Supercharge Your Growth Sermon
Luke 13:1-9 May 17, 2020
We’re continuing our series, Don’t Just Go Through It, Grow Through It! We’re offering practical suggestions to help you grow personally and grow closer to God through these unprecedented times. Crisis either stops you or it drives you forward. This is for everyone who wants to move forward. We’ve talked about soil and seed, today we are focusing on a parable Jesus told about the fertilizer you need to supercharge your growth.
To receive the full impact of Jesus’s parables, you look at the context that provoked him to tell his story. The context here feels familiar. Jesus had been preaching to a crowd and suddenly there is a stir in the crowd. There is breaking news. Someone tells Jesus that some people from Galilee, the same area Jesus was from, had been murdered. While they were at worship, making their sacrificial offerings to God, a squad of soldiers from the governor, Pontius Pilate, showed up and slaughtered them at the altar. Just horrific. You can almost feel the silence that settles over them.
And as you know, whenever there is breaking news, someone has to offer commentary—and thereby say something stupid. We don’t know exactly what was said. Luke doesn’t tell. But something must have been said. We can tell because of the way Jesus blows up. I mean he absolutely goes off.
Someone must have wondered aloud what those poor people had done to deserve their fate. Surely, they had committed some abominable sin for God to let them die in such a gruesome way.
Somebody couldn’t help themselves, they had to imply that everything that happens is because that’s the way God wants it. So, those murdered people must have had it coming. The same thought process is alive and well right now. Some of the most influential preachers in America are blaming the pandemic on God, saying we’re experiencing God’s judgment for one thing or another they personally don’t like. It’s no wonder people are so suspicious of the church and have left in droves. It’s because of self-righteous, judgmental garbage like that.
Jesus didn’t like it when he heard it either. Jesus basically says, “You think they deserved that? What, you think their sins were worse than anybody else’s, so God did them in?” He references another recent event, “And I suppose you think that the towers that collapsed on people at Siloam had it coming too because their sins were so much worse than anyone else’s?” Jesus is outright mocking this kind of thinking.
How about instead of blaming the victims and God, you blame Pilate and his whole system that terrorizes and slaughters innocent people? Don’t attribute to God the evil actions of a tyrant. How about you repent (which literally means change your mind or direction) from this way of dividing up the world where you assume you’re better than people who are going through a hard time because you have this crazy notion that bad things only happen to bad people? On some level, it may make you feel less vulnerable to think everyone deserves their lot in life, but hard times come to us all.
Jesus throws in a little line about unless you repent, you will perish, too. Scholars say Jesus is trying to get the crowd to see that they have more in common than different from the victims.
The point seems to be: Stop blaming victims. Stop blaming God. Stop the division. Suffering happens to everyone. When a few bad things in a row happen to you, don’t waste time trying to figure out why God is doing it to you. That’s not God’s jam. That’s why Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree—to reinforce the point that God is patient, God is about redemption, another chance. God is about redemption, not destruction.
The Parable of the Fig Tree
It’s a fun little story Jesus tells. There is a vineyard owner, we will call him Newton, who has a fig tree in the middle of his vineyard. Every day for three years he went to that tree thinking there should be some fruit on it by now, but it was barren. “How am I going to invent Fig Newtons from that? What a waste of soil! I’m going to chop this tree down.”
But the gardener (whom we will call Mr. Gull) intervenes. Hey, how about we give it another year, I’ll dig around it and put manure on it. I love the way the King James Version says “And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it.” Well, Gull dung it, that’s interesting.
The gardener is patient. If it’s not bearing fruit up here, the problem is down there in the roots. It’s not getting the nutrients it needs, feed it with what it needs. Give it time. Jesus is patient with us. He gives us what we need. What do we need? A better understanding of God. A God who like the book of Jonah says, “Is patient, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.” A God who gives us another chance. Give us love and grace and forgiveness.
The parable speaks about the nature of God, and it is also instructive for us. If your life is not bearing fruit in some situation in your life—whether your own sense of inner peace and assurance or in a relationship or whatever, the problem is probably in your root system. You need to supercharge your growth. Feed it down there to have it bear fruit up there. What is the fertilizer? Maybe it is prayer and worship? Or serving others, or fellowship, or study? I think all of these things are essential spiritual nutrients for growth.
But the supercharger fertilizer in the parable is stinky manure. We all go through things in life that stink. Develop the perspective that it is fertilizer. It may smell bad now but if you’ll stay in faith it’ll help you. It will help shape you. We are shaped more by the tough times, the hard times than decades of interrupted good times. King David said God enlarged me in my times of distress. [Psalm 4:1].
Somebody gets on your case, says something mean or untrue. You can look at them and think, that’s just manure. I’m getting stronger and better and not going to let that slow me down one bit. Quit There’s no use in complaining about the fertilizer, and all the manure that got dumped on you. You can say, “I won’t let it cause me to give up. It’s preparing me for a more fruitful season. I can be more empathetic, more supportive, more focused on what is really important.”
Keep Your Focus
The parable of the fig tree reminds us that God is seeking our growth. Whether we grow and bear fruit is really up to us. Will we receive what God offers for our growth, or will be distracted?
The key is to keep your focus. I have a friend who used to race motorcycles who talked about the hardest part was to retrain his brain to focus on the right thing. He said wherever you are focused is what you gravitate toward. If there is a crash or a danger, even if you don’t want to, you are going to find yourself headed in that direction. Where you focus determines where you end up.
Focus on God as a positive source for your life. If you’re always worried about the wrath of God coming down on you for some infraction or another, that will shape how you respond to the crisis. think it’s God punishing you, you will see no hope, you won’t invest in growth and do things new ways. You will hide. But if you believe God is interested in you the fig tree reaching your potential, in redeeming you, helping you, you can be fearless.
Focus more on what you have that is missing. Where do you spend more of your thought time? It’s the perfectionist’s disease. A feeling that you are always missing something makes happiness impossible and breeds fear and anger—which are the biggest killers of fruit-bearing. Look at the resources of love and compassion and spiritual strength you have now and use them.
Focus more on what you can control rather than what you cannot control. Where is your energy going? Sometimes you have to redirect your thoughts. Right now in the church, we are innovating online, try to improve, think of ways to reach more people through this, and through mission. Reaching out to the neighborhood.
Focus on the present. What you can do. Don’t spend your time trying to force things into the way they used to be. Recognize when the seasons change. The present is where you have control. What can you do right now to bear fruit? What good action, what encouragement can you give?
We are planting this mylar lemon tree in our meditation garden. As a testament to the fact that God is patient with us. And that we are growing and bearing fruit even now, through all of this. May this little tree remind us that in this time no matter how much it stinks, we focused on growth and life and believed that some fruit will come of all of this as individuals and as a church. And even when we’re handed lemons, we will make lemonade.