Cultivating Fruitfulness Through Reflection
“Cultivating Fruitfulness through Reflection” sermon 3/17/19 @ Harbor Church
Luke 13:6–9 (NLT)
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
6 Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. 7 Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’
8 “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. 9 If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’ ”
“Who gives a fig?!” We use this expression today to basically say, “I couldn’t care less.” But in the parable that Jesus told of the barren fig tree, the gardener couldn’t care more. In essence, he says, I give a fig! I want a fig, and I’m willing to work at it until this tree bears fruit. There are two characters in this story: the man who planted, and the gardener who cultivated. I can help but wonder if the man suggested that it was time to cut down the tree just to see how the gardener would respond? How committed was he? How hard and long was he willing to work to produce fruit from the figless tree. The tree said, I couldn’t give a fig, but the gardener said Yes you can, and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that you do! So he probably continued to cultivate and nurture the plant to produce fruit; he watered, and weeded, and fertilized. But the parable ends and leaves us hanging: did the tree ever produce fruit? The focus or point of the parable is not the fruit itself, but the commitment to the process of cultivating fruitfulness. ‘Give it another season’, we read, ‘and keep working at it.’
Sometimes we go through season of our lives that can seem dry and barren. We may be doing good things to seek spiritual growth and fruitfulness without seeing much in the way of results. At times like this, it’s all the more important that we continue our efforts. That we not only continue the practices that have produced fruitfulness in our lives in the past, but also redouble our efforts by exploring new avenues of potential growth
There some paths to spiritual fruitfulness that are often overlooked, or simply don’t get the attention they deserve. They are: Reflection, Confession, and Contemplation. Which is a necessary for our spiritual vitality as breathing is for our spiritual health. But how often do we make time in our busy lives for introspection? How frequently do we actually set aside quiet moments to evaluate how we are doing? These practices don’t get as much attention as the more obvious things like prayer, study and worship. They are not as visible or demonstrable, but are just as significant as sources of well-being for our souls. Maybe its because they concentrate on the internal vs. external Christian Life.
Consider The monastic tradition. Historically this tradition began early in the first centuries after Jesus’ earthly ministry with the Desert Fathers and Mothers who were ascetics and hermits who left civilization to develop a contemplative lifestyle. Although solitude was a part of these early efforts, it wasn’t long before they longed for community and organized into communities, communal living became monasteries. Right now you may be thinking, wonderful- “the Pastor wants me to start living like a monk!’ He wants me to spend all my time mediating and pretty soon I will be“so heavenly minded that I’ll be of no earthly good.” But let’s think about his for a minute- Yes the monks spent a lot of time in contemplative prayer in worship and even in silence; but they planted gardens and fed the community and cared for the poor as well. Monasteries were vibrant communities that contributed to the towns around them in numerous ways, and villagers knew that they were blessed to have a monastery nearby. The monks cultivated a strong, internal spiritual life, and as a result they were able to do powerful external ministry to all those around them. So let’s spend a few moments considering how cultivating internal spirituality can result in giving us profoundly fruitful external results in our livesl
When we are out of sorts, it seems like the most common response is to batten down the hatches and weather the storm, without necessarily contemplating where the turmoil is coming from? Some times its external; circumstances beyond our control. And when this happens, sometimes the best thing to do is just put our heads down and plough ahead with determination and resolve. But other times we find ourselves in a mess of our own making, in a quandary that we may have created for ourselves. At times like this, it’s worthwhile to reflect on what is going on, what we may have done to contribute to the circumstances, and what we might best be able to do to turn things around and come out on the other side with a positive outcome. This type of self-examination is a necessary and good things at certain points in our lives, and arguably, might be a practice that would be worthwhile to incorporate into our lives on a regular basis.
Confession turns over the soil of our lives, exposes the dirt, lets air and light in and heals our spirits. But don’t overdo it. Too much can led to excessive guilt, shame, and beating oneself up. God desires repentance that produces positive change, not remorse that produces regret and inaction produced by paralyzing guilt. True sorrow for sin is life-giving and leads to a change or heart which produces a transformation our old behaviors into newer, better patterns for living.
Our reading from Psalm 27 today says,
One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple . Inquire in the Hebrew was an agricultural term; it meant “to plough” to carefully turn over the soil, removing rocks and weeds to ensure that the crop will grow well and produce good fruit. So it seems a good practice to carefully consider our lives and reflect on what we are doing well and what might be changed for the better. Just spend a little time evaluating how you think you are doing, consider and changes that might be made, then move on. A simple way to do this is to set aside a few moments at the end of the day to look back and evaluate how we did during the course of our daily affairs. We might even want to create a straightforward checklist to help review the ways in which we spent our day as objectively as possible. I will be the first to admit that I’m not terribly good at this, but I’m trying to learn from others who are better at it than I am. I remember the years when I worked with my brother when I first moved back to Connecticut . He would often start us out with a simple prayer that always included the phrase, “Lord, give us an opportunity to be a blessing to another person today, show us something that we can do to be of service to others.” I’ve tried to flip this around as a way of ending my days as well. Before I go to bed and pick up my nightly reading, I try to reflect with questions like these:
Was I able to be a blessing to someone else today? In what ways?
Did I miss an opportunity anywhere along the way- a chance to express gentleness or kindness? Were my words seasoned with grace and patience? Was I positive and affirming with those around me?
And the other side of this type of reflection come in the form of questions like:
Did I treat anyone badly? Was I harsh with my words? Was I judgmental in my thoughts? Did I act in ways that were unbecoming a child of God towards another of God’s children?
Personal Reflection can be like Restoring a piece of antique furniture. You work hard to remove the scratch dents, stains and tarnishes that have occurred over time, and you bring out the original beauty of the piece of furniture. In the same way, reflection can restore the untarnished image of God in each of us.
But anyone who has ever worked to make an old damaged antique like new knows that it is a painstaking, exacting process. Think about some of the steps involved:
- Safety First- Restoring old furniture requires chemicals and tools that can be hazardous to your health if certain precautions are not taken. First, always use the proper tools for the job; not only to make the task easier, but to keep you and your family safe. Wear protective gear like rubber gloves, long sleeves and eyewear to prevent chemical burning from splattering. Work in a well-ventilated area – preferably outdoors – to avoid inhaling noxious vapors. Store oily rags according to the instructions on the solvent package you use to keep your home safe from combustion and fumes. Finally, beware of older paint finishes that may contain lead. If you suspect that lead-based paint is on your furniture piece, use a proper ventilator when stripping this material or send it to a professional for stripping.
When engaged in spiritual reflecting for the purpose of restoration and renewal avoid toxins. Keep it positive. You don’t want to damage or injure yourself with harsh, unhealthy thoughts. Remember you are trying to restore and bring out the original beauty that God created in you.
- Identifying an Old Finish (what needs to be removed). Before you can restore antique furniture, determine the current finish on the wood.
Natural finishes like shellac, varnish and lacquer are hard to identify by sight alone and may require some experimentation. First, test the surface by applying denatured alcohol to an inconspicuous area. If the finish comes off with the alcohol, it is a shellac coating. If it takes lacquer thinner to remove the finish, it is lacquer and if neither of these products do the trick, you are probably dealing with a varnish. Some old finishes are harder to remove than others.
Spiritually, we need to be thorough and patient in our analysis so that we can accurately identify what really needed to be refinished in our lives.
- Cleaning (thoroughly, and with great care) Sometimes restoring old furniture can be as easy as giving a piece a good cleaning. The methods described here can be used for scrubbing up wood, rattan or wicker surfaces. First, use an oil-based commercial wood cleaner to cut through the layers of dirt and wax on the surface of your piece. If wood cleaner alone doesn't bring the furniture back to its original luster, switch to a solution of warm water and liquid detergent. Apply the mixture with a cloth, taking care not to let the wood get too wet. Rinse the area thoroughly, and dry with a soft, clean cloth to avoid water damage to the wood.
When doing spiritual cleaning, be careful gentle with yourself, not harsh and abrasive.
Don’t let yourself get dizzy with the fumes! When using heavy duty cleansers, you apply them and then to wipe it away immediately with a clean dry cloth. Only leave it on long enough to do the job, don’t over do it! But by the same token, sometimes the stripping process requires elbow grease and hard scrubbing. Don’t be afraid to apply the necessary pressure to effect change in your life just because it doesn’t come quickly or easily. Sometimes you have to remove several layers, one at a time, Sanding and scraping to get down to the bare wood, the spiritual essence that God can best work with.
- Finally comes the Refinishing Now comes the fun part of antique furniture restoration: applying a new coat of stain and finish for a whole new look to your piece. Before you begin this process, make any necessary antique furniture repair, like fixing broken chair seats or filling in cracks. Sand the piece with 100-120 grit sandpaper, and then clean the surface using a vacuum and tack cloth.
Restoring old furniture is a rewarding process that can bring a whole new look to the wood pieces by returning them to their original splendor and beauty. This is what God wants for all of us. To bring out the essential goodness that he created in us in the first place. Life takes its toll on us, like the dings and dents that a piece of furniture gets from hard use. But reflection and repentance can restore and renew us spiritually. And like Antique furniture restoration , it takes time and patience to complete, but the results can be well worth the effort.
Repentance and reflection are wonderful ways to cultivate our internal lives, to grow inside in ways that ultimately lead to transformation on the outside. spiritual renewal. But they take hard work, commitment, and perseverance, the same qualities that the gardener had in our parable. Let’s strive to be more like him or her. This Lent, let’s give a fig, and grow some figs!
This lent, may we all make time for self-examination and reflection that will cultivate fruitfulness in our lives, amen.