Sunday, February 28, 2016

Repentance takes Time and Tending

February 28th

Luke 13:1-9

Heavenly Father, who tends us as a gardener tending his flowers, help us to recognize

the time and tending that you have given us to heal, repent, and grow into the fullness

of who you are calling us to be, through your Word, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the

power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Greek Philosopher Epictetus said, “No greater thing is created suddenly, any more

than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that

there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

In the first part of the gospel passage today, the people listening to Jesus,

including us are given a charge: Repent. It's an unsurprising charge for us, there

is precedent after all, years of prophets, John the Baptist calling out, the tradition

of repentance and penance of Lent. We are called over and over again to

repentance, but it seems that we keep needing the reminder. Perhaps we just

aren't that good at changing our habits.

Those asking him what the people who were killed did was a question of self

preservation. What did they do that they deserved what happened and how can

we avoid it? Jesus tells them that what happened to them wasn't their fault, but

he continues with the charge to repent, to turn around, to return to God. Because

when you're in a deep relationship with God, you aren't worried about self

preservation. Jesus tells them multiple times to repent.

Luckily Jesus doesn't only call for repentance. He also answers the unasked

question of how to repent. Jesus answers this unasked question in the parable

that follows his call for repentance. As a good joke ends with the punch line, this

parable ends with the important line, (Luke 13:9) “[The gardener] replied, 'Sir, let

it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears

fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" The gardener in

the parable suggests two things for this fig tree that is not in a good relationship

with the owner: time and tending.

I think Jesus answers the question of how do we repent and return to God

through this parable by telling us that repentance takes time and tending.

Repentance takes time to confess what has gone wrong and to make amends.

Confession and reconciliation is a  process and not just a one-time thing. This is

part of the reason we make confession and absolution a regular part of our

communal worship. Part of the reason is certainly that we keep making mistakes

over and over again and we need to confess them over and over again, but

sometimes we need to confess the same sin multiple times before we are able to

make any changes. To repent means to turn around, but when we turn around,

we still have to move in the other direction. We can turn around all we like, but if

we don't move forward, we are in the same spot that we were before. If you've

ever been driving somewhere and made a wrong turn, you know this well. When

you have gone down a wrong road, you have to turn around and go back. Just

because you've realized you made a wrong turn and turned around doesn't mean

you are back where you made the mistake. And all that turning around and

driving back to where you messed up takes time. Repentance takes time. It

doesn't happen automatically even if we want it to. It takes time to recover what

was lost in the wrong direction.

This is part of the reason we have the season of Lent. There are many reasons for

this season, but one of the very well known facts about human beings is that we

know it takes time for us to change our habits, to rebuild relationships that have

gone awry. Part of our Lent tradition and practice in the church is to give

something up or take something on to bring us closer to God and we know, even

if we don't always want to admit it, that in order for us to learn from our

experience we have to have time for it to sink in. Lent is a season of penance

because penance truly is in some ways a wonderful thing. Penance, the work of

repenting, confessing, and doing works to rebuild what we have messed up moves

us beyond confession. Penance is what moves us forward to renewed

relationships once we have turned around. And while this takes time, and we

have given ourselves 40 days of Lent for this time, it also takes some serious

tending. We say that time heals all wounds, but I say, time heals all wounds only

if they are tended because otherwise they fester, and that is not what we want.

The gardener in Jesus' parable today doesn't just suggest another year of time to

wait for the fig tree to produce fruit. No, the gardener also suggests some serious

work and effort on his part in tending the tree. He plans on digging around the

tree and adding manure to fertilize and give the tree nutrients. But if you've ever

done any gardening at all, you know that this takes some muscle work, some

elbow grease. You have to haul the manure or fertilizer and it doesn't smell pretty

and you have to dig in the soil. The process takes time, yes, but it also takes the

work and effort of tending.

For us, there are many ways in which we have to tend ourselves in order to repent

and return to God. We have to put work and effort, elbow grease, into rebuilding

our relationships. As Josh called us to clean out our closets, physical and spiritual

and emotional, on Ash Wednesday, we have to put in the work of sorting through

everything that has piled up in those closets. It's not enough to take everything

out and leave it lying all over the room. We have to sort through it, figure out

what we actually need, or want, figure out what can be thrown out or recycled or

if someone else we knows needs it.

Thankfully for us, God does most of our tending for us. He gives us everything we

need around us to grow. God gives us the fertilizer, and some of it stinks just as

much as manure, that gives us the nutrients we need. God makes sure that it

rains on us and water us. God makes sure that we get the sunlight we need to

blossom and grow. But as much as that gardener in the parable acknowledges,

even with all of the right time and tending, the tree still may not grow. The tree

may not take in any of the nutrients it needs, even though they have been given.

Even though God tends us and gives us everything we need to grow and bear

fruit, we may decide not to take any of it in. We may decide not to grow or bear

fruit. God gives us that choice as well. All the while, God waits and tends us.

God is patient. God gives us the tending, the pruning, the time, the grace, to

repent, to return, to grow, to clean out our closets, to drive back the way we went

in the wrong direction. God is patient, giving us the time to work through

confession and reconciliation, forgiving us at every turn.

Gracefully, God will wait a long time, but our hope is that the waiting and tending

doesn't last forever. There comes a time when the fig tree blooms and Lent erupts into

Easter. When the closet will be clean, when broken relationships have healed, and if we

have taken in all the time and tending we need, we will be able to rejoice, eat our figs,

enjoy our renewed relationships, show off our clean closets, and celebrate the joy of

knowing God's love for us.

God is patient and gives us all we need and for this we say thanks be to God!