Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pesky Plants - A Sermon

Well, Spring is coming. I could tell not only by the melting snow but by the buds on the branches. Unfortunately, most of those branches were broken off their trees from the snow a couple of weeks ago. Even the forsythia was flattened and hasn’t bounced back.

All those plants are so much trouble. Well, they had pesky plants in the bible, too, but judging from today’s readings, it would seem there are two types of plants.

The first plant we encounter is a burning bush. Not something you see every day – and certainly not something Moses had ever seen before. Of course, if I had been him, I would have turned and run the other direction. If he had known what was coming, he probably would have, too.

What came was demands. This burning bush, awesome as it appeared, turned out to be the most demanding, powerful, persistent – and yet empowering thing he had ever seen. It told him to go back to Egypt – remember, that’s the place he ran away from because he had killed someone and was now wanted for murder – and not only that but go to Pharaoh and tell him to release hundreds, thousands, of his slaves. The bush has heard the cry of the people and has compassion.

Thanks, bush.

Moses, of course, said, “No, I can’t do that! I stutter! I’m weak. I’m just a shepherd. I’m wanted. I don’t even know who you are.” Every objection was met with an answer – this plant was not going to take No for an answer.

God said, “Yes you can – and I will empower you for this ministry.” And he did.

The second plant type we encounter in the Gospel. Jesus tells the parable of the fig that would not or could not produce fruit. The landowner wants to just get rid of the thing, but the gardener pleads to give it one last chance. He’ll prune, water and fertilize the tree for a year, and if after that time it still hasn’t produced fruit, then the master can chop it up.

Where the burning bush is fiery and powerful as well as compassionate, the fig tree is weak, prone to giving up, clueless how to survive – seemingly hopeless.

You might think the burning bush is an obvious symbol for God but might wonder about the fig. Are we really that bad?

Well, remember that just Jesus has dealt with two stories of people trying to find reasons to condemn others – victims of horrific tragedies. It would be like blaming innocent victims of an earthquake or hurricane.

Their motivation for this? Largely, it’s so they will feel superior to others. If someone else is really bad, then nobody will notice my faults. And in a world like first century Israel where bad things only happened to bad people, victims of horrific crimes were easy targets.

That’s what Jesus was dealing with, and he responded by saying: You are in the same boat. You all are.

Then to emphasize the point, he tells the parable of the tree. They may be no good, as good as dead, hopeless and worthy of impatience, but with Jesus as gardener, there’s always “one more time.” Always another chance.

That’s a pretty harsh picture of God – that is the land owner. And let’s face it, it’s not a very flattering picture of us, either. But the gardener gives us hope. With him, not only do we get a chance to live another year, but we get the best care that can nurture us to full health.

Actually, we get better than that. The gardener feeds this fig, feeds us, with his lifeblood so that we become part of him – and therefore part of the burning bush. In short, we are one with God.

Maybe we’ll never quite become a burning bush (but who knows?) – yet certainly a healthy, fruitful, empowered, compassionate and persistent plant that will make any farmer glad.

That is what is within us, potential that Jesus sees even if we don’t. All it takes is a heart filled with love – an infusion of God. Then we’ll see how much of the world we can feed, clothe, comfort, etc.

There are two types of plants, but there’s nothing that says we can’t graft one onto the other. It’s better than just manure anyway. Amen.