I’m going to start this sermon on the subject of poo. Well, manure really, which is a slightly nicer word as I’m sure we’ll all agree. And it’s also a biblical word, as we just heard, so that’s ok then.
You see, manure can be both a problem and a blessing. If you’re a dairy farmer, you have to deal with around 50kg of manure per cow per day (according to the internet). The UK’s cows produce 38 million tonnes of the stuff every year. So, it’s really quite important to have a manure management plan if you’re a dairy farmer, otherwise the farmhouse would quickly become uninhabitable.
So, the manure is processed and used as fertiliser on fields that grow crops, to help them grow better, because it is full of good nutrients.
So now you know. But as sermons are meant to unfold something about God, rather than agricultural practice on the modern dairy farm, let’s turn to our Gospel passage.
So there’s a man and a gardener discussing the poor performance of their fig tree. The man has kept coming back each year to see if there are any figs on the tree, but with no luck. I gather from the hive mind that is the All Saints Plus group that fig trees are just, well, like that. So the man’s had enough and wants to cut it down, but the gardener urges patience, while he puts some manure on the ground to help the tree bear fruit, and he asks the man to give it another season. Hence the introduction to the subject of manure and fertiliser a moment ago.
But what is this really about? Luke tells us it’s a parable – a story with a meaning. I reckon that the man is God the Father, and the gardener is Jesus. We’ll meet him as a gardener again in a few weeks, remember…
Anyway, they’re having a chat – it’s rather good to think of the Father and the Son having a chat about the garden, I think. But of course, they’re talking about more than that.
See, I think the fig tree represents the broken world – God has tried to get Israel to bear fruit for the world, to share the love of God, but it’s not gone too well.
Now Jesus has come to be the True Vine so we can become fruit-bearing branches. And Jesus is offering to provide the manure for the unsuccessful enterprise – somehow ‘I am the manure of the World’ didn’t make the cut for the published edition of John’s gospel… can’t think why.
But more seriously, what is going on is that Jesus is taking the muck, the waste, of broken humanity and is using it to transform the world. At the cross, Jesus submits himself to painful suffering and death out of love for the world, and by rising again he transforms even death itself and provides a path, a conduit, to eternal and abundant life – on earth as in heaven.
And the promise, the good news, is that we are called to bring all of our mucky, manure-y selves, sinners that we are, and repent – turn to Christ for forgiveness - so that we can share in that risen life.
In the other part of the gospel passage there’s some more explanation – bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own – manure happens, we might say.
When bad things happen to us or people we know, they simply happen. They do not happen because they sinned, or worse, because God just wants to punish them. And of course, Some people actively do bad things, too – they bring the manure upon themselves.
Manure happens. It’s a feature of our broken world – we don’t really know why, but we know there is a solution at least. For God longs for us to turn, to repent – to process our manure – to return to his loving arms. Every human has the choice to do that.
‘Ho, All who are thirsty, come to the water, come and buy without price, come and eat’ – as Isaiah said in the earlier reading. All are invited to that abundance of life which is found in a life well-rooted, grounded, earthed in the love of God.
So, each Sunday, or every time we come to the Eucharist, we bring our sins – for ‘we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us’, as the old Prayer Book puts it.
And we lay down our sins as we turn again to God, and we receive absolution, the forgiveness of God at the prayer of the priest. And then we step forward once more, receiving the fruit of Jesus’ sacrifice in bread and, pray God soon again, in wine. We remember how Jesus’ broken body and outpoured blood was and is offered to save us from ourselves as we’re filled up with fresh grace in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And we’re then called to share that blessing with the world.
Like the cow manure becoming fertiliser, our manure-y sins are problems transformed into blessings for our community. We are doing that in many ways at All Saints, and we see some of the fruit of that as we welcome some folk who are struggling on the edge of our society, and as we pray for, and offer our support for, Ukraine, or as we explore scripture together at All Saints Plus, or come to the Lent book club, or have a chat over craft work, or share our gift of singing, or share worship together in all our diversity and our different generations.
Manure happens, and blessing happens, and abundance of life happens – even in the tough times. And doesn’t our world need more and more of that Good News just now?
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life, we who drink his cup bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world. Amen
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister