Sermon: God of the Second Chance

God of the Second Chance
28 Feb 2016  RUMC

It was during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970 where millions of its people had suffered from the ravages of war, starvation, and disease; at this time, the American Red Cross became involved and gathered needed relief supplies for the Nigerian people.  One of the donated boxes, that showed up at the collection depot contained an interesting letter to go along with some most unusual items.  The letter read: “We have recently been converted to Christianity and because of our conversion; we want to try to help.  We won’t ever need these again.  Can you use them for something?”  Inside the box were several Ku Klux Klan robes.  Not wanting anything to go to waste, the Red Cross workers cut these robes into small strips to use for bandages.  These KKK robes, which once had been the symbol of racism and hatred, were now used as bandages of love.

As a pastor, I have observed that most people give their hearts to the Lord in their youth.  For others it takes a longer time.  The timeline for spiritual growth, maturity and service varies as well.  No matter how long the process, it is always a change for the better.

In our scripture text, Jesus spoke about this process and used the fig tree as an illustration.  Luke 13:6-9.

Then he 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 around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

In our gospel text, Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to bring attention to certain spiritual truths: it underscores an element of divine judgment; then it shows that God gives his people second chances.

As Jesus told this story, the owner of this fruit tree looked for figs.  We assume after the tree had fully matured, the owner waited an additional three years for some fruit to emerge.  Since none had arrived, he figured this to be a lost cause; he decided to cut it down.  But the surprise in the story comes from the gardener who counseled patience.  He suggested with some extra treatment of soil along with the right application of fertilizer, things might turn around.  Thus the fig tree was given a second chance.

When we lived in Massachusetts, one of our neighbors, who owned a florist shop and was proud of his front and back yards, invited me over for a tour of the place.  I was impressed with his wide assortment of flowers and exotic bushes.  He even had apple, peach, pear and fig trees.  In the course of our conversation, I told my neighbor that I had never seen a fig tree close up.  In response, he pulled a fig off one of the branches and told me to eat it.  At first, I was hesitant, because as a kid, I hated Fig Newton’s and avoid them to this day.  But when I tasted this one, I was surprised how good it tasted.  It was nothing like the Fig Newton’s or the store bought dried figs.  I must have eaten at least 6 more.

My neighbor told me, that to grow and care for a fig tree in New England, conditions have to be right.  They must be planted in an area where there is good soil and plenty of sunlight.  In the winter they must be covered with a special green burlap type of cloth and when the buds begin to appear in the spring, fertilizer and organic matter has to be added.

Now for some reason, the fig tree in Jesus’s parable would not produce any fruit, and it was the gardener who wisely asked for more time.  Perhaps the added fertilizer and organic material would make the difference.

So what does this mean to us?

  • The fig tree that has fruit is the person who has invited Christ into their heart and is living for the Lord.
  • The fig tree without any fruit represents a person who has not made a profession of faith.
  • The owner of the estate is God.
  • The gardener who asks for more time in the life of the tree is Christ.

The life cycle of a fig tree is similar to the spiritual life of an individual.  Most trees produce fruit right on schedule, while others need more time before they come to fruition.

There is a story of man who seems to fit this particular thought.  He lived in the time of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church.  One night as Mr. Wesley rode his horse through an English village called Hounslow Heath.  It was in that little hamlet where Wesley was stopped by a man who shouted, “Halt!”  The stranger grabbed Wesley’s horse bridle and demanded, “Your money or your life”.  Wesley gave him all the money that he had, which was only a few coins.  He even invited the robber to examine his saddlebags, which were filled with books.  Disappointed at the small amount of money, the robber turned to leave.  And it was at that point Wesley called to the robber and said, “Stop, I have something more to give to you.”

He said, “My friend, you will live to regret this sort of life in which you are now engaged.  But if you ever do, I beseech you to remember this. ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s son, cleanseth us from all sin’.  The robber, surprised at the message, quickly hurried away.  As for Wesley, he continued his journey and prayed that the word spoken to the robber might someday bear fruit.

Some years later at the close of a Sunday evening worship service in another part of England, a very successful merchant asked to speak to Mr. Wesley.  He confessed he was the robber of Hounslow Heath.  He was now a child of God. The now ex-robber explained that the words spoken to him so long ago were used to bring about his Christian conversion.  And he kissed Wesley’s hand and said, “To you dear sir, I owe it all.”  To which Wesley replied, “No, no, my friend, not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanseth us from all sin.”

The ex-robber is just like the fig tree in the parable.  He needed extra time and care to bear some fruit.  Like I mentioned before, many young people come to Christ through Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and Confirmation classes.  Others need more time and living experiences before they come to Christ.  And what this parable teaches is that many of us may get a second chance.

It is hard to believe, in three weeks spring will arrive on March 20.  And it won’t be long before we will be outside getting some work done in the yard and the garden.  But here in this church season of Lent, this is the spiritual time where we can prune and nurture our own spiritual fig trees.

We can extend the lessons of this parable to our own Christian growth to see whether our spiritual fig tree has blossomed.  And like the gardener, maybe we need to make some added changes: perhaps to increase times of regular worship and personal devotions, maybe we need to get things right with a certain individual, or forgive ourselves for something we had done.

In churches everywhere, there are fig trees in full bloom and the fruit is ripe.  At the same time there are some trees that that have yet to bloom.  To bear fruit, we need to hear the Word of God and act upon it.

Let me give you a short list of biblical characters who received a second chance.

  • Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, then imprisoned only to get a second chance and become the Prime Minister of Egypt.
  • Moses left Egypt as a fugitive, later to become Israel’s first leader.
  • King David made a big mess of his life in his sin with Bathsheba, but his second chance came about when his kingdom was restored to him.
  • I would consider all the healings and miracles of Jesus’ followers to be second chances for those fortunate people.
  • Saul of Tarsus after he persecuted the church of God, received a second chance when he became the Apostle Paul.

Here are some thought provoking quotes.

  1. Sometimes second chances work out better than the first because you already learned from your mistakes.
  2. If you’re lucky enough to get a second chance, don’t waste it.
  3. Not everyone gets a second chance if you do get one, take advantage of it because it is a gift.

There is one scripture that stands out when it comes to second chances, that  would be 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Let me close.  May I suggest during this Lenten season, that we all take some quiet time and meditate on what needs to be done, so that our fig tree will always bear fruit