No one needs to remind us that there are people who are saying our kind of church – mainline, rooted in centuries of history, is like a fig tree on its way to be cut down. They cite statistics of declining membership,
empty pews and offering plates, few people below the age of the aging population.
These are anxious time for barren-fig-tree type churches, which, Dr. M. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Seminary, says makes us desperate. So, Dr. Barnes says, “we throw the little money and energy we have into trendy programs. Or worse, we become fixated on trying to find someone to blame for our demise.”
Some try to give a Biblical twist to the downward trend by saying “this is the way people have always treated prophets who took courageous stands against the injustices of their day…society can’t handle the hard truth its preachers proclaim every Sunday.”
Others look at congregations that are showing remarkable growth through adopting marketplace strategies. To which Dr. Barnes responds, “Eventually the historic roots (the Biblical foundation and the Gospel call of Jesus- as per MBK) wither…and all that remains is another construction driven by what the consumers wanted.”
At the same time, pews may be empty because schedules are too full and people are simply too exhausted;
their “church” is the camaraderie at their children’s weekend games, or a quiet place to read the Sunday paper while sipping a beverage of their choice. They don’t have time or energy to tend their withering fig tree souls.
And, Dr. Barnes adds, their Sunday time may come “closer to a Sabbath than what they found in a sanctuary.” (Above paragraphs from Christian Century, “Faith Matters” by M. Craig Barnes,p. 33, February 3, 2016)
Churches that are an orchard of fruitless fig trees!
And that is the very reason Jesus’ story of a fig tree must be heard by every church member, pastor, lay leader, Church School teacher, and denominational leaders who when looking around at empty pews, smaller Sunday
school classes, and a declining count of members, need to pick up the gardener’s plea which, we know was and still is directed to the Head of the church Who is Jesus: ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it
and put manure on it.”
Jesus give us “One more year to…dig around” the soil of our congregation’s life, to loosen up all that we are doing to let in the aerating gift of God’s Spirit; to let our Church school curriculum be like a shovel, turning up Bible stories and teachings that will work their way into the fig tree-life of children and youth and adults.
One more year, THIS YEAR to do that!
I remember the spring I bought potted geraniums, dug holes, planted and watered them, only to watch them do nothing, no growth, no blooms! My husband who has, as we say a “green thumb,” asked, “Did you loosen up the dirt around the roots before you put the flowers in the ground?” I had to admit I just planted them, from pot to flower bed, and he said, “There’s the problem.”
A congregation and each person who makes up the church, the body of Christ, simply needs to use the shovel-like resources we already have to “dig around” the Biblical soil in which we are planted, which is a goal we have for these upcoming spring time months of April and May, offering different times to get together and use a very special “shovel” that is an audio-visual resource called “The Bible for Busy People.” It is an assignment that takes only three “diggings” – one of 41 minutes, the second of 17 and the third of 21, which can be done in one or two sessions . And these is a apps from the Apple store that lets people who have no time to meet to dig any time on
One more year – THIS YEAR to use this shovel.
Jesus give us “One more year to…put manure on” the soil of our congregation’s life and or individual lives; manure” – the word that is cleanup when we call it “nutrients” which any gardener knows
is best if the label reads “organic,” from nature for nature.
A conversation that took place this summer while sitting under a pergola covered with grape vines had Christians proposing what programs need to be designed to bring life back to the church. One person named seminars used by corporations to make their products more marketable.
Another person who listened from the perspective of European churches struggling to survive in a secular society that is 80% of their population, politely disagreed and said that today’s church like the congregations of the first Christians has only one “program.” It is to be nourished by the nutrient of the life of Jesus Christ and let Him work His way into each person, so that, as we say when receiving the bread and cup at His Table, “we become what we receive.”
One more year – THIS YEAR – to let the prayer prayed at the time of Confirmation be the nutrient that enriches our fig tree-like life:
“O God, my God, made know to me in Jesus Christ,
I give myself to you as your own, to love and serve you faithfully
all the days of my life.”
The gardener in the Gospel story heard the Owner say, If it bears fruit next year, well and good;
but if not, you can cut it down.’”
We know those who commit their fig-like lives to Jesus bear the “fruits of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; the qualities of His life infused into theirs.
Rooted and grounded in Christ guarantees no fear of being cut down…even when there are dry seasons of the soul and periods of a blighted faith, because, as Paul experienced,
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength,
but with the testing he will also provide the way out
so that you may be able to endure it.
One more year – THIS YEAR – to let God prove that those who commit themselves to Christ will be rooted and grounded in Him.
One more year – THIS YEAR – to spare the ax because the shovel of God’s Spirit is aerating our life, and the nutrient of Christ is nourishing us to bear the fruits of His love. Amen.