Sermon for Lent III

Exodus 3:1-15

28 February 2016

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

(Year C)

Luke 13:1-9

©by

The Rev. Robert E. Witt, Jr.

Psalm 103



    In Saint Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, he compares the Christian Life to an athletic contest by asking, “Do you not know that in a race all runners compete, but only one receives the prize?”  And then Paul observes, “They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”  .  . . The reward for a Life in Christ lived well and faithfully; . . . the reward for a Life in Christ which is not distracted by worldly comforts, . . . bodily indulgences, . . . or devilish lies; . . . the reward for a Life in Christ which is lived with athletic simplicity and obedience to the commandments and counsels of God; . . . the reward for a Life in Christ lived well and faithfully, Saint Paul implies, . . . is crowned with everlasting felicity; . . . it is a life that is angelic and participates in the eternal satisfactions of Heaven.  . . . But then Paul writes as you have heard today:  . . . “I want you to know, brethren, that our spiritual fathers, that blessed nation of Israel; . . . our spiritual fathers were all as good as baptized (just as we are), because they had the Presence of God in the cloud that led them and protected them; . . . they all participated in the miracle that parted the Red Sea so that they all passed through the waters, escaping death and entering life; . . . they all ate the same supernatural bread which angels eat, and they all drank from the supernatural Rock from which living water flowed when it was struck by Moses.”  . . . Our spiritual fathers were all as good as baptized (just as we are), . . . and yet, . . . in spite of all this, . . . “with most of them God was not pleased,” Saint Paul writes; . . . most of them did not run successfully, . . . nor did they receive the prize God promised as reward for their successful running.  . . . “And so,” Paul concludes, “let any one [of you] who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

    Saint Paul is cautioning the Christians at Corinth against becoming careless in their regard for God which shows up in the character of their lives; . . . Saint Paul is cautioning the Christians at Corinth against becoming careless in their running to attain the prize that is the crown which adorns a sacred life.  . . . Jesus offers us the same advice this morning as well.

    We find Jesus, today, (in the section of Saint Luke’s Gospel which precedes the appointed reading); . . . we find Jesus, today, telling His listeners that they must live holy lives so as to be prepared at any moment to give an account of themselves to God at His final judgement as to who shall perish and who shall have life.  “As you go with your accuser before the magistrate,” Jesus says, “make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison.”  . . . And there is a jovial remark from someone in the crowd that the advice comes too late for some Galileans Pilate has executed.  . . . And Jesus says He is not talking about the death which must come to us all in this life; . . . rather, Jesus says, He is talking about God’s judgement . . . about the life He gives each of us.  You see, Jesus says, God is like a man who “had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.”  . . . God, the Father, strolls through this His vineyard, Jesus says; . . . God, the Father, strolls through this His vineyard to see if each of us are bearing fruit which is the image of His Incarnate Son; . . . to see if we are thankful for our daily bread; . . . to see if you’re as generous toward others as He has been toward you.  God, the Father, strolls through His vineyard looking to see if you regularly and faithfully forgive what people owe to you . . . as He has forgiven your indebtedness to Him.  God, the Father, strolls through His vineyard looking to see if you remember each day that you are a doer of His will and an expression of His love as well as a receiver of His protection and graces; . . . to see if you will give a cup of living water to one of His little ones who is perishing.  God, the Father, strolls through His vineyard looking to see if you are not simply using up His graces . . . but yielding, by stages, the fruits of His holiness.  . . . But, behold, Jesus says, . . . there are fig trees in the vineyard of God, the Father, who can become the epitome of horticultural hopelessness; . . . who can be barren; . . . who can be perfectly alive but not yield fruit; . . . who can be barren of fruit not only for one year, . . . but can be barren for three.  Whatever is wrong with the tree in Christ’s parable, . . . it is hopelessly so.

    And Christ’s point in telling us this is that God’s perfect judgement doesn’t cut down the souls that are deformed; . . . God’s perfect judgement doesn’t cut down souls that are particularly idolatrous or immoral or rebellious or sullen.  That leafy fig tree Jesus describes; . . . that leafy fig tree represents the carelessness of a human life that is perfectly innocent of any other offense than that it has become too familiar and too comfortable in its thoughts of God; . . . a human life that has forgotten its awe and fear of the Lord God Almighty, . . . or, even worse, has misplaced its awe and fear so that they reside someplace else; . . . so that they are focused on something that is perishing and cannot give life.  That leafy fig tree in Christ’s parable represents a human life that looks quite attractive, . . . but lacks the nourishment which permits it to blossom and fruit and impart life which comes from the seed contained in its fruit.  . . . Of such a one as this, the perfect judgement of God says, “Cut it down; why should it use up the ground; . . . why should it use up my graces?”

    You don’t have to be particularly evil to earn damnation, Jesus says; . . . all you have to do is to be careless.  . . . But in Jesus we have an advocate, . . . because He continues His parable by saying that,

[the vinedresser] answered [the man], “Let [the unfruitful fig tree] alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure.  And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, [then] you can cut it down.”

And so, this Season of Lent is a time for you to invite Christ the Vinedresser to help you overcome any carelessness that might have crept into your life; . . . to overcome carelessness by submitting yourself to the simplicity of fasting, . . . the detachment of self-forgetful generosity, . . . and the obedience of prayer and worship.  . . . This Season of Lent is a time for you to invite Christ the Vinedresser to feed your simplified life with the nourishment of His most Holy Word and with the supernatural food and the supernatural drink of His most precious Body and Blood, . . . allowing the manure of Christ’s sacred Presence to infect all your days with His holiness.  . . . In this way, Christ the Vinedresser shall empower your life to yield sacred fruit . . . and prevent you from being found wanting at the time when the Lord God Almighty shall judge whether we have run the race of our lives as champions . . . or not.    


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