St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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March 2013

Last Chance Saloon? 

 "Last Chance Saloon" was the name given in the USA to any bar that was the last one for a considerable distance alone the road. I suppose a bit like notices on motorways - "Last petrol for 300 miles". But it is also used metaphorically to describe situations thought to be the last opportunity for success.

 The Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (3rd March) contains this parable of Jesus:

 Luke 13:6-9

New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

Then he 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 round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’

This fig tree was highly favoured. It had taken root in a vineyard and so had access to rich soil, water when needed and a gardener. But yet it was not living up to expectations, and the owner of the vineyard was non too pleased. "This tree", he says, "is taking up valuable space and is not producing any fruit." After three years he was so exasperated that he said, "Cut it down!" But the gardener, who probably had some affection for the tree, pleaded with the owner to give it one more year and he would pamper it for the year to see if it could be saved.. This tree was in its Last Chance Saloon. 

Of course, this is a parable, and Jesus was really talking about people. Many people are in their Last Chance Saloon. So what lessons can we learn from the parable. William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible – Luke, suggests four lessons:

 1. "Uselessness invites disaster". The theory of Evolution by Natural Selection seems to be to be pretty good at describing God's wonderful creation of living things, the great diversity of life, and why species survive, or die out, or change and adapt. I don't want to discuss Evolution here, but the theory clearly shows that things that are useless soon die out. So we need to consider what we are doing with the "talents" God has given us. Whether you are a ten talent person or a one talent person, we should seek to make use of what we have been given to the best of our ability to advance the Kingdom of God. There will be times though when we find ourselves in a situation when all we can say about ourselves is, "God I am so useless!" When that happens still remember that you are very precious to God and are loved dearly by God. Ask for grace to do just whatever we can to be useful. Circumstances, suffering, injury, illness or simply too many birthdays will reduce our capacity to do things. Continue to pray; that is a most useful thing to do.

 2. "Nothing which only takes can survive". The fig tree took nutrients from the soil but did not give anything back. So it is with us. If we continually take out more than we give back - to society in general, to our families and communities, and to God then our "debt to life" gets bigger and bigger. We should strive to make the world a better place to pass on to future generations. Following advice from Abraham Lincoln, wherever we can, we should "pluck a weed and plant a flower".

 3. "The gospel of the second chance". The fig tree should have flowered within the three years, but it didn't. Nevertheless it was given a second chance. Jesus gives his followers chance after chance after chance. Peter was given a second chance after his triple denial. Mark the travelling companion of Paul  and Barnabas left them on their first journey together and went home. Barnabas gave him a second chance and that young man gave us the earliest Gospel we have. Paul himself was given a second chance. After months spent persecuting the Church, he encountered Jesus and became a great apostle and teacher, giving us a large part of the New Testament. Jesus told us to forgive others "seventy times seven", that is time after time after time, because this is what God does for us. As humans we continue to mess things up, even when we are trying with the help of God to do better. But we must continue to try to do better, we must want to do better, and we should not "play on" God's infinite love, because---

 4. "There is a final chance". If we sin and don't acknowledge it to ourselves, we fool ourselves into believing that we are not sinning, and then the sinning becomes habitual and before long we have cut God out of our life completely. We do the cutting off, not God. At that stage we really are in the Last Chance Saloon. Don't let that happen to you!


1st March 2013


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