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Third Sunday in Lent, February 28, 2016

When Thomas Edison was struggling to perfect the light bulb, it took 24 hours just to put together one bulb. When the team was finished with its one light bulb, Edison gave it to a young boy to carry upstairs. Step by step the boy carefully climbed the stairs, afraid that he might drop this priceless piece of work. You can probably guess what happened. The poor boy dropped the bulb at the top of the stairs. It took the team 24 hours to build another bulb. Finally, the bulb was finished. And Edison gave the boy the light bulb to carry up the stairs. He forgave the boy and gave him a second chance (James Newton).

God is a God of second chances too. God wants everyone to be saved. Israel had on more than one occasion broke the covenant they had with God and God had sent them into Assyria and Babylonia until they would repent of their sin and again be faithful to God. God tried and tried to get Israel to abide by the covenant. This time, God’s trying produced something new. Jesus came among us to proclaim repentance and the kingdom of God. Jesus taught and healed and cast out demons. He nourished the people both physically and spiritually. Even though they don’t know it, the people Jesus is talking to have their best chance of repenting now because it is not just a prophet who is with them, but God in their midst (F. Scott Spencer). God is calling on them to repent, to change their attitudes and actions, to have a complete reversal of loyalty from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.

But, Jesus says, God does not give unlimited chances. Life is fragile, and you had better repent soon, he tells the crowd. We have two examples of the fragility of life. Pilate killed Galileans as they were making sacrifices in the temple. And the tower of Siloam fell and killed 18 people in Jerusalem. The crowd believed that bad things happen to bad people and that good things happen to good people, so they were safe. They were good people. But Jesus shatters their illusions. The people who were killed were no worse sinners than anyone else in Galilee or Jerusalem, including them, but they perished because they had not repented. And that possible fate hangs over the crowd as well, because they too are human and sinful. Perishing seems to be about not having a place with God. It seems to be experiencing God’s wrath without God’s mercy (Daniel G. Deffenbaugh).

Even though perishing is possible, Jesus wants to emphasize the story of the fig tree to stress God’s goodness at giving us second chances. The fig tree is not producing fruit and the owner of the orchard wants to cut it down and put something more productive in its place. But the gardener begs for a second chance for the tree – not an unlimited second chance but a one year chance. During this time the gardener would take good care of it, would nourish it help its roots grow deeper into the soil. Just as Jesus has nourished the people and given them a chance to deepen spiritually, the gardener tends the tree. The owner does give a second chance and the gardener does his work. We all want the tree to succeed and bear good fruit.

Jesus wants us all to repent – to reverse our allegiance to the world of domination and oppression signified by Pilate and become loyal instead to the principles of the kingdom of God. Paul tells the Galatians that the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, generosity, kindness, faithfulness and self-control. That’s a long list and one that’s hard to achieve. One of our Lenten tasks is to find out where we are doing well with these and where we are missing the mark. Patience is one of those fruits that many of us have a hard time with. We hate to wait and want to get on with the business of our lives. But sometimes we have to wait for something that is coming in the mail, for an acceptance from college, for a lesson in spiritual growth. Generosity is also something many of us have trouble with. We live, almost unconsciously, with an attitude of scarcity – that there is not enough to go around. Some of these fruits are hard for each one of us and we need to repent our sins around our failures in producing good fruit.

Jesus wants us all to repent and he wants it to happen soon. Life is fragile and if we do not change our ways and bear good fruit, we will be subject to divine judgment. God is the God of second chances, but according to Jesus, not the God of unlimited chances. Some of us are uncomfortable with this. In other parts of the Bible, the kingdom of God seems universally accessible by all. At a retreat this week, we decide that God would forgive even Judas. Perhaps we could think about it as the kingdom of heaven is open to anyone who wants it and repents. God has no interest in forcing people to enter the kingdom. Whatever the truth of God’s mercy is we know we all need God’s mercy to be saved, to inherit eternal life with God.

This Lent, we can rejoice that our God is the God of second chances, and we are given them to repent and produce good fruit – which Jesus and the Holy Spirit will help us with – because we end up needing to do it over and over again. Let’s accept the reality of our sinful condition, gratefully receive the mercy of second chances and repent and be saved.

AMEN

     -- Rev. Ann Barker

Works Cited:
James Newton, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, and Charles Lindbergh, 1989, p. 22 in Sermons 4 Kids blog post, Feb. 22, 2016
F. Scott Spencer, Feasting on the Gospels, Luke, vol. 2, Exegetical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 31
Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2, Theological Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, p. 94