Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9
“Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” – Mary Oliver
Thirsting for something more
When I was seventeen, I found a job doing landscaping at the SeaWorld Cleveland that was just a few miles from my home. The horticulture or landscape department at the park was fantastic. Much to the consternation of the animal trainers, we were often the number 1 exhibit in the park, according to the visitors. The landscape was lush and beautiful, and the crews that I worked with through college took great pride in their work. Every year at the front gate, we had these very large, hanging baskets of petunias. As the season progressed they would bloom and bloom and we would trim them up to keep them from hanging too low. They were watered with small irrigation tubes that hung down from the roof of the entrance gates. Early one morning, we got a call that one of the baskets was looking terrible. When my crew leader and I got there, the flowers were dried up and limp. It looked beyond saving. There were a few backup baskets in the greenhouses, but before we changed it out, we checked the irrigation line. It turned out that the irrigation line had gotten plugged and after taking off the head and cleaning it off, it ran just fine. We gave it some extra water with the help of a low-tech bucket and hose, and then we left. When we came back just after lunch, I was amazed! The flowers looked just as beautiful as all of the other baskets! It had just needed a little extra attention after it didn’t get the water it needed, and that plant perked right up.
Isaiah says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” This is more than an invitation for water to a people that often dwelt in the desert. This was an acknowledgment that there are things that we need that we cannot live without. Water is one of those basic things in life that is essential and non-negotiable. It always kind of struck me as ironic that we are beings that are made up of more than 90% water, and yet we still need water to survive and thrive. In a strange way, it reminds me that though God created us, and we are made in God’s image, we also need God. We are fed by our faith in a way that keeps us fully and abundantly alive. This is what the psalmist declares in the opening of my favorite Psalm (#42), “As the deer longs for the water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” There is a spiritual thirst built into each one of us and when we come to the well of the Lord, we are filled abundantly and we are called to be generous with the faith we are given.
A God of Second Chances
We are called to be generous with our faith. Sometimes, after we have been hurt badly by someone we love or by some circumstance, we might feel like we have to guard our hearts … like we must protect ourselves from further pain. Plants do this too. When they are in shock or suddenly trying to cope with a difficult climate or environment, they will stop putting their energy into blooming and will instead try to conserve their energy into the their basic survival needs. So when we get stressed by our job or by our relationships, we cling to the little bit of faith that we have, and we hold tight to the small amount of trust that we have in God as though it will fly away at the first chance it gets if we do not keep everything clamped down.
The fig tree in Jesus’ parable, however, shows us that we believe and trust in the God of second chances. The Gardener God of our passage is able to fertilize our roots and water the dried up, brittle leaves of our lives in such a way that we can bloom again and again, even after a very difficult season. Jesus’ call to repentance in this passage, strikes me as a wake-up call … telling us that it is time to stop storing our energy and start using it, trusting that our well will never run dry. We are the perennial plants and Jesus’ call to repent is a call to stop storing energy in our roots, and start putting our energy into blooming. This, I think, involves trusting that while we were hibernating through winter, our Gardener God was at work within our systems, strengthening the health of our roots and remaining present within the invisible workings of our lives, hearts, and minds.
Jesus says to Repent or Perish – wake up little plants! It is time to stop wasting your soil space! The meaning of the word repent comes from the word metanoia which literally means to turn 180 degrees. When we sin, we turn away from God and away from our proper relationship with God. When we repent, we turn back to God to fully face and embrace our relationship with God.
Repent or Perish
Sam will be three in a few short weeks, and is going through another growth spurt. Part of this growth spurt is emotional as he tries to figure out how to live and move in this world. Like any toddler, he pushes boundaries, and when he crosses a boundary that Joe and I have told him is not OK, we put him into timeout. Just one minute per year, the two minutes seem like a lifetime to both Sam and us. At the end of those two minutes, we again explain to him why he was in time out. We tell him that we love him, and we tell him that he needs to apologize to us. Now, when we first started giving timeouts, Sam refused to say sorry. At first, it was probably because he didn’t really understand what sorry meant. Then, as he figured it out, he was too embarrassed (and probably a little stubborn) to say it. Now, he often shouts it out to us right after we put him into timeout in the hopes that he won’t have to sit there for two minutes. Occasionally, he looks me in the eye, says “Sorry, mama” very sweetly, and actually means it.
Most of us think of confession and apologies in the same way that Sam does. We think that we just need to name what we did wrong, apologize, and then we get to move on. But Joe and I don’t make Sam apologize in order to make him feel bad. Likewise, we do not confess our sins just so we know that we are sinful. We require an apology from Sam because we want him to grow up into a person who is able to be responsible and caring.
Jesus says, “Repent or Perish!” not because we will physically die if we do not confess. It is an invitation to come to the waters and change the direction of your life. To avoid these waters is to deny that we were made to enjoy a relationship with God. We were made to glorify and enjoy the Lord! To stay away from the spiritual waters that we crave and need is to risk dying spiritually. To turn your life around completely, to spin yourself around and face God fully is to trust that Jesus is the way and life … to trust in the abundant grace and forgiveness that we may find in Jesus Christ.
Irrepressible nature of grace and forgiveness
Isaiah and Luke tap into the same vein of abundance of the God of second chances … come to the waters. Come buy your essentials, buy your feasting food, but don’t worry you will not have to pay. Repent, turn towards me. Look me full in the face, believing in my grace and mercy. Trust in me, rely on me; walk with me. These passages are invitations to an unconditional relationship that feeds us in ways that we cannot see of fully explain. But we are fed by the grace of God, and we come to worship together, hungry for an experience with the divine love that is expressed in Jesus Christ. Let us trust in that love abundantly, and let us graciously and generously share that abundance with others.
Let us pray, God of the waters, quench our thirst today, but keep us hungry for your love and your forgiveness. Help us to trust in your grace so readily that your love continues to flow in and through us and out the world around us. May we be the fig tree, ready to wake up and bloom! Amen.