O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Who should be cut out?
Who should be cut out?
Preached on November 11, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints and chosen fig trees in God's holy vineyard. How good of a gardener are you? We used to have a beautiful pink and white orchid plant, but due to my limited knowledge and skill it struggled to stay alive. The flowers that grew from it were constantly dying, withering up and turning brown, casting their previously cheerful faces towards the ground. I told you I am a useless gardener. What makes matters worse is that I've been told that orchids are the easiest plants to keep alive. So much for my latest 'green' hobby. Yet, with all of this being said, I do know an important thing about gardening. Those sad, dying flowers that wither and turn brown, they need to be picked off the plant. Apparently they call this 'pruning', and it is important for the health of the plant as a whole. Those withering flowers still draw nutrients from the plant, and this takes important nutrients from the other flowers that are trying to grow. If I were to leave these sad, withered flowers connected to the plant, the other flowers would also die from lack of nutrients. If I paid no attention to the plant, eventually all of the flowers would wither and die. The same is true for a vineyard. Each of the trees in a vineyard is drawing nutrients from the earth. Just like my flowers, if one tree is withering and drooping, it should be cut out so as not to harm the other trees. My goodness, being a gardener seems like a lot of hard work.
In our text today, Jesus teaches us a parable about a fig tree in a vineyard. He shows us that He too is a gardener. But what kind of gardener is God? How good of a gardener is He?
Well we know this, God the Creator has planted you in His vineyard. You are a tall, beautiful fig tree overflowing with bright green bushy leaves. Nestled comfortably in God's vineyard, the sun beams down on you, warming your boughs and calling you to stretch your limbs towards it. The gardener comes by each day to spray a nice cool mist onto your green wings and gnarly roots. The earth all around you is rich, dark soil, teeming with insect life and other nutrients that help you grow. You were born, that is planted, to live peacefully with God in His vineyard. You were planted to produce fruit - delicious, appealing, mouthwatering fruit. Fruit that gushes with flavour and juices. Fruit that satisfies the needs of any that indulge in them. Fruit that grows from repentance, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These fruits are pleasing to the gardener and pleasing to the other trees in the vineyard. These fruits only grow and ripen on a repentant tree, a tree that bows in humility before the Lord. A tree that does not persist in error, but sorrowfully admits its unclean acts. Not a proud tree, but a tree that desires to live openly in the sunlight of the vineyard and produce bushels of flavourful fruit.
But what is Jesus revealing to us in His message this morning? Are you and I, the ones comfortably planted in the vineyard, actually producing fruit? Why does Christ answer the crowd with this parable? Perhaps the answer is not what we expect. For Jesus is giving us an important warning. We are not producing fruit. None of us, not one. Barren trees. That is what Christ finds when He inspects His vineyard. He does not find a lush and fruitful orchard, but an empty, unproductive forest.
What is wrong with these trees? Why does Christ find nothing growing year after year? What prevents them from growing?
The truth is that these fruitless trees fail to see how unclean they are. Instead, their attention is on the empty trees around them. Just like the crowds that hassled Jesus - you and I don't notice our own sin because we are too busy pointing out the sins of others.
We see the shameful acts of criminals and shake our heads. Surely God will punish them more. But Jesus responds to this very idea saying, "Do you presume these are worse sinners than anyone else? No, I say to you, but unless you repent, all of you will perish in the same way." Christ puts everyone together into one category - SINNER. There are not special categories for murderers, or rapists or terrorists or any other earthly distinctions man will make. Instead, there is one sinful category that every man fits into, and Christ is clear to speak His warning to you. You personally - You are the one who deserves death and punishment. You and I deserve the same fate as the criminal. We deserve to be cut out of the vineyard forever. We are like the withering flowers on my orchid plant. A good gardener would cut us out to prevent the rest of the plant from perishing. We don't deserve to remain planted in the rich, fertile earth. As Christ says, "why also the earth be made useless?"
But, God is not a good gardener. In fact, God purposefully makes Himself a ridiculously bad gardener. After all, any good gardener would keep the fruitful plants and cut out the fruitless plants. But God does not cut you out - No, instead He cuts His Son out. Instead, He sends His Son to a torturous and terrible tree. Christ was cut out when He was crucified on the Cross. God is such a bad gardener that He cut out the most fruitful tree, the very tree of life instead of cutting out any fruitless trees in His precious vineyard. He would rather love you, than be considered a good gardener. He would rather cut Himself out than cut you out. But through the death of Jesus Christ, the torturous tree that took His life - now brings you life.
For when you fail to produce fruit, it is then that He tries all the harder to save you. It is then that the gardener increases His attention to His fruitless tree. He is active in your repentance. He is the one working to produce the fruit in you. He gives you more time saying, 'leave it in peace also this year.' He digs around you with His Word and fertilizes you with His Holy Supper. When you eat His body and drink His blood, He injects you with the sap from the tree of life. The same blood that runs through the veins of Christ runs through your veins. The same sap that give that tree its life, gives you life. The same resurrection in which Christ arose - you too will arise.
He does not simply cut you out when you fail, but brings you to completion. He gives you the nutrients you need to produce that juicy, delicious fruit. He prepares the soil with His Law and His Gospel. He keeps you planted firmly in your Baptism. With all of His Holy means, Christ produces much fruit on your strong branches. So praise and thanks be to God, that He does not give us what we deserve - He does not cut us out of His vineyard - but He patiently and lovingly gives Himself as the very nutrients we need to produce fruit. So let us come to our bad gardener, let us come to our Saviour who would give us His body and blood as the very sap of life that we need to produce fruit. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr