March 20, 2022: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

3/20/22 Third Sunday in Lent                   Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector 

Last weekend, I was laid up with my first cold in over two years after my darling husband was so kind as to share his cold with me that he caught from other musicians. Mask wearing and physical distancing have done wonders to keep our house from getting and spreading COVID, and it has also taken its toll on our immune systems. While I, of course, don’t like to be sick, I will confess that I do like the extra screen time I give to myself when I am laid up. Phil and I found ourselves scrolling through our various streaming platforms, when we came across a documentary on Netflix called “Quincy”. This AMAZING documentary detailed the life and work of the extremely talented and forward thinking man of music and philanthropy… Quincy Jones.

Spoiler alert: I am going to tell you a bit of his story, though not all of it, and this documentary is still worth a watch. At one point Quincy reflects on his relationship with his children. He shares that he did not tend to them as he tended to his success. They really didn’t know their dad, and after a health scare Quincy realized what his choices had done to his family. He had not tended the garden of his home, and his home was broken, and so to was his heart. His career was bearing much fruit, but his home life was not. As someone who also knows the pains of missing the mark when it comes to the people I love, my heart ached for him. I recalled Buddhist sage Thich Nhat Hanh’s notion of choosing wisely which seeds in our lives we water, because the seeds we water is what grows. 

And then, I came to this week’s scripture. At first reading, I found it hard and honestly a bit nerve wracking. When I come to parables in Luke I find it helpful to remember that Luke’s salvation is a reversal of the status quo. This salvation is social, not simply spiritual  (TBC, 332). This text also reflects a sense of urgency. Jesus here is resembling John the Baptist, and that there is a need for the coming transformation of the world and we must repent (FOTW, 93). Part of the urgency we are feeling in this text is that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He knows his own time is running out. He needs to do everything he can in his teaching and preaching to more deeply help the people truly turn to God and understand what it means to follow the example of faith he is showing them. 

Jesus is talking to folks in his hometown, and they serve up some self-righteous anger as they recount the story of the brutality of Pilate and the tower that falls and takes many lives. Self righteous anger is perhaps humanity’s favorite flavor of anger; anger that goes down smoothly and is not as bitter as other modes of the emotion. This first story is a story of the occupier not just cutting down their people like lambs to the slaughter, but alongside those sacrificial lambs (FOTW, 95). While these are indeed powerful stories that stir their anger, for our own modern context we note that these two events do not appear anywhere else in recorded history (JANT, 129)

So the people put before Jesus these painful stories steeped in their self-righteous anger. And… Jesus does not join them in it. Instead he first offers up what would have been a new teaching to them. Tragic death does not indicate a sinful life (JANT, 129). Then, he builds a lesson on a foundation that they would have known; images of faith in the fig tree. Micah 7:1 compares the search for justice in Israel to a frustrated harvester who finds no figs or grapes in the vineyard (FOTW, 97). Isaiah’s song of the vineyard (5:1-7) also depicts the failure of a well tended vineyard to produce fruit (FOTW, 97). Jesus invites them, and us, to slow down and ponder as we consider the parable of the fig tree. When we talked about this parable at 9am Family Worship, I reminded folks that parables are short stories that teach us big lessons about our faith and help us to learn and grow. 

So, the parable of the fig tree…The fig tree has an advocate in the gardener who pleads that the tree be given every possible chance (FOTW, 94). What the gardener offers to the fig tree by way of time and tending is not some big outlandish plan. It is basic and thoughtful care embodied in most gardening practices. It points to the truth that, “God’s judgment is tempered by divine mercy” (FOTW, 94). Giving the tree time, tending to it so tenderly is a lesson in God’s extravagant mercy for humanity.

This parable is the reminder that humanity is the garden to be tended, we are what is being fertilized so that we might bear God’s fruit (FOTW, 94). The gardener advocates for one more year. Time is fleeting and yet there is still time (JANT, 130). And I wonder…Are we bearing fruit? Are we wasting soil? How do we need to be aerated and fertilized? How might we use the time to grow that we are given?

One of the articles I read in my studies this week was from our presiding Bishop Michael Curry. He puts forward the idea that this parable is an invitation to turn back to God, and instruction on how we live out our faith. He remembers a notion he heard from Dr. Benjamin Elijah Hayes, former president of Morehouse College: “Faith is taking your best step, and leaving the rest to God”. When writing about this passage Micheal Curry writes that, “we will not know the results of our witness in the world, that the working out of God’s kingdom is not ours to figure out. Our task is to labor… We witness and wait, take our best step and leave the rest to God. We labor now for a future we are not meant to control”(FOTW). And yet, we turn back to God, open ourselves to be tended to, and labor in faith all the same. 

It’s not too late, you can choose to be tended to and tend well to the things that are important to God and so too important to you. It would have been really easy for Quincy Jones to sit in anger of the situation he found himself in. Post health scare, another failed marriage, and realizing his success was at the cost of his children. Instead, he got to work healing and repenting. Healing his body and spirit. Healing his relationship with his children. Feeling the urgency, and claiming that it was not too late. He could choose right then to tend and tend well things and people that God called him to. 

One of my favorite moments of this documentary is footage of his young children reflecting on their relationship with their dad. They say things like, “We didn’t know him.”, “It was hard at first, but then we just started talking.” It then cuts to images of him with his children racing up the stairs of a waterpark to go down slides together. Images of Quincy with his children being interviewed, playing, hugging, talking with, loving them by being truly present to them. It was urgent, but it wasn’t too late. He took notice of how he needed to turn towards them and in doing so… bore much fruit. 

Today, as we consider how this parable of the fig tree invites us to turn to God in God’s extravagant mercy and live out our faith so that we might bear fruit, I am reminded of the words from black theological Dante Stewart who describes what faith means to him: “Things impossible can become reality, things oppressive can become just, things unlovable can become new, things dead can become alive”. How might we claim the invitation to be tended to and tend to so that we might bear fruit that reflects God’s goodness?; that reflects that our faith is a faith that claims time and time again that “things dead can become alive”? 

Resources: Feasting on the Word, Jewish Annotated New Testament, “Quincy” (Netflix film), Theological Bible Commentary, Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle,