Over the weekend I went down to Florida to attend the funeral of my uncle Jim. This was a whirlwind trip lasting only three days including travel. While funerals are always difficult, there was one thing that brought me a lot of joy: Florida in winter. Everything was green and the flowers were blooming. As Newman would say “the air is so dewy sweet, you don’t have to lick the stamps”.
This is an environment where life thrives. It rains a lot, the sun shines, and things grow. Florida is really a beautiful place this time of year. I found myself longing for spring and greener times in my city. Right now everything is brown and desolate. While I always enjoy the slim winter months here in Texas, I am longing for green grass, blooming flowers, and produce from my in-law’s garden. Spring reminds us that life is in full-effect and that death never has the final word. We need this message at the end of a winter. Life always wins. This is the message of Lent as well. Christ conquered death and rose again.
Life will never die.
I like that.
This week’s gospel reading from the liturgy gave me pause, however. The included parable within the story spoke of a tree not bearing fruit. The man who planted the tree grew frustrated with multiple years not bearing fruit. To him, the soil could be better used on a tree that did what it was made to do. The gardener convinced him to give it another year giving the tree special attention and see if he could salvage the plant. However if this didn’t work he would agree to cut it down and replace it.
I had a long discussion with a group of friends a few nights ago about church. A couple of my friends presently work for a church and a few more are former church employees. All of us have some functional knowledge of the inner-workings of the modern church. To be short, we all had some major frustration and fear about what church looks like in the modern era. It seems a far cry from the ideals Jesus called her to during his ministry. She (the church) seems to be more about protecting herself than giving herself like Jesus did.
While we are all young and bear no claims on how to fix things, we are also old enough and have seen enough to know there is a problem. Just as the tree failed to bear fruit, we struggled to see the fruits churches are supposed to produce. In many cases we see barrenness and empty branches where the crows of the field are supposed to sit.
My space is short today on the blog and I don’t have a lot of time for disclaimers to make the reader feel better about this message. Simply put, Jesus has very hard words for the church – or individual for that matter – who is only taking up soil. Yes, Christ did die for the church, but he makes no promises that he will use any one particular church. In fact his most harsh words were for the lukewarm and fruitless. From what I can understand he would rather see fruit, or not have the church around at all.
So as we are going through Lent, reflect on these things. Are you bearing fruit? And on a grander scale, is your church doing the same? During this season let us do what Jesus commanded us to do in the Luke 13 passage: repent. Don’t make excuses or justifications for where you are. Just repent. As Christ laid himself down for his church, lay yourself down in front of him.
Because, resurrection is coming!