Posted by: dacalu | 3 March 2013

Bearing Fruit in Season

This morning, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Michael and All Angels’ Episcopal Church, Tucson.  Here is the sermon I preached.

Collect

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings

Exodus 3:1-15 (God comes to Moses in a burning bush)

Psalm 63:1-8 (“O, God, you are my God…”)

I Corinthians 10:1-13 (All are nourished, but not all please God)

Luke 13:1-9 (The parable of the fig tree, “unless you repent, you will all perish”)

Sermon

People have a growing season, did you know that?

One of the greatest (and hardest) lessons I’ve learned growing up is this:

that there is a time and a place for growing

and a time and a place for giving fruit,

and sometimes you have to be ever so patient

and sometimes you have to push with everything you’ve got

and it can be very hard to figure out which is which.

It’s an art and not a science.

“To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

 

So what is the growing season for people,

the harvest of souls, if you will?

 

The more seasons I pass through

the more I appreciate the church year.

I’m not saying it works for everyone this way, but it works for me.

Advent is a time of introspection,

we ask ourselves what we want out of life,

what we want out of God and a messiah,

what we want to be saved from – if anything?

We ask ourselves what kind of gifts we want to receive.

We plant a seed.

Christmas is a time of birth,

it is a time for celebration and joy,

a time to recognize the miracle of the seed

which becomes new life.

But, no, you say – surely that is Easter?

“Now the green blade riseth”

“First fruits of the dead”

and all that.

Yes and no.

Bear with me for a moment.

 

Let me suggest that we get impatient in our lives,

we want the process of new life to be a quick one,

but it is not always so.

“To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Let me suggest that the fruition of Easter

took a whole season to develop,

not just Lent but much more.

In Christmas we recognize that the seed has sprouted,

but it is still underground.

We marvel at the wonders of God with us.

We celebrate the gifts we have been given,

the nourishment we have received,

but we have not yet given fruit.

Christmas is a season of adoration,

when we give thanks for God’s gifts

and God’s gift of Jesus to the world.

This transitions naturally into Epiphany,

the revelation or unwrapping, if you will of the gift.

Still in secret the plant unfolds under the ground,

still internal, we wonder at the new knowledge and new life

God has given us.

Epiphany is a season for wonder and curiosity and puzzlement,

because the gift we have been given is not

the gift we expected.

It never is.

It’s always, in some strange way, better.

In Lent, we turn to introspection again,

because God’s gifts change us,

they transform us,

they work wonders within our inmost selves,

and we find that the seeds planted in Advent

have grown into something,

still invisible, but pushing for the surface.

 

In Lent we ask who is this person

whom God has called?

Who is this “me” that was worthy of a gift?

What am I in relation to God?

A rather challenging question really.

Our first answer, the scary answer,

is the answer of Ash Wednesday.

I am dust and to dust I shall return.

And yet that dust has had life blown into it.

God breathed on the dust

and it became a living breathing thing.

Psalm 139 says

“I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

marvelous are your works, and my soul

[the very living core of me] knows it right well.”

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.

It is so high I cannot attain it.”

 

By Holy Week we will have such a high opinion of ourselves

that can recognize God and sing Halelujahs,

but also judge and condemn.

And yet, even then, we do not say

that the seed has broken the surface.

Not until the last sacrifice has been made,

not until the ground is watered with the blood of Christ,

the ancient Christians say,

can we speak of Easter.

The world is made anew at Easter.

The plant appears above ground for the first time,

but it is still not what it could be.

We say that the church is born at Pentecost,

only 50 days later,

when the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus followers

and speaks through them.

The church is born from those who survived,

and followed Christ in faith,

after the crucifixion and the resurrection.

 

It would be a mistake, I think,

to speak of our birth without that fateful moment,

without the pain and agony of Jesus betrayal and death.

I do not say it couldn’t have happened in any other way.

What I do say is that it did happen that way.

This is our story.

This is our childbirth as the body of Christ, the church.

 

We remember it every year,

and we do the hard work of repeating it every year,

we work within ourselves,

and God works within ourselves,

that same miracle of 2,000 years ago,

every year.

We ask whether we are fertile soil, in which the gospel can grow.

We ask whether we are a tree that bears fruit.

 

We live somewhere between that awful statement

“you are dust and dust you shall return”

and that strange empowerment

that God came to us, not once, but twice –

in the incarnation and the resurrection.

 

Lent is a time to discover what grows within us,

as we grow into the church.

 

Paul says “I do not want you to be unaware,

brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were ALL under the cloud,

and ALL passed through the sea,

and ALL were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

and ALL ate the same spiritual food,

and ALL drank the same spiritual drink.

For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them,

and the rock was Christ.

Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them,

and they were struck down in the wilderness.”

 

In every one a seed has been planted,

but will all of those seeds come to fruition?

Will every tree bear fruit?

It’s a fearful question.

 

I’ve been reading much theology this week,

trying to figure out what I think

about our ability to choose to be good:

Pelagianism, and Semi-Pelagianism, and Arminianism, and Predestination,

and Augustine, and Calvin, and Luther, and Wesley.

Is it up to us whether or not we bear fruit?

I have to say I don’t know.

 

I can say this:

I believe we are both the gardener and the fig tree.

I believe that there is a time for us to bear fruit,

and that time comes when the time comes.

There is a time and a place for growing

and a time and a place for giving fruit,

and sometimes you have to be ever so patient

and sometimes you have to push with everything you’ve got

and it can be very hard to figure out which is which.

We have been asked to seed and water and tend,

not only our own souls,

but those of our neighbors as well.

And it is a wonderful and strange task,

Beyond our understanding.

 

But we do know what the fruit is.

It’s not a terribly difficult metaphor,

though we have tried to make it complicated.

Fruit is that which feeds.

Jesus says it is love for one another.

Paul says it is patient and kind,

bears all things, believes all things,

hopes all things, endures all things.

The seed planted in us is the good news,

and the fulfillment of that,

the fulfillment of our very selves,

is to bear love.

 

I can’t tell you whether I control the process,

or can even start or stop it.

I can only say that this is what I want to be,

this is who I want to be,

this is what I think my purpose in life is,

to bear good fruit,

to be loved and loving,

to foster true compassion, community, and grace

in the world.

I want to be the fig tree in season,

and the bush that is on fire with God,

but not consumed.

And with whatever power I have,

I will seek that.

 

 

God asked Moses to go to Pharaoh and deliver the Israelites from bondage.

Moses asked God who God was to do this thing.

And God said I am.

I am the holy ground.

I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I am the one who calls, the one who sends, and the one who sets free.

“Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’…

This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

 

 

The story of the fig tree is very much a story of Lent.

It asks us to ask ourselves what grows within us.

Who are we and who do we want to be in light of God’s revelation?

Are we willing to let this new thing come to life in ourselves

and in the church?

Are we burning with passion for this life

which is coming into the world?

 

We are the tree and the church is the tree and the world is the tree.

 

With all the world, we soak up God’s grace.

The very life we live, we live because God breathed life into us.

 

 

Jesus asks us to consider:

When do we give up and when does God give up on us?

What is the balance between faith and observation –

between hoping to grow and actually growing?

How do you know?

 

Jesus speaks of the persecuted Galileans

and those who died when the tower collapsed.

It might make more sense, be more meaningfully emotional,

to speak of those who died in the twin towers bombing,

and those who died in hurricane Katrina.

Some die because of sin and some die because of fate or natural disaster.

But we die,

and this opportunity to love one another comes to an end.

 

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

 

I do not know whether another opportunity will arise after my death.

I do not know if this is the only season in which I may bear fruit,

but while I’m here, that’s what I would like to do.

 

I may get in trouble with my liberal colleagues

when I say there may be a limit.

There may come a time

when it’s too late to give, to late to love, to late to change.

Yes, there may come a time when it is too late to repent.

But,

But that’s not the point.  The point is and always has been

To give now,

to love now,

to change now.

 

The point is to bear the fruits of faith, hope, and charity,

and to burn with the desire to do so.

 

 

 

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