Roger's Postings

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Luke 13:6-9. Grace for another year! 31/12/10

(6) Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. {7} So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' {8} "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. {9} If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"

Here we are at the change of years once again: one year concluding and another beginning. Now, often this is a time when we think back over the past year and look at the achievements, happenings; and the disappointments; and often, wonder and dwell on what might-have-been. Here also, more often than not, we reflect with a sense of sadness at things that have happened and of things that did not work out as they should have. But at the same time we look to the coming year and wonder what might be in store for us there and if things might somehow change for the better. Here we think about how we are going to fare in a life which seems to give so many disappointments, and hoping with a sense of optimism as we think to the future.
However, the end of the Year is often time when many simply look to New Years Eve as a time to drink and have a good time: another chance to blot out the past and to escape the realities of the future. Here is another chance to merely live for the moment and for a few fleeting pleasures.
Our reading here, however, gives us another perspective; or rather puts into perspective, the way we need to look to view the end of one year and the beginning of another. Yes, perhaps it is a very sobering perspective, as it also relates to other thoughts that we have at this time. Certainly, it makes us sit back and take a second look at ourselves and how we view life. But it also helps us to realize how grateful we should be that we have this opportunity to even face and be able to carry on into another year.

Certainly, we can not help but understand the message that we have here in this reading. The picture that is used here is very clear; and even when it is translated to our own lives, the clear message is still there. We might want to protest about the picture it paints of us, and we might not like the implications of it for us; but we can not fail to get the idea that Jesus has for us: Particularly of the grace that is extended to us as we enter another New Year. Though we do not deserve to be allowed another year, through Jesus and his love for us, life has been extended: we have much to be thankful for.
Our situation today is in many ways very little different from that of the people Jesus was speaking to here. We too, are looking out there for our scapegoats: it is the stupid government’s fault that we are in a mess today; if only we hadn't had this extended drought and now the floods: if only my husband or wife was a little more understanding: if only someone out there would have or will do something different; something better, then all will be well. We too often, are looking beyond ourselves at the faults and failings of others as the cause of all our problems, and then sit back smug in our own self assurance; just as those people of Jesus' day did. They were saying, ‘look at those people suffering - gee they must have been bad people; or it is them who are causing us to be oppressed by a foreign country.
But to that insinuation that it is the evil out there that is the cause of all of our problems, Jesus says, No, and unless you repent, you too will perish. So he places the focus squarely back on each individual: you and me. Unless we have a good hard look at ourselves and recognise that we are sinners to the core, and turn back to God; then we deserve more and worse. In fact, we don't deserve to see the light of another year.
Now before we start protesting that we are not too bad or that we are better than most, or that at least we are making a reasonable effort; Jesus gives us this parable that we have before us. So let us look at this picture that Jesus is putting before us. The owner of an orchard goes out as usual in the fruit season and inspects his crop. When he gets to the fig tree, he sees that it has again failed to produce any fruit. For three years now, this tree has not given him any fruit whatsoever. So one can almost hear the chainsaw start up in his mind. The tree is just not worth having. Why should it waste good soil, water and effort? So we would agree when he says to the gardener to get rid of that useless tree.
But the gardener, Jesus, pleads with the owner to give the tree another chance. Give it another year. He promises to give it special attention – digging and fertilizing around it; and then if doesn't bear fruit then maybe it can go.
There, is a rather simple, but graphic picture, isn't there? However, we need to remember that this is a picture that is painted of you and me. God comes to us again at the end of this year and he looks at us; and in reality, he sees nothing good. He finds nothing in the way of the fruit that he wants from us. We might like to think that we haven't done too badly; even if it is not a lot. Surely, there is something there!
But when God looks, what does he find? Nothing! Nothing whatsoever! Yes, there were some tiny withered up woody specks that should have been good fruit. There were those things we think were good works; but as Scripture says, Our best efforts are as a filthy, stained pair of old underpants: Not only just not good enough, but in fact revolting. Our last year’s efforts of living up to God's expectations were just not acceptable.
Sure God has brought a lot of good out of last year. There have been a lot of good happenings, despite the difficulties and tragedies. We have been richly blessed, no matter what we might think. But we can't claim to have done that ourselves. We only deserve to be cut off from God: the axe taken to us; and be discarded to Hell.

But thankfully, Jesus has stepped in and offered us a reprieve. He has extended his grace toward us, and allows us another year here on earth: he offers again all his goodness and mercy. He reminds us again here tonight of his love, forgiveness, peace, joy, power and all the rest, as we go forward. In the coming year he will see to it again that the Holy Spirit is there digging around our roots; in an attempt to help us grow and bear fruit. Sure, that might mean that he will make things a little uncomfortable from time to time, as he tries to get rid of some of those false supports and some of those other things that we hang on to and see as so important in our daily living. But often these things in reality may only be leading us away from living and being the people that God wants us to be. He may allow us to suffer the consequences of our own bad habits, so that we can see our faults and failings and so weed them out of our lives.

At the same time, he will provide every opportunity for us to avail ourselves of the fertilizer of his Word and Sacraments to help us grow. Many people today might call my preaching, the reading of the Bible and devotions, a load of manure; a heap of you-know-what; but that is the goodness that we need if we are going to avoid the axe. We need to hear again and again the Good News of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and what he means for us now as we live out our lives every day. It is all laid on for us as we are about to begin another year. But the question is, will we make use of it? Will we allow him to work so that he can bear fruit in our lives? He gives us the chance; these things are provided for us.
So if that is the picture that confronts us again as we end this year, and begin another new year, let us not ignore its importance. As we conclude this year and begin another, let us do it with thankfulness for the grace that the Lord Jesus has extended to us again. And as we look forward, let us not presume on our Lord's slowness to punish, but make every effort to make use of the means that the Holy Spirit presents to us; so that we can grow more and more into being the people that God wants us to be, and that we bear the fruit that he desires. Let us continually look to Jesus Christ and the help that he gives to us. We have been given another chance, so let us go forward into 2011 with repentance, thankfulness, and the desire to live and be what God wants us to be; all the time giving thanks and praise to our Lord Jesus for all that he is and has done for us.
Now finally I would like to encourage you as we conclude one year and face another, with the words of Paul to the Colossians: Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. {13} Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. {14} And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. {15} Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. {16} Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. {17} And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:12-17)
Pastor Roger Atze
Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish


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