I don’t tend to preach here, but I got a chance last week in chapel at Pacific Lutheran University. And I’d like to share it with you here.
I should tell you that I’m not a theologian, I am an artist. I can’t quote a lot of scripture. I’d be hard pressed to recite all ten commandments, although I think I get the general idea. But this project, in fact, is rooted in my faith, and I keep coming back to Jesus’ call to love one another.
I’ve looked for the exceptions. I’ve searched for the loopholes and I don’t think they exist. It doesn’t say love the ones that look like you. It doesn’t say love the ones that live like you. It doesn’t even say love the ones that voted like you in the last election cycle, no matter how hard that is to believe…it says “love one another,” period. So that’s where I begin.
Now, I’ve been told that you’ve been working on a theme of road signs for faith…and this week, the sign is Yield.
The dictionary says that yield means
-to relinquish, surrender, or submit
-to slow so that another might advance
It’s that last one that I like…to slow so another might advance…to give up a small part of my own ambition so that another might thrive…to consider needs other than my own.
That’s good. That’s biblical, even though it comes from Merriam Webster. See, I think there are biblical lessons all around us, if we take the time to see them. But since this is a sermon, I thought I should find an actual bible passage to build this message around. And here’s the thing…I told you I’m not a theologian…but I know a few. Here’s a lesson in life…you don’t have to know all the answers…you just have to be friends with the people who do.
So, I put out the word. I tapped into my hive mind and I asked for suggestions, and they came rolling in. Lots of good suggestions, but here’s the one that spoke to me: Luke 13 verses 6-9.
Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, for three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any…cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?
“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
Wait! he said. Pause, he pleaded. Yield.
Don’t act so quickly…give it a chance.
Let me ask you this…at what point is it ok to give up? When should we chop that tree down? How long is too long to wait for that tree to bear fruit? How long should we be patient with one another?
We don’t know what happened to that tree. I assume the servant tended to it. Dug around the roots. Fertilized it. He didn’t give up. He cared for that tree and nurtured it.
Maybe it bore fruit the following year…that would be awesome…but what if it didn’t? I like to think he would reapply for clemency…that this was some sort of stall tactic…that he’d give it another year…but we don’t know.
I’ve found stories like this in my travels. I’ve met people who are at the end of the line, with no hope left at all, and then someone has fertilized their roots. Life was ready to cut them down, and someone said, wait…yield…this song ain’t over yet….just a minute…yield….
Tyrone Werts served 36 years of a life sentence for second degree murder. He was sent to Graterford prison and he was young, he was cocky, bitter and angry. He said when you go to prison you are just a statistic. There’s a process, and they just push you along. But there was one man, Mr. Bello, who saw some hope in Tyrone.
Mr. Bello was a counselor at the prison and he saw some promise and he started working with him. And Tyrone said, that’s when he went from being an angry young man, and turned into the person his mother and father had raised him to be. He said, “I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted my daughter and my siblings to know that even though I was in prison, I was a good person.”
Let me ask you this: at what point are we willing to give up on a person? What will it take to help them bear fruit?
Deanna Thomson was getting ready to die. She had stage 4 breast cancer and it had metastasized to her bones. She was given five years. No one with that diagnosis lives longer…except I interviewed her 6 years past her diagnosis. I asked her, how do you go on living when you know you’re dying? And she said, “well….we are all doing that, but some of us are doing it more acutely than others.”
She talked about needing to let go of control…of needing to accept the help of others. And she said “cancer is definitely not a gift, but in the worst of times, I’ve experienced the most beauty and the most peace and the most grace…and I have to hold those two things together.”
Michael Ried was addicted to heroin. He funded his addition with petty crime. He was busted and put on probation, but as he said, “when you are a junkie, there’s only one appointment you’re going to keep and it’s not with the court.” So, he missed his probation meetings and he wound up in jail. It gave him a chance to clean up. He got out and wound up volunteering at a food shelter…sort of by accident, but no matter…and now he actually runs that food program that feeds 400 families a week. He said, “wow…I didn’t even see it happening…now I’m working for the benefit of others instead of being self-serving. It’s a whole new concept. People stop me on the way out and say thank you…god bless you…how can you not feel good about that?”
These trees had not borne fruit. The master of the vineyard could have cut them down, but for some reason, paused.
Yield…to slow so that another might advance.
We are hasty in our decisions. We discard those we disagree with and we disengage before we do the hard work of tending to the plant…of caring to the relationship. We expect things to bear fruit, but we forget to do the hard work of nurturing, which can lead to the fruit.
At what point do we give up on one another? At what point will you give up on yourself?
Hold up… dig around the roots. Fertilize… get your hands dirty.
Pause for a minute…
Give it one more chance.