by Tony Noland
Half a sausage pizza and seven beers into the evening, Peters was bored. He put a DVD into his laptop, adjusted his headphones and started to watch a sermon on forgiveness and tolerance. He fast-forwarded, skipping to the middle.
“- for then as for now. Jesus was speaking to you! Reaching out over the centuries to put these words in YOUR heart! In today’s reading from Luke, the thirteenth chapter, Jesus tells a story of a tree that produces no good fruit. So what does the master do? He orders the gardener to cut it down, stop wasting the soil, get a better tree in there. He wants a return on his investment, doesn’t he?Peters paused the DVD, Pastor Jim Dennet frozen on-screen, open-mouthed and sweaty. The guy had more charisma than three politicians. These inspirational DVD sold plenty; between them, the books and subscribers to the newsletters and websites, Dennet’s ministries made more than thirty million dollars a year.
But the gardener says, no sir, give that tree another chance, sir. I’ll feed it, and water it and take care of it, sir. Give it another chance, sir, another chance to produce. If it does, well and good. If not? Zip! Onto the fire! Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, when you hear that story, where are YOU? Where are YOU in that story?
I know what you’re going to say, you’ll say, Pastor Jim, that’s an easy one! I’m that sad and sorry tree, the one that’s letting everyone down. The master is God who’s ready to cut me down, and the gardener is Jesus who’s come to redeem and save me. And if I don’t do good, zip! Onto the fire I’ll go! And I’ll say good for you, that’s a good interpretation.
But hold the phone! I say, hold the phone just a minute, brothers and sisters. Is that all this gospel has for you? Not at all! There is more to this than meets the eye! What if you aren’t the tree? What if you, and I mean YOU, born a sinner the same as I was, what if YOU... are the gardener? What if Jesus is asking YOU to step up and feed your fellow man? Feed him and protect him and support him? To hold him accountable, sure, but to begin... with love?
Or what if YOU are the master? After all, what did the master do? He called it like he saw it, and was all set to do the right thing according to the world's values, the correct thing, the profitable thing! But what did he end up doing? Why, he stayed his hand! He tempered justice... with mercy. Mercy, brothers and sisters! He listened to the gardener who said, oh, no, give this poor wretched sinner of a tree just one more chance! The master turned aside from a straight profit and loss mentality, a return on investment mentality, a worldly mentality and accepted the notion of mercy that the gardener offered.
Don’t you see, brothers and sisters? We find so much in the Gospels if we only open our hearts to Jesus and let him –“
He looked over at Dennet's daughter, finally asleep on the bed. He'd give it another twelve hours, then call again with the next set of instructions.
He reached into the cooler for another beer.
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