Day 264 "True Worship" Mark 10:46 - 12:34
September 21, 2021, 7:00 AM

Day 264 “True Worship” Mark 10:46-12:34      


Quick morning impressions—I am not crazy about the fig tree that gets cursed, and which withers because it isn’t producing much fruit. As I can tell you from my own little flower garden, we have had to wait for months to see some of the flowers bloom, like my spectacular moonflower, which blooms only at night. A variety of morning glory that is as big as a hibiscus flower, it has finally bloomed once or twice in the past week, and then sparingly. But this morning, Alistair called me over to the window with a hushed voice, so I thought I had to tiptoe, which I did. “Look!” he said. “A man walking a dog by our house?” I answered. “No! The flower!” he said. And there it was, quietly sitting amidst the mass of vines and smaller morning glories, amidst the chaos of climbing tendrils gone wild, the moonflower was still blooming after its late-night unfurling, pure-white, fragile edges just beginning to sag inward with the light of day, its full face aimed toward our living room windows, like a secret garden God had saved for just us. A silken herald amidst heart-shaped leaves.

Hmmmm….guess I really wanted to write about that flower, didn’t I? But I mean it. I have been waiting for that flower because I planted the shoot months ago. Reading about that little fig tree is hard for me, and for us. And as if it wasn’t enough, first we hear Jesus curse it, which is kind of uncomfortable, and then the next day, the disciples are walking by and the fig tree is DEAD. Withered.

This turns into a discussion between Jesus and his disciples about faith, prayer and forgiveness. So here’s what I learned about myself from this—I don’t like the Jesus who challenges me. I want all the fig trees to live!!! I want to create an organization for disabled fig trees who don’t produce fruit and get them adopted out to homes where people will love them into new life despite all the odds. I become emotionally invested in a story that has very different purpose.

And the purpose of the story of that cursed tree is shown to us in the clearing of the Temple, in the anger Jesus exhibits when he sees that the Temple, which should be producing the fruit of love and faithfulness, but which has become a place where people are getting gouged out of their money, cheated and overcharged by vendors who are taking advantage of pilgrims.

So, just because it’s a fig tree doesn’t mean that it will produce figs. And what is the point of a fig tree if it never does what it has been created to do?

This is what is called an object lesson. Jesus used an object to show the disciples something startling, something deeper. This is a much deeper lesson about the purpose of Jesus’s time with us on earth, and that us to point us towards the Father, towards the often difficult life of faith, towards fruitfulness through prayer and forgiveness. Do you believe that your prayer has power, but not because of you? Because of the creator God to whom you pray? Do you believe that forgiveness charges through the world like an invisible electric shock, inspiring and igniting the world in ways you may never see? I do. Well, I do most of the time. It’s not easy, is it, because we often think of ourselves as being like that little fig tree. We think “Uh oh! What if I’m not producing fruit?” ZOT!!! (The sound of being obliterated by holy lightning, or my approximation of it.)

My instinct is to tell you “Don’t worry about it! You’re fine! God is love!” All that is true, yet God has a purpose for each of us. God has a plan not just to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11) but to prosper others through us. Remember that the only way this message spread from Jesus through the world was by word of mouth, by letter, by rudimentary ways of communication.

Our contemplation today is hard to read too, but it gives me the gloss (the understanding) on our reading about the fig tree, the Temple and Jesus’ dedication and drive to get to Jerusalem, where he was going to be crucified. And it makes Jesus’ words come at me like fire:

“Is not this the reason you are wrong,” he asks the Sadducees, “that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Guilty!! I proclaim myself guilty. I forget that God is more powerful than me, than this world, than pandemics or volcanoes or hurricanes. I forget that Jesus is my savior, my rescuer, from all the garbage I accumulate in my soul. I forget that, as Jesus repeats yet again in this gospel (12: 28-34) , that we are to love God FIRST, and from that place, learn to love others, the two pieces of wood that make up the cross—the vertical whch is our relationship with God, and the horizontal, which is the way our arms reach out to love others. Our faces towards heaven, and our arms out to our brothers and sisters. Each of us a cross of love. Each of us.

Eugene Peterson, in our contemplation, writes this: ”While everyone has a hunger for God, deep and insatiable, none of us has any great desire for [God].” (Digression—do you remember falling in love with your partner? Have you seen any young people recently that are crazy in love, attracted to each other in a singular way that is almost embarrassing? This desire goes deeper than good behavior, and is born in us so that we are driven to create new life.)

“There are a thousand ways of being ‘religious’ without submitting to Christ’s lordship, and people are practiced at most of them,” Peterson writes. Guilty again, if I am being honest. A clergy collar proclaims “Religion!” without requiring any true submission of my heart. Kind of like a Pharisee, I can look pretty good from the outside, but do I have converted and committed heart that is far more powerful than any clergy duds? Do I wear the uniform, or do I live the life no matter what I am wearing—workout clothing, wedding garments or gardening gloves?

The truth is that fig tree was slated for death, whether Jesus cursed it or not. The purpose of a fruit tree is, quite simply, to create fruit that drops, rots, and releases seeds, which then take root and grow in order to create….more fruit!!! No fruit = no life.

I still want to adopt that little fig tree. We will read other stories where God’s mercy allows for more time, for a little well-placed manure or fertilizer, for greater care from the gardener. But there is a point where the trees have to be pruned back or cut down, where the vines have to be torn down, because they are not re-producing what they have been created to re-produce.

As for my Moonflower, I have waited all summer for the Heavenly Blues that I adore, for the President Tylers, small and deep purple, and yes, for the new-to-me Moonflower. But I also waited, wondering, for the early frosts that would have quickly killed all my vines (notice I said MY vines, as if I created them!) before everything had a chance to bloom, and I would have ripped out those Moonflower vines, even if they had never flowered, down with all the rest of the vines that had flowered and bloomed.

Love God first and best. Share that Love with everyone else around you. Bloom. Flower. Produce fruit. Inspire and ignite the world with faith, prayer and forgiveness. You are not far from the kingdom of heaven if you do these things.

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,