We Will Seek the Lord and Be Fruitful
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, March 3, 2013.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
Jesus sat down at the round table. It was the place people went to kibitz: to offer unsolicited advice and criticism about anything and everything.
In my childhood, the round table was at Gundhi’s, the now closed family restaurant in town. It was really the only sit-down family restaurant in the area at the time. It was my grandfather’s favorite place to eat. You could get stuffed tenderloin, beef Manhattan, and fried chicken all with a choice of three sides and a roll. The round table was located in the far right-hand corner of the informal dining room. It was the last table, before entering the formal dining room: a strategic location that allowed residents of the round table to survey who was entering the restaurant. Were patrons eating in the informal dining room, having just come from work? was there a reason that they were eating in the formal dining room? a business meeting, a funeral dinner, a family celebration, perhaps? The roundtable was strategically located so that everyone who entered the restaurant was open to the advice, criticism, and welcome of those sitting in the round.
During breakfast and lunch the round table was always full: elbow to elbow with people and up to the eyebrows in local gossip (some of it exaggerated, some of it true, and some of it not). The roundtable was a place for the locals to gather, grab a cup of coffee (regardless of the time of day), eat a meal, and reflect on the happenings of the day. It was the place Jesus’ own father would take him for lunch as a boy when he was working in the carpentry shop. His dad would always give him the same advice, “don’t eat too much, I need you be able to be worth somethin’’ this afternoon. We’ve got a lotta work to do.” The roundtable was where Jesus and his father would go for lunch, enjoy a cup of coffee, and catch up on the local news.
So, it was here—at the roundtable—that Jesus sat down. The waitress poured him a glass of real coffee—the high test, caffeinated stuff in the brown topped decanter, not that worthless dirty water in the orange one—and he joined the conversation.
“Did you hear what happened down at the temple?” said Jo the local carpenter. “Those good-for-nothing Romans are up to trouble again.” Jo slammed his hand on the table. Everyone was listening now. He continued, with each word his blood boiled a little hotter, and his voice got louder. “It’s bad enough being occupied by Pilate and his Roman minions, but have you heard what happened? Pilate sent his cronies down to the temple and had men—our countrymen!—cut down like lambs to the slaughter. No, not simply like lambs to the slaughter, but alongside sacrificial lambs, so that the blood of holy sacrifices and patriots ran together as one. Can ‘ya believe it?!? What could possibly be more violent, more reprehensible?”
Talk around the table got quiet. Everyone was shaking their head in agreement and disgust: everyone except Jesus. There was a long pause. Then, nearly in unison, they all lifted their coffee cups and wetted their palate with that black elixir of life that would give them energy to face the day: a day that now seemed a little bit darker. They held their cups up near their mouths, taking warmth from the cup in light of such a cold story; and, all eyes turned toward Jesus.
We’re not given any clear indication if the story told to Jesus that day at the roundtable was true. “What is clear is that it was an appeal to Jesus’ nationalistic sympathies. He is expected to hear the story and galvanize in heated moral superiority with his countrymen, very much against the outsider Romans, those inhuman forces of evil. However Jesus will not go along. He does not focus on Pilate or the Romans and their cruelty. Instead he turns attention back on” the “local yocals,” his friends, sitting at the roundtable.
“Ya, what about it, Jo?” Everyone around the table took another sip of coffee, eyes darting from Jo to Jesus, Jesus to Jo, Jo to Jesus. Jesus used the awkward silence to take another sip himself. He, then, addressed everyone around the table, “Do you think that our countrymen who supposedly died at the hands of the Romans that day are better or worse off than anyone else? Maggie, yesterday you were talking about those 18 men who innocently lost their lives when out of nowhere the tower of Siloam fell on them. Are they better or worse off than those who were not crushed? Come on! The fact is death is going to come to us all. It may come to us in old age. It may come to us by accident. It may come to us at the hands of the Romans.” It was here that Jesus abruptly paused and took another drink of coffee. He choked a bit, and began to cough; tears welled up inside him as he thought about his own impending death at the hands of the Romans. Jesus looked up, his eyes still watery, and gazed into the eyes of everyone sitting at the table: “Time is running out for all of us,” Jesus said; “but, death does not have to be the end. You know, you can choose to live. The choice is simple—but it will cost you everything. ‘Change your hearts and lives’ (see Luke 13:3 & 5) or your life will surely be cut short.”
Jesus looked down at his breakfast, and noticed that there was two halves of fig on his plate. Figs were his favorite fruit. Before anyone had a chance to respond, Jesus continued, “Let me tell you a story. It’s kind of like a man who planted a fig tree in the middle of his vineyard. When the season was right, the man went looking for some fruit. When he found none, he called over the local arborist (that is a specialist in the cultivation and care of trees and shrubs). “Look, said the tree owner, I’ve been waiting for this tree to produce my favorite fruit for the past three years. Each year, I come away empty handed. Cut the worthless thing down. Why should I allow it to waste perfectly good soil? It’s doing nothing but leaching all the nutrients from the ground starving the other plants.” The arborist, hearing the owner’s fury, responded, “Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. Maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.” Jesus then stood up, finished his coffee, and made one last comment before he left the table. He said, “Got any fruit?” With that he walked to the counter, paid the bill, and gave the waitress a generous tip. Though he was gone, Jesus’ question lingered around the roundtable: “Got any fruit?” What a strange question, they thought…his plate of figs was still sitting on the table.
Got any fruit?
Jesus is asking a question he and others throughout the Bible ask regularly. The prophet Isaiah (5:1-7) bemoans the fact that a well groomed vineyard placed on a fertile hill where all the rocks had been removed yielded nothing of worth. The owner was so mad that he tore down the wall that protected the vineyard and allowed it to be trampled underfoot, laid to waste, and overtaken by briers and thorns.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
In the Gospel of Matthew (21:18-19), Jesus is walking along the road on his way back into Jerusalem. It was early in the morning and he was hungry. He noticed alongside the road, a fig tree. “He went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered [and died] at once” (Matthew 21:19, New Revised Standard Version).
In the Gospel of John, immediately following Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, Jesus told them:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned….8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.
Got any fruit?
Is the way we live your lives proof that we are followers of Jesus Christ? Are we growing in our faith and love toward God and neighbor? Do we exhibit what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 (note it’s a single fruit not multiple fruits): love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Are we, in the words of Isaiah, living lives marked by justice and righteousness?
And, perhaps, here’s the tough question for us to hear in light of our lesson for today: are we bearing fruit? or are we just taking up space in God’s vineyard, sucking up vital nutrients and starving other plants? “Are we pew potatoes in the church and the chosen frozen in the world? Or have we so given our lives over to Christ Jesus that he dwells within us sufficiently that when a fruit inspector comes along they see evidence of fruit everywhere?” The world is full of fruit inspectors: in not so many words, I talked about that last Sunday at the Community Lenten Service (which you really should be attending!). Do they see Jesus in the way we live our lives? Do the fruit inspectors find any growth in our commitment to love and serve God and neighbor? or is our fruit old, shriveled, rotting on the vine? Do they see the Kingdom growing within us as individuals and in the community in which we live and serve. Have ‘ya…
Got any fruit?
Jesus said that we cannot create fruit on our own. We cannot simply will to be fruitful. We simply cannot, on our own accord, grow the fruit of the Spirit, justice or righteousness. We cannot on our own establish God’s Kingdom which is something beyond our own abilities. Jesus said, if you want to bear fruit, then you’ve got to follow me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned….8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.
Friends, seek the Lord and you will be fruitful. Plant yourself firmly in God’s presence through regular Scripture reading, prayer, Christian conferencing, public worship, and service. Grow in your commitment to serve God and neighbor through your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Seek the Lord and be fruitful. Amen.
 Adapted from “Luke 13:1-9: Pastoral Perspective” by Rodney Clapp in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 94.
 Luke 13:8-9, The Message.
 Isaiah 5:7, New Revised Standard Version
 John 15:1-6, 8, Common English Bible
 “Where’s the Fruit? – February 22, 2009,” a sermon by Pastor Melody Kimbrel offered at Bazaar United Methodist Church (Bazaar, Kansas) on February 22, 2009 Accessed February 28, 2013.