February 28, 2016 sermon
I’m from a big city so I have no experience growing any plants, vegetables, or fruits. And also because I’m from a big city, I grew up not having any sense of where our food came from. Yes, we learned about farmers, the hard works, droughts, and all that; but since we bought everything in stores, and being children didn’t have to pay for it, they felt like the problems of another world. That’s how clueless we are, the city children. Then I moved to a house with a garden in Kimberley. With the help of some of our awesome church ladies, I got to eat veggies and potatoes from my garden. Then some awesome ladies gave me plants to grow, and slowly I am becoming a more earth-friendly person.
But when I was in Kenya, although I didn’t participate in any farming or gardening, I lived very closely to farmers. I got to experience (indirectly) farming, harvesting, and the effect of droughts. Then it hit me, the importance of farming; if farmers don’t do a good job or if the Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, it means we won’t have food. Now with this experience, the Bible stories about trees bearing fruit feel quite different and more serious.
Today’s gospel story is very troubling to a lot of Christians and preachers because it raises some difficult and controversial theological issues. “Why do tragedies occur? Is it because the victims were bigger sinners?” They asked those questions in Jesus’ time; some are still asking them today. Some even say out loud shamelessly that it is so. Whenever some natural disaster strikes, there are always some Christian preachers who say, “It’s because of the abortion clinic” or “homosexuality”. In the first part of today’s story, some people come to Jesus and ask exactly this kind of question. The second part of the story, which is often called the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree is Jesus’ response to those questions.
In the parable, there is a fig tree that doesn’t produce fruit and the owner of the vineyard wants to cut it down; because the tree is useless. But the gardener pleads with him because he wants to take extra care of this tree that it might be more fruitful. The fruitless tree gets another chance. Did the fig tree in question deserve more reward and care than other fig trees? Why did it become the object of special care? Because it didn’t bear any fruit; the gardener is going to give it special care in a hope that it WILL become fruitful. It’s like special education for disabled children.
Now that we have Jesus’ reply, let’s go back to the questions. Why do tragedies happen? Do victims of tragedies being punished for their sins? Are the survivors more righteous than the victims; is that why they remained alive while others became the victims? Did the victims of 9/11 practise homosexuality? Was there an abortion clinic in the Twin Tower? I just asked these two ridiculous questions because we need to listen to reason and common sense. Would the God of love and compassion that Jesus teaches in the gospels kill a building full of people for being homosexuals, pro-choice, or “Godless heathens”? That’s the God of the Old Testament and specifically from the Torah, not the God that Jesus taught. Then why do some people seem to get more blessings than others while some people are underprivileged or fall victims of diverse tragedies? According to the parable that Jesus gave as the answer, maybe the privileged received those privileges because they need special care to become fruitful. Maybe they cannot be trusted to do their part alone, without the special care. Maybe they didn’t receive all the privileges because they are better than others who suffer, but so that they can serve God more with them.
This parable reminds me of the Parable of the Talents. There was a master who went on a journey, entrusting his possessions to his servants; not equally but according to their abilities. The first servant received 10 dollars (of course, I’m paraphrasing), the second received 2, and the last servant received 1. They invested the money during the master’s absence, and when he came back, the first and the second servants had grown the money and doubled it. The last servant did nothing with it and returned it to the master. He was cast out for not doing anything with the talent he received. These two stories together remind us that what God gives us, whether it is our intelligence and abilities, or material possessions, are for serving God. For example, my international and multi-cultural experience, along with my language skills and teaching skills, I can serve in the education committee of our refugee group. One of the things I will be doing as a volunteer is to teach the refugees English when they get here. We all have knowledge, experience, and other gifts from God that are intended to be used to serve God’s people.
Lent is a time of self-reflection and spiritual renewal. This week, let us examine how fruitful our lives are as the disciples of Jesus. As God’s children, we have received different gifts and talents. Let’s examine how well we are using them to serve God’s people, to bring God’s reign on earth. Good news about the two parables I talked about today is that God is actually fair whether we have received more or less than other people; if we have received more, God expects more from us, and if we have received less, God doesn’t expect as much from us. As they say in the superhero movies, “With great power comes great responsibility”. God is fair and there is nothing to boast or despair about depending on how much “blessing” we have received.
This Lent, let us examine what kind of gifts and “special care” we have received from God, and how well we are using them. And let us humbly think of ways to use them for God’s reign. We are called as one body of Christ, and our different gifts mean we are different parts of this body. Two Sundays ago, we had the Annual meeting, planned our new year, and commissioned our church leaders. This afternoon, you and I are having a wedding ceremony; it means we are not only making vows for each other, but also promising ourselves and God that we would be the body of Christ, and together we will work to bring God’s reign here on earth. So let’s make this Lent a new start as the body of Christ, and promise God that we will use our talents to fulfill God’s purpose for us. Peace be our Lenten journey. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim