Just Give It One More Chance

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

3rd Sunday in Lent
March 20, 2022

Scriptures – Isaiah 55: 1-9 and Luke 13: 1-9

My grandmother grew up on a farm out in the country of central Texas.  When she married my grandfather and moved to the city, she took with her the knowledge of how to make just about any plant grow.  Her yard was something to behold.  It included trees, shrubbery, flowers of every kind, vines, fruits, vegetables, and ferns.  Her specialty was making annual plants that were only supposed to grow for one season continue growing for at least three.  Her secret for all of this work?  Cut out the dead stuff, tender loving care, and always and especially – fertilize.

When I read today’s Scripture about the fig tree, I think of my grandmother and all the things she did to make plants grow consistently.  If we compare ourselves to that fig tree that is mentioned in the story Jesus told, there are some good comparisons.  

This particular fig tree started with good soil for support. The gardener also made sure the fig tree was from good stock; that’s not always a guarantee of good growth but it is a good indicator.  In the Gospel story, despite all the regular care the fig tree had received, it did not yield.  The owner wanted to cut it down, but the gardener thought one more season…one more chance was in order.  So, like my grandmother, the gardener would loosen up the soil around the tree, cut out the dead stuff, give it some tender loving care, work in some fertilizer, and after that – who knows?

I have a history with three fig trees:  my grandmother had a huge fig tree that produced massive crops leading to fig jam for all her family and most of her neighbors; my dad had a fig tree that led to one or two figs for the birds; and I have one fig tree in my backyard right now that just got the Gospel treatment – I cut off the dead stuff, dug around the roots, put manure around it, and we’ll see what happens this season.

The message for us could not be any clearer – are we, the fruit of God’s garden, just looking good despite all the attention we get?  Do we have any dead stuff that needs to be cut out?  Are we down to our last season before being cut down?  Or do we just need a little fertilizer, some tender loving care, just one more chance, another year, and then – who knows?

Now if we take the rather silly analogy I am drawing here and apply it to spiritual growth, exactly what type of fertilizer would we need?  What is already going on, and what needs to happen in order for strong, healthy growth to occur?

How about regular study of the Scriptures?  Despite the passage of thousands of years, the message of the Scriptures still speaks to us today, still applies today, still matters today, still fills us up and makes us grow.  There are countless ways to do this: study guides, Bibles with excellent footnotes, web pages that interpret pretty much anything in the Bible – even the use of fig trees in Jesus’ messages.

Some spiritual discipline is also important for serious growth; I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much talk, discussion, and theory about living in God’s world.  I need to DO something once in a while – reach out to people, give the sick a call or a visit, pray with someone, bring food to a food pantry, teach a Sunday school class, deliver something we gathered to one of our missions, or just sit and listen to a friend’s problems and try to be supportive.  I need fertilizer myself, but I also need to spread some around.

For the past three years, one type of fertilizer I have discovered that is the very best for me is that of community.  I know that many Americans, and especially many Texans, believe in the power of the rugged individual.  I think there is something to be said about that, but I also don’t believe we are as good on our own as we are in community.

Community nurtures us, feeds us, and helps us grow stronger.  Humans crave companionship; after all, beginning in Genesis, God said, “It is not good for humans to be alone.”  And I truly believe that Christians crave other members of the Christian community just like a fig tree craves fertilizer.

And when I am cut off from my church community – as the Covid pandemic has done multiple times since early 2020 – I find that the fertilizer you have given me over the years still works.  It works despite the isolation, the nagging fear of getting seriously ill, or the inconvenience of wearing a mask wherever I go.  

It works because I can phone you, email you, send a text, write letters or cards…and sometimes even shake your hand right here in our place of worship.  Our sense of community sustains me just like good fertilizer and tender loving care sustains the common fig tree.  It’s the one more chance I get a lot more often than one more time.

It works because I carry a measure of this community with me wherever I go.  I carry each of you when I am away from you.  I also carry my dear wife, my own two children, my children-in-law, and my two grandsons; their love and support sustain me on a daily basis, despite the distance that sometimes separates us.  I carry the faces and memories of good friends and family over the years who have supported and sustained me.  The cards, the calls, the emails, the prayers, the hugs – all of it sustains me and fertilizes my soul.  And we all pray that soon… may it be very soon…this pandemic will fade and leave our lives alone, so that we can fully grow the way we are supposed to.

I will leave you with one final thought about all this – and I return to the story of my grandmother.  Sometimes she was surprised by what happened in her garden.  She would work on one plant, and the one next to it would begin to thrive.  She would cut out the dead stuff off a plant, and suddenly it would begin blooming in a huge way.  She would replant a plant in a different part of her yard, and it would grow to twice its normal size.  She was a big believer in one more chance for her plants.

And here’s my favorite part: she would walk along the railroad tracks which were about 100 yards from her house and find some unusual weed or plant growing; she would carefully dig up this orphan plant, bring it home in her bucket, and transplant it somewhere in her yard – and it would turn into something wonderful and beautiful and unusual.  Again, there is something to be said for all of us in this message:  Grandmother hung in there, she kept gardening, she kept working, she was patient but persistent, and she seldom gave up on any plant that she might capture her keen notice.  

She did what she could and waited for results.  

She did her part, and she trusted the Creator of everything to do the rest. 

Just like our heavenly gardener does with us.