“Salvation” — Psalm 80:7-11; Luke 13:6-9
Psalm 80 is a call for deliverance—a cry for help.
What is asked of God?—salvation.
“God-of-the-Angel-Armies, come back!
Smile your blessing smile: It will be our salvation.”
This Psalm was used in worship at two different junctions in Israel’s history. The first was when the Northern part of Israel was destroyed by Assyria in 720 BCE. The second was after 587 BCE when the Southern part of Israel, called Judah, was destroyed by its enemies.
The words are those of a people lamenting their loss, expressing their hopelessness and their need for God’s salvation.
As though to stir God’s memory the poet touches on the history of God’s people.
“Remember how you brought a young vine from Egypt, cleared out the brambles and briers and planted your very own vineyard? You prepared the good earth, you planted her roots deep; your vineyard filled the land. Your vine soared high, shading the mountains, even dwarfing the giant cedars. Your vine ranged west to the Mediterranean Sea and east to the Jordan River.”
If you listen carefully the poet is recalling the history of the people of Israel, from the time when God brought a young nation out of Egypt where they had been slaves, to a new land. A land that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, a land that began beyond the mountains and dwarfed Lebanon with its giant cedar trees.
The poet is making the case that the God who had saved the people from the time they were just a bunch of slaves, bringing them to a place where they could flourish—those same people were once again in need of being saved.
Salvation is a term often coopted by those who have a singular view of Christianity, namely, that it is just a get-out-of-jail-free card we get to use when we die. It is our escape from everlasting damnation.
With such a faith-orientation the only thing that matters is your birth and your death. Everything in between is of little value.
That is NOT what Creation is meant to be. Our faith is about our life here on earth. How we live our lives. It is about life-on-earth and the needs we have and the choices we make and the call to always be focused on the ideals God sets for us. To live our lives in relationship to others and to the natural world, our home.
Salvation has been abused by so much Lalaland pie-in-the-sky stuff that Christians who are obsessed with the afterlife often neglect the only life we have—this one we are living now.
This Psalm was a cry for help by a hope-starved people. They are acknowledging that they need to be saved by God, yet again, as in their days of slavery.
When you study the history of this ancient people it is a repetitive picture you come across. It is the recurring theme of a loving God and a foolhardy people. It is the story of the prophets calling, pleading and threatening, on God’s behalf—and the people ignoring all of this until it is too late.
With this morning’s parable Jesus portrays human nature gone wrong. The fig tree that does not bear fruit is a metaphor for when we do not bear fruit worthy of God’s love for us. If there is no fruit year after year the result becomes obvious. Why would the “gardener”, God, show us patience?
Like Israel and Judah centuries before, their unwillingness to embrace God’s roadmap for them led them into disaster.
Yet, in this parable we find hope.
The “gardener” shows patience. Maybe there is still a chance for the fig tree to bear fruit. Maybe it can be saved.
“’Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”
This theme of a foolhardy people who do not live up to the conditions of their citizenship in God’s kingdom, are calls to responsibility. They are begged to change their lives. They are reminded of the relationship they have with God. They are offered second chances.
In the history of humanity this has been the recurring theme. God the one who creates a “garden”, an opportunity for people to live together in an honorable way, and people deciding that they will live by their own rules.
As a participant and witness to the end times of white minority rule in Southern Africa I remember the modern-day prophets of our times pleading, warning, begging us to acknowledge our sins and change our lives. Yes, it would have been hard. Yes, it would have asked a sacrifice from everybody. But no, most fought to maintain a status quo that reeked of a fig tree bearing no fruit.
And now, after the destruction of the status quo, some still wonder why God abandoned them.
But what of us, living here in this place and this time? How can we ensure that the garden we have been granted is being tended in a worthy manner?
The great Gardener of Creation has a tendency to send messengers and prophets who point out our wrong headedness, and who invite us to embrace God’s salvation, to change our ways.
We have an opportunity to work and thrive in this Garden of God, to bear fruit and create a climate of common interest and a shared welfare, or we can harden our hearts to exclude the opportunity for salvation.
These are choices we have.
Too often do we see and hear familiar arguments, see the same choices made and the same excuses offered for why we cannot or need not pay closer attention to the results of our choices.
We began our worship with this prayer;
“The world is hungry for food and peace. Help us, O God, to plant justice and love that all may be full at Your earthly table.” Let us close with it too. Amen.