to me, that we could use a little nurturing. A little encouragement, so that together we might bear fruit worthy of our God. So that together, we might turn our whole hearts toward God, bearing good fruit together.


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