A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Lent 3 – Fruits of Repentance

Rev. Doug Floyd

Lent 3 – Fruits of Repentance
Rev. Doug Floyd
Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 103, I Corinthians 10:1–13, Luke 13:1-9

The recent film Belfast immerses us into an Irish neighborhood at the beginning of the troubles in 1969. We see the world primarily through the eyes of nine-year-old Buddy. He lives in a world populated by his family and all the families of his little street. I would highly recommend the film as a snapshot of the good and bad of the world in the late 60s. On Sunday, Buddy and his brother Will are sent off to the local Protestant church for a fiery sermon on the terrors of hell. Sitting in the pew sweating, Buddy listens intently as the preacher talks about the narrow road and the broad road that leads to destruction. As he exclaims the horror of a burning hell, Buddy trembles in fear. Later Buddy draws the two roads and in a bit of confusion, Buddy exclaims that he cannot remember if the narrow way is to the right or to the left.

As I watched the film, I was taken back to the churches of my youth and the relentless sermons on the narrow way. I prayed almost every day for salvation, and almost every day there was always a fear that God would say to me, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

How do we hear passages about a broad road leading to destruction? Or a narrow road leading to a feast in the kingdom of God? How are we to consider Jesus responding to questions about the suffering of the Galileans. He warns that unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

Jesus proceeds to talk about a fig tree that bears no fruit. The landowner wants to cut down the tree, but the vinedresser intercedes on behalf of the tree. The vinedresser asks for one more year to dig around it and put manure around it. Judgment looms over our Gospel reading today.

The first section is about the suffering Galileans and the tower that fell in Siloam and killed 18 people. The people may to be asking where is the goodness of God in such tragedy. Jesus flips the question. He says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”[1] If anything, the tragedies serve as a call to repentance.

The second part of the Gospel reading is about the tree that has had no fruit. Judgment Day has come and the landowner is ready to cut down the tree. As we hear our Gospel reading today, we should also hear the urgency, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Luke is a theologian of repentance. Of the thirty-four uses of repentance or metanoia in the New Testament, over half of them are found in the Gospel of Luke or the Acts of the Apostles. In both books, the Jews and the Gentiles are called to repentance.

Darrell Bock defines repentance in Luke-Acts as “an awareness that as a sinner one has an unhealthy relationship with God that needs the “medical attention” of the Great Physician. Repentance involves recognizing that a person is spiritually sick and impotent, unable to help oneself. Repentance is turning to Jesus for spiritual healing, for treatment of one’s heart and life, for one knows that only Jesus can give “the cure.”[2]

Repentance is a turning away from idols, from unhealthy patterns of thought, from sinful actions; and toward Jesus, who forgives and frees us in the way of love. Proper repentance leads to the bearing of fruit. The story of the fig tree that bears no fruit reveals the problem of supposed repentance with no fruit. In Luke 3, John the Baptist turns to his followers and says, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” What are these fruits? He makes them very specific, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”[3]

Each person grows a specific kind of fruit: a fruit that expresses the love and kindness of God in their specific role in life. In our story about the tree that bears no fruit, we actually hear echoes of the mercy of God. Judgment day has come. The owner begins to assess his fruit trees. He finds no fruit. Judgment has at least two aspects. One is assessment. Sheep or Goat? Fruit or no fruit? Tasty fruit or bitter fruit? Almost every meal involves a mini judgment. This bagel is really good. That tea tastes bitter. Created in the image of God, we were made to assess, to pass judgment. “That was a great movie!” or “That was a waste of time!”

Judgment also involves separation: wheat separated from chaff; goats separated from sheep; day separated from night. Judgment isn’t always bad. When I was in the second grade, the teacher noticed I was moving my head when I read. She assessed my reading skills. Next, she separated me from other students. I was given specialized training to improve my reading skills and to teach me to read with my eyes. This judgment was a gift to me and may have played a role in me becoming a lifelong reader.

In today’s Gospel, we have a warning that Judgment Day comes suddenly for us all. Instead of focusing on the ultimate image of judgment as heaven or hell, let’s think of the Kingdom of God, which is Luke’s focus. The Kingdom of God is at hand right now. Are you turning toward the Kingdom or away from it? Some Pharisees of social standing presume they are already in the top tier of the kingdom. John the Baptist and Jesus both point out that you cannot presume your bloodline or social status earns you anything in the kingdom. We all enter through the same narrow gate: Jesus Christ. We are all needy and must look to the deep, deep mercy of God in Christ. In Christ, we begin to bear a particular kind of fruit that He created of us bear.

Our fruit may grow out of our weakness and not our strength. Consider Shawn Askinosie. He was a successful defense lawyer. For almost 20 years, he never lost a jury trial. His nine-year-old daughter started reading Tuesdays with Morrie to him. This began to uncloak the grief and anger beneath his incredible success. His success grew out of his anger at God for letting his father die when Shawn was a young teenager. He set out to prove he didn’t need God by becoming successful in everything he put his hand to. As his daughter read to him, he came to see how empty his life was. He gradually began to turn back to God: to listen to him.

He started serving those in need. Spending time with people who were dying. Praying with them. He began to experience joy, which only revealed the depths of his grief. As he came face to face with his own grief, he opened his heart to God., seeking direction for a new life passion other than lawyering. One day while he was driving, he suddenly thought about chocolate. Within three months, Shawn was in the Amazon, researching how farmers cultivate cocoa beans. He has been able to serve the communities of cocoa farmers all over the world while also helping the poverty needs in his own community. At the same time, he realizes the fragility of his business. It’s a small operation. He says, “Everything could fall apart, and it would still be fine.”[4]

He approaches this business as a calling in humility, trusting in the Lord. That nine-year-old who initially inspired him, grew up and is now his partner in the business.

Bearing fruit can take all sorts of shapes from a kind word to an idea that may change the world.

Consider the missionary Frank Laubach. He was serving in a remote Muslim village in the Philippines. Every day he saw the struggles of the poor. Many were trapped in a cycle of injustice. Laubach believed reading could help some of them rise above their troubles. While praying for these people, he felt the Lord recalled the phrase, “Each One, Teach One.” That became the basis for a literacy program he developed that served people in his village and went on to serve people around the world. To date, his literacy program has helped teach over 60 million people to read in their own language.

Fruit does not have to take shape in extraordinary feats that impact the world. They can be small acts. When St. David of Wales died, he told his followers, “Remember the little things: the daily kindnesses.” These little kindnesses of a helping hand, an encouraging word are treasures of gold in this world. As the saints of God, we are created to bear fruit of love in all things big and small. We are created to love God, love people and love God’s creation.

Jesus cultivates us as fruit-bearing trees in the land. We hold this promise alongside the warning at the beginning of Luke 13 where Jesus repeats the phrase “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The tower of Siloam could have fallen on you. The sudden surprising death could happen to you. You could face judgment with no fruit. This is not about guilt. This is not about learning a specific prayer or a specific form of repentance.

Think of the boy in Belfast, he is trying to remember if the road to heaven is on the left or the right. He is missing the point. It is a technical detail unrelated to the Scripture. The preacher so emphasized hell, the boy’s imagination is excited with images of torments and fire. When I was little, I experienced the same kind of terror. I couldn’t hear the Gospel because the preacher kept focusing on damnation. I prayed and prayed and prayed again, hoping my prayer would keep me out of hell. The Gospel was not calling me to that kind of anxiety.

The Gospel is a warning. Life is short. It is the blink of an eye. One moment everything is fine and the next moment life is coming to a close. Life is shorter than we think: a blink of an eye. In this brief sojourn, we are created to bear fruit for God’s glory. As Mary Oliver writes in her poem, The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”[5]

We do not have time to waste a single moment on resentment. We do not have time to waste a single moment on coveting. We do not have time to waste a single moment on anger, on pouting, on any behavior that turns us away from Jesus and toward self-idolatry. We have been created for good fruit. In fact, I might even suggest that we are like the trees in Revelation whose leaves bring healing to the nations.

When I am tempted to grow angry, to complain, to put down others, or any number of selfish, habit-forming behaviors–let me turn to Christ. That is let me repent. Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner. May I bear the fruit of the Spirit in this moment. Lead me in the way of fruitful deeds that bring the sweetness of God to a world in need.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 13:2–3.

[2] Darrell L. Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts: Biblical Theology of the New Testament, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger, Bibilical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 263.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 3:11–14.

[4] Listen to an interview with Shawn at the “Truth at Work” blog < https://truthatwork.org/kingdom-entrepreneurship-a-new-paradigm-with-shawn-askinosie/>

[5] Oliver, Mary. House of Light (p. 60). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.


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