Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Fruity Faith

Luke 13:1-9
It’s the third Sunday of Lent, and I do hope that any Lenten disciplines you’ve taken on are going better than mine! Lent is often observed by giving up luxuries to remind ourselves of the spiritual nourishment we receive through dependence on God. We heard this morning the parable of the fruitless fig tree, and that made me wonder whether anyone has given up fruit for Lent? Somehow I doubt that fruit is as frequent a source of distraction from God as chocolate can be for some people. On the contrary, I think a ‘fruity faith’ is something to aim for!

I don’t actually eat a lot of fruit, despite the fact that my home state of California is known affectionately as ‘the Land of the Fruits and the Nuts’ - and that’s not just because of its people! California has what’s known as a ‘Mediterranean Climate’, with long, hot, dry summers and short, cool, rainy winters, modified of course by altitude and latitude.

Many of the foods grown in California have been growing for millennia in other places that have also got that type of climate, like Israel and Palestine, and this includes figs. Figs are actually really interesting fruits (once you get to know them)! They were one of the very first plants to be cultivated by human beings for eating. Figs have no pits because each fruit has inside it flowers and seeds that grow together inwardly into a fleshy mass, with a skin on the outside holding it all together. Fig trees usually bear two crops of figs per year: the early harvest isn’t as plentiful as the main, later harvest, but that early crop is always eagerly anticipated as a positive sign of good things to come.

Because they are so common in the Middle East, fig trees, fig leaves and fig fruits often feature in the bible. In chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together as coverings for themselves after they ate the ‘forbidden fruit’ from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Deuteronomy 8, figs are one of the good things available for God’s people to eat in the Promised Land. And in the Song of Solomon there was a fig tree in the garden, where the emergence of its ripe fruits symbolised the fruition of love...

So this morning we heard in our reading from Luke 13 the parable of the fruitless fig tree: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' " 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' "

Essentially this parable is saying that we are created for a purpose - like the fig tree, we are to bear fruit. But it also tells us that Jesus gives us time to grow and time to bear fruit as he feeds and nourishes us with loving care. From Galatians 5, we know what kind of fruit is promised to grow in our lives, for ‘...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’.

In Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels, Jesus also sees a fig tree without fruit. But in that instance, He curses the tree for its fruitlessness and it withers away. If we allow the practice of our faith to stagnate, we may discover that our faith itself has become dried up and withered. We have to keep returning to God, and to allow God to lead us into new areas of faith. Then we can grow and bear fruit.
Maintaining our faithfulness to Jesus Christ is the essential thing. As Jesus says in John 15, ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’.

Well, we’re finally approaching spring and those of you who are keen gardeners know that preparation is needed for potential growth to be achieved. Fruits are seasonal –for much of the year, the trees will be storing up energy. Our faith and our spiritual growth also go through seasons. As it says in Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, ‘To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven’.

Sometimes we’re dormant for a season, in need of rest, in need of nourishment from the caretaker. Sometimes we have bursts of growth and reach up for the sky! Sometimes we bear fruits that we aren’t even aware of, because the Spirit’s work can be very gentle. Other times the fruits are obvious to all.

Through our Growth Action Planning, the GAP process that we began towards the end of last year, we have been preparing as a church for potential growth. We are taking steps forward together to enrich our prayer life, to deepen our faith and to reach out to our community. Nourished by Jesus Christ, those of us who are able, who aren’t in a dormant phase, must keep up the momentum that has begun within us personally and together as a parish. We’re in this for the long haul, but we eagerly await the first fruits of this season, and look forwards to the future with expectation.

If you haven’t given up fruit for Lent, I’ve actually brought some figs along this morning which you are welcome to try after our worship. I’m hoping that perhaps when we see figs in the shops or when we read about them in our bibles, we will remember that we have been created for a purpose, to bear the fruits of our faith, both personally and corporately, within ourselves, in our community and in our world, trusting in the loving care and guidance of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

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