by Rev. Joan Kessler
Luke 13: 6-9
Today’s message may sound a bit ironic so I need you to pay close attention. This message is about some things and it is not about other things. I am going to start by telling you, in light of the parable of the barren fig tree, what this reflection is not about.
Over these past Lenten weeks, we have been talking a lot about our church’s finances and how COVID has impacted our community of faith. When I chose this parable for this Sunday, I easily connected the story to our need to bring some new life and new ideas and renewal into our midst. This week, all of our seedling starter kits were picked up and I hope you are starting to see the fruit of your effort with the poking up of tiny green shoots. They are a joy to watch and I don’t know if I planted my seeds correctly but the soil and the water and sun have provided. The project was imagined to lift our spirits and bring us together for a common purpose and thank you so very much for your willingness to help. The parable of the barren fig tree on its surface is literally about gardening and tending to those things we value. But this message is not about growing seeds.
This message is also not about stewardship even though we are going to launch our COVID Recovery Campaign in a few short weeks from now. You are going to be invited to consider your participation and contribution of time, talent and treasure for this community of which you belong to. Because, you belong here. And you have gifts to share. This parable from Luke is all about a challenge… of bearing fruit or dying… this is a pretty good stewardship campaign slogan I daresay. I like Mary Oliver’s take on this parable with her line from her famous poem, A Summer’s Day where she challenges, “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She asks this question as she spends her afternoon observing the marvels of a grasshopper eating and the wonder of the natural world all around. Some might say that’s a waste of time, but for Oliver, if we don’t pay attention, what else would you be doing? So this message is not a plea for you to consider your stewardship to Winfield United… but this parable of a fig tree in need of some care and attention just might inform your decisions around what gifts you have to share with our community over these next years to come.
And there is one other thing that this message is not about and that is a new movement I read about in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail called YIMBY: Yes In My Backyard. The article discussed the all too common backlash of urban neighborhoods against multi-family dwellings and social housing projects. Started in California, YIMBY works to address the city zoning regulations that make it next to impossible for such housing to be built. The City of Edmonton is leading the way with its planning department becoming intentional about reviewing and revising its zoning policies to make redevelopment less restrictive. COVID has certainly brought to light how we live and where we live. In 2020 with people spending more time at home, neighborhoods were assessed for amenities like parks and walk-able services. The parable of the fig tree makes me wonder about the value of the land, the dirt we walk over everyday. We too wonder about our excess land we have as a church and are beginning to wonder what could take shape there… a community garden? Intergenerational housing? With passion and vision, what could we grow in this space.
Now I come to the part where I tell you what this message is about… and that it is about YOU. This is a deeply personal parable we hear Jesus tell this morning. The story tells of a frustrated and impatient landowner who has about given up on a struggling fig tree. Why after three years of producing nothing should it take up my valuable soil?
It’s a good question. We get the landowner’s disappointment. But the Gardner has a proposition for the boss and bargains for more time. Leave it with me, says the Gardner and I will fertilize it and water it, and hoe around it and in a year’s time, if there’s no fruit then you can come and chop it down. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good.
I love this parable for its simplicity. It reminds me that Someone hasn’t given up on me and still sees my potential and is rooting for me. Repentance is a worthy topic for us, regardless of our theological position. Lent is a time of renewal… of new growth coming forth… dying to some things so that other things might take root and shoot forth. Repentance is an exercise in self-reflection and self care and improvement. Jesus was motivated to tell this parable because his disciples are speculating, and others would say gossiping about some recent tragedies where people died at the hands of the government and in another instance, a building fell upon them. Jesus said this was through no fault of their own. But the inner work of addressing our suffering, our habits that are less than life-giving, is the ongoing work of the individual… it’s up to them… to you and to me. There’s only wild and precious life to live Mary Oliver reminds us. What will we do with it, indeed.
Someone once said the kindom is not some massive war effort measurable only in gross results. The kindom, right here and right now, is one person turning to self-reflection and making changes that address suffering and those things about ourselves that are not bearing fruit.
Is it an I’m sorry… or maybe I forgive you… you were right and I was wrong… a fig tree grows within each one of us… and the Gardner seems to know something we don’t. That there is time for patience and opportunity abounds for renewal and a change of heart. Because for this Gardner, there is always going to be another year, and another and another. This is our Good News for a COVID lent, one year since we last gathered unrestricted in our building… we look to the future and our return. Hope grows within us… taking root. But it starts with you and with me. Make no mistake, this is a parable of hard work and effort.
But it is so worth it. No one is ever written off when we have the help of a Gardner.
May it be so and Amen.