"If It Bears Fruit Next Year, Well and Good"

a sermon based on Luke 13:6-9

A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard. Why plant a tree there? (!) Vineyards have vines -- grapes, planted in long rows. So, why a tree? Was it to give shade to the workers? Was it used to mark the end of the row… or (perhaps) to give something strong against which one could cantilever a rope & pulley in order to drag heavy items up the hillside? Was it for the fruit – the figs? – or (perhaps) just to enjoy the beauty of a tree?

When a vineyard owner in Israel plants a fig tree, it could be a “symbolic” act -- after all, the fig and the vine (& the date palm) were the three natural items used on the coinage that was minted in the Jerusalem Temple. These three images were drawn from Old Testament prophets and psalms, suggesting that the people of Judea were (quote) “the vineyard of the Lord”, or flourishing “like a fig tree planted by streams of water”, or growing tall & heavy-laden with fruit like the palm tree. So, perhaps the landlord planted the fig tree for symbolic reasons… a symbol of his national pride.

Or it may have been planted for a much more straight-forward (mundane) reason like: eating figs! Probably so, because Jesus says that this vineyard owner came looking for fruit on the tree… and found none.

Now, some folks have suggested that I tend to look for social critique and economic commentary in the parables of Jesus. (!)

In other words, I tend to take them more seriously than I do spiritually. So, for those of you who may be looking for a “spiritual meaning” behind the mundane facts of the literal parable, may I suggest Galatians 5: 22… in which the Apostle Paul says:

“The fruits of the Spirit are these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,

goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.”

If the “vineyard owner” is God, and the fruit that God expects from us (the church) is more love in the world, more joy in our lives, more peace on earth… how are we doing thus far? ! If God came to First Congregational looking for people who are patient… how well would you measure up? If the head of the church (who is Jesus Christ himself) came to take an account of our kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control… would God be pleased? Satisfied?

I think so. I think there is more love in this place now than in some years past. There’s more conversation after worship; more laughter, joy and pleasure. There’s certainly an effort being made toward becoming a more “inclusive” church. Love, joy, peace… Patience? As long as my sermon finishes within an hour of the start of worship, we’re basically patient (or, if not… and I go long… you are forgiving).

Kindness, goodness … Frankly, I think God would be happy with the $5,000 of Mission Fund expenditures we gave away already this year, to support local community service organizations and human needs, showing compassion toward others less fortunate than ourselves. That money is in addition to the $1,600 of Church World Service blankets (represented on that banner with the many hearts), and the $1,400 you all donated to Heifer International for animals sent to Third-world development projects… not to mention more than $53,000 of Comstock Fund grants this year, and some SERRV Bazaar proceeds.