Sermon – March 14, 2004

Any chocolate lovers out there today? What is to prevent us from simply picking up right now, going over to Jerry’s IGA and buying a case of chocolate bars, say Snicker bars and just eating them until they are gone. And then going back for a 12 pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups for dessert. What prevents that?

Any golfers in the congregation? What’s to prevent us from just pulling up stakes and playing golf for the rest of our days?

What prevents us from sitting in front of the TV all day and night watching movies?

All of these things are temptations, harmless in their moderation, but destructive in their immoderation. When they take over our lives, we stop doing the things we should be doing, we are no longer productive, healthy, focused, involved in family and community. We’re just in the process of self-satisfaction.

Temptation is like electricity. It follows the path of least resistance if there are not barriers or breakers to temptation, it gets the best of us. It’s easier to think of ourselves than others. It’s easier to follow a path of indulgence rather than sacrifice. It’s easier to give our allegiance to that which accommodates our own needs than that which demands in us change and deference. It easier to serve gods by our own definition that to risk God’s mystery.

Temptation is easy. It is eager to follow the path of least resistance. To protect against temptation, those things which are not healthy to our spirits, our families, our communities . . . to protect against temptation we need certain defenses. In the case of the snicker bars, it would be the education by our doctor that we wouldn’t last long on such a diet. . .. and from our employers reminding us that we would not last long playing endless golf or watching endless movies. There are certain practical barriers to seeking our own ways, to overindulging.

Spiritually, the bible says time and again, the practical defense against temptation is repentance. Repentance is a barrier against temptation because repentance when truly practiced, leads to change. And there we start to get nervous, because we don’t like to change. Change is hard. So, so is real repentance.

First it requires that we acknowledge that something is not right. That things are not as they should be. As church people, we are talking about things out of balance spiritually, in our Christian fellowship, out of balance in our vocations as husbands, wives, parents, friends, disciples. Recognizing that things are not as they should be is the first step in repentance.

The second step is to look for another way. To realize that our current direction is not healthy or satisfactory or fulfilling, that they don’t serve God and our family and our community. The second step is to look for another way.

The third step, then, is deciding to change. To repent means to turn, to change, to go in another direction, and that’s where it gets difficult. Repentance is not complete until we make that change, and it is at that point, the Bible says, that we begin to produce fruit. To live in God’s way. We encountered this concept way at the beginning of Luke when John the Baptist cried, produce fruit worthy of repentance, in other words seek that which will make the difference in your life.

Repentance is one of the big words in the Bible. It’s a big word because an encounter with Jesus Christ is an encounter with change. Our change. We are not the same when we are in a relationship with Jesus Christ. To walk with Christ is to change, to realize that things are not as they should be, that we need another way, and then to turn toward that daily invitation to walk in God’s way.

But we don’t make the kinds of changes we need to unless we have the discipline to do so. Change is not easy, especially when it involves our own self-definitions of what we deserve or where we think we stand in the hierarchy of the world. So we need discipline, and if we are to turn toward God we do that in a disciplined way thorough Bible Study, prayer, worship, Christian fellowship. Change requires discipline and some of it is in the doing of these things. It also requires the discipline to let go of our accounting of comparative sinfulness. Jesus spoke of this in the lesson today when he raised the questions of the Galileans killed by Pilate or those killed in the falling of the tower. . . events, which incidentally, we have no other accounts of. He is making the point that one person’s sinfulness is hardly comparable to another’s, because as Paul says, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. What is expected of us is that when we encounter Jesus, we simply acknowledge that and seek to change.

And then the universality of our sinfulness is met by the universality of God’s grace.

We talked at the outset about the consequences of temptation, of eating 60 Snickers bars or not going to work. The consequences of temptation, of sinfulness, in the biblical sense is fruitlessness. . . . .emptiness. That means we don’t create, sustain, participate in those things which are life-giving and God honoring. We don’t participate in the cultivation of the fruits that sustain the gospel and love of God in the world. Don’t participate in the fruitful, vertical relationship of prayer and confession, of worship. We don’t bear fruit.

And that purposeless takes us to the edge of what we refer to gingerly as the wrath of God, God’s disapproval, God’s disappointment. It rings clearly in our gospel text today.. . . that there are consequences to our unfaithfulness. . . as the owner of the vineyard says, cut that tree down. . . that command is God’s disapproval . . . and the consequences of that.

But listen. That is not how God leads. That is not God’s opening card in our relationship with the divine. God’s opening card is always grace, from the call of Abraham, to God’s forbearance with ancient Israel, to the coming of Christ and the gathering in of little Alexandra Borland, whom we will baptize in a moment. God’s grace is always Gods’ opening card. And what’s at stake in our failure to participate in this relationship, to live repentant lives, that’s what is at stake . . . . to squander this gift.

The Gardener says, listen, let me give it another shot. In his parable of the fig tree today, Jesus wants to say to us that somewhere along our temporal line, somewhere between our births and our deaths, when we are struggling and contending, with temptation and sinfulness and the enticements of other Gods and losing, somewhere along our journeys, he is saying, I want to give you another chance. I want to give you another chance for this grace, to bring you into a relationship with God, a relationship that is cleansing and sustaining, full of hope and purpose, that will make you productive of the fruits of God’s goodness.

Here is the gardener come to prune our troubled lives, to ease our troubled consciences, to bring us to a place of peace and fruit bearing. One more year, he says. Let me give this another try, says the gardener. Let me help you now. Let me help you change. . . . because now is your time to look away from the others and look to me.

Seek the lord while he may be found, while he may be found. Jesus says he may be found today. Today there is still time. Let me help you change. Let me make you new. Let me help. Today is your day.