Andrea began a new sermon series called “Be Still and Know.” Today’s sermon was “Listen and Wait.” Part of the sermon series is a painting that is being used. Last week it was just black. This week, a barren tree was part of the landscape and looked like this.
One of the scriptures for yesterday was Jesus’ parable of the fig tree from Luke 13: 6-10.
“Then Jesus told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’ (New Revised Standard Version)
In the new Common English Bible, the “gardener” asks to put “fertilizer” around the base of the tree instead of manure. In the twenty first century, that sanitizes it and makes more sense. Very few people use “manure” any more when gardening. They go to the garden center or local discount big box store and buy “fertilizer.” In Jesus’ day they used…..well if you excuse my language, basic animal…s*** or poop or manure. They waited until it was not so “hot”, and turned it daily to cool it down until it was ready to use on the garden or in the vineyard or in the orchard.
My neighbor down the street has chickens. He is an amazing gardener and I call him the “Garden god.” We pay for fresh eggs and he is saving for me a pile of chicken poop for my garden. Worked into the soil it will nourish the soil and fill it with nutrients for the plants to grow, to flower and to produce. Don’t you think it is interesting what is the by-product or waste of animal and human bodies and is considered sort of nasty, unsavory and gross is what makes things grow, mature and deepen?
I have been considering what all that means. If the parable of the fig tree is about grace….that grace as the gardener is willing to work with the one who is showing no growth and no fruit, what does it mean that God uses the “s***” of life, the manure of life to fertilize and feed the spiritual life? I think of all the stuff that should go on the compost pile of life: bitterness, resentment, anger at small slights, pettiness and meanness and jealousy. Most manure piles start out hot, steaming hot like this.
Piles of manure stay that way in the center until it is turned again and again and begins to break down and cool down. Then and only then is the pile of….manure usable.
Certainly much of what is negative and awful in life flows hot and steamy and is uncomfortable, not to mention stinky. A master gardener would turn that pile of poo until it cooled down and then use it to make the garden grow and flourish and flower and produce excellent fruit. What if I let God use what is not good in my life, what is painful, awful, ugly and mean to compost and fertilize the best parts of my life? What if instead of stuffing the the things that really hurt, that are really negative I offered them to God for use in the garden of my heart and spirit? What would God be able to do with me and my spirit?
In this new year, I am going to give it a try. I can not control everything in life, but I can choose how I will deal with some of the pain, the suffering, and unpleasantness. In offering these things to God, my prayer becomes one of hope, that God can use the manure pile and make something amazing. With that hope and prayer, may I continue to be graced to serve.