Sermon: God Calls Us to Bear Fruit; Will We Respond?
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 63.1-8; 1 Corinthians 10.1-1; Luke 13.1-9
The Psalm of David appointed for today depicts a beautiful relationship with God. It begins with a statement of longing after God: “O God, you are my God: eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water” (Psalm 63.1). David proclaims God’s “loving-kindness is better than life itself” (Psalm 63.3); for this reason, David says he will praise and bless God as long as he lives. David exclaims, “My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches” (Psalm 63.5-6). David called to mind the goodness of God; he counted his blessings and gave thanks for them. David prayed, “For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast” (Psalm 63.7-8). Lest we esteem David too highly, in the verses omitted from the reading, David says, “But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword” (Psalm 63.9-10).
We are often encouraged to pray the Psalms. How many of us could with sincerity pray the positive portions of this psalm? How many of us can truly proclaim that our soul is content? God calls us into relationship. Have we responded? Are we willing to respond?
Our reading from Exodus depicts a loving and compassionate God who has observed the misery of Abram’s descendants in Egypt and has heard their cry for deliverance. Moses was pasturing a flock in the vicinity of Mt. Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai) when he saw a burning bush that was not consumed. “Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up” (Exodus 3.3; NRSV). God commanded Moses to come no closer, and to remove the sandals from his feet for he was standing on holy ground. God then said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3.6; NRSV). Note the present tense of this statement; God did not say, “I was the God of your father, …” but “I am.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though long dead, live on. The account tells us, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3.6; NRSV).
Having witnessed the oppression of the Israelites and had heard their cry, God said to Moses, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3.10; NRSV). God further assured Moses that God would accompany him. This was not good enough – Moses had some concerns: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” Ged replied, “I am who I am . . . Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you’’ (Exodus 3.13-14). Although our reading does not include the rest of Moses’ call, Moses continued to object: “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me?” (Exodus 4.1; NRSV); and even later said, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent. . .” (Exodus 4.10; NRSV). I think this gives rise to the old expression, “God does not always call those who are equipped; God equips those whom God calls.” Of course, when God calls us, we never offer any objections!
In the reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul recounts some of the experiences of the Israelites once they had departed Egypt and were in the vicinity of Mt. Horeb. Paul observes that “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate from the same spiritual food and all drank from the same spiritual drink, the water from the rock that followed them, and this rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10.2; NRSV). Paul was citing an ancient legend wherein the rock followed the Israelites in the wilderness. He was also drawing a parallel with those who are baptized into Christ and eat of the same spiritual food and drink from the same spiritual drink. Paul cites the evils the Israelites committed and warns “we must not put Christ to the test” (1 Corinthians 10.9a; NRSV). What happened to the Israelites in the wilderness is to serve as an example; Paul says these things were recorded for our instruction. Paul then writes, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10.13; NRSV). We all experience temptations; as we read in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Some temptations may come in a new guise, but at root, all are the same. Like the ancient Israelites, if we call on God, God will lead us through the waters of temptation and deliver us to the Promised Land.
In Luke 13, some told Jesus of a few Galileans, put to death by Pilate, whose blood had been mixed with the sacrifices. Jesus asked if they believed these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans. Jesus assured them this was not the case, to keep in mind all need to repent. Jesus further called to mind those killed when the tower of Siloam fell. Again, Jesus asked if they were worse sinners than others living in Jerusalem. Jesus assured them their fate had nothing to do with their sins but again warned of the need for all to repent. Jesus was proclaiming that unnatural or natural deaths are not the consequence of sin; even so, all are called to repentance, and apart from repentance, all will perish.
Jesus next relayed a rather interesting parable concerning a fig tree that had not borne any fruit for three years. The owner of the vineyard, in which it was planted, ordered that it be cut down. But the gardener asked that it be granted one more year until he dug around it and put manure on it. If after that, it bears fruit, all well and good; if not, cut it down. It takes three years after planting for a fig tree to bear fruit, then it is given three more years before the fruit is harvested. Hence, the owner of the vineyard had come in years seven through nine and found no fruit – and fig trees commonly bear some fruit ten months of the year (Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/3LentC032419/theword_cultural.html ). The owner had been more than patient.
This parable reflects God’s mercy. Jesus, the Gardener, pleads for still more time. If we do not bear fruit, Jesus may well dig around our roots, perhaps even spread some manure around us such that we are well fertilized. Will we bear fruit. If not, judgment awaits.
As God called Moses, Jesus call us; and as Moses objected, so do we. “I am not ready yet, God; I am not prepared. Perhaps later.” In this time of Lent, we need to listen for God’s call. Are we willing to repent? God would have us bear fruit. Are we willing to respond? Would you be like David? Would you pray, “O god, you are my God: eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water?” Can we say with David, “My soul is content . . . my soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.” Those are the words of one who bears fruit.