The Third Sunday in Lent; Year C (2/28/2016)

Lessons:Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-8 (1) 1st Corinthians 10:1-13 St. Luke 13:1-9

Prayer of the Day: Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.  Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

13.1 At that very time there were some present who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”  6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

St. Luke 13:1-9 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Law and Gospel

Lutherans are famous for talking about Law and Gospel. Simply put, Law is what convicts us of our sin, and drives us to the cross. Gospel is what forgives us of our sin and makes us right with God again. Some years ago we used to evaluate sermons in terms of Law and Gospel. Did the preacher’s message strike us as bad news or good news? Did it point out our sinfulness, or assure us of God’s forgiveness? Was it Law or Gospel?

The truth is, many passages from the Bible that are appointed to be read on Sunday mornings include both Law and Gospel. In fact, they often contain the movement from Law to Gospel. We can’t be set free by the Gospel (and receive God’s forgiveness) unless we have first been accused by the Law (and become convinced of our sinfulness). And so this is referred to as “Law and Gospel” not “Law or Gospel.”

This week’s text does exactly that. In “The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree” Jesus describes a fig tree that bears no fruit. The owner of the fig tree, who had every right to expect that it bear fruit, came looking for fruit and found none. In fact, Jesus tells us, he came time and time again over the course of three years, and never once found the fruit he expected to find. He responded in an appropriate and predictable manner. The purpose of the tree is to bear fruit. If it refuses to do so, it doesn’t make sense to have it taking up room in the vineyard — room that would be better used by a fruitful tree. The Law is clear: if what is intended to bear fruit does not do so, it is on the path to destruction.

There is, however, Gospel in this text as well. The gardener, who is under the same expectation that he do what the owner instructs him to do, advocates on behalf of the tree. Don’t destroy it now. Give it another chance. I’ll not leave it to its own devices. I’ll aerate the soil. I’ll apply fertilizer around it. I’ll do everything I can to help it accomplish its intended purpose. If it bears fruit, everybody wins. (And if not, refer to the previous paragraph…)

What does Jesus teach us about God with this parable? We have a God who expects us to bear fruit. We are called to be the presence of Christ to the world, bringing hope and life to those who don’t know God. To not do so is to incur the anger of our God. But the story does not end there. Even in our disobedience, God continues to do everything possible to empower us. Aerating. Fertilizing. Hoping. Refusing to give up on us. And continuing to expect our faithfulness.

Does this sound like bad news or good news? Law or Gospel? Or perhaps both? Our God, who has high expectations for our faithfulness, (1) is displeased when we are unfaithful, (2) does everything possible to empower us for ministry, and (3) ultimately expects our response. This Lent, may we hear the word of the disappointed owner, experience the nurture of the faithful gardener, and begin to bear the fruit God intends us to bear.

It is is what it means to be the church. It is what it means to be a Christian.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why did the crowd bring up with Jesus those who were unjustly killed by Pilate?
  2. What is Jesus’ response to their concern about these people?
  3. How does his parable relate to the crowd’s concern about destruction?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When (and how) have I become aware that I do not live up to God’s expectations?
  2. How has God worked with me to help me be more faithful than I could be on my own?
  3. What helps me to understand how important it is to be faithful to God’s call?