Sermon 11/08/20: Prayer and Fig Trees (Kingdomtide IX)

WORSHIP AT HOME for 11/08/20. If illness or travel prevented you from joining us for worship Sunday, or if you would like to experience the worship again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Centering Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help. I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life. Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not. Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature. Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted. Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood. I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

HYMN Dionne Dismuke, Joyce Martin Sanders, Judy Martin Hess, TaRanda Greene – I Stand Amazed (Live)

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Call to Prayer:
I Must Tell Jesus [Live] Mom Winans

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

HYMN Bill & Gloria Gaither – My Name Is Lazarus [Live] – Greater Vision

MESSAGE: Prayer and Fig Trees
Text: Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-25
Series: The Prayer Recipes
Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audio Sermon slides as a PDF file.
(Due to technical difficulties, there are some words left out of this sermon.)
Sermon audio from Wesley UMC.


Matthew 21:18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?“

21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Mark 11:12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; 16 and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”


HYMN Ben Speer – A New Name in Glory [Live]

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT (Recorded at Wesley Church.)

What we are looking at here is a fig tree, a fig tree in leaf. There was a day that Jesus was walking from Bethany up the road, up the Mount of Olives, and he came across a fig tree and leaf and he was hungry. And he came up to the fig tree and he began to look through the leaves and he found no fruit.

This is what he was looking for. And in Matthew chapter 7 verse 20 it says that thus you will know them whether it’s people or fruit trees by their fruit. There was no fruit on this tree. And Jesus cursed the tree. He said, “May no fruit grow on you from henceforth.” And in Matthew, it says that the tree withered away instantly.

And Jesus turns to the disciples when he says this to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, be taken up and cast into the sea it will be done. And whatever you ask and pray or you will receive, if you have faith. Now, this is Matthew’s version, we’ll look at Mark’s version in a little bit because Matthew is almost like the Reader’s Digest version. It’s condensed. It doesn’t really explain itself very well. Why does Jesus hate fig trees?

And I’ve been thinking about this. And it occurred to me that this is inextricably linked with the way the devil tempts Jesus in Matthew chapter 4. Matthew chapter 4 before anything begins the three temptations that Satan brings sort of are a thing to watch out for throughout the book of Matthew. And in fact, Jesus probably was tempted by these same three things throughout the gospel, and, friends, we’re probably still tempted by them today.

Jesus has been fasting and without food for 40 days. The Bible says he was hungry and so here comes the first temptation, “Hey, you’re the son of God. You’ve got the power. If you pray a prayer God will answer it. Why don’t you pray that these stones be turned into bread? Well, what’s the power of that temptation? The power is that you can pray to make your life more comfortable. That’s always a temptation that’s there for us, to go for comfort.

But what brought this to mind was the second one of the temptation to test God. The actual words that Jesus uses are, “Tempt the Lord.” The full context in the Old Testament where he’s quoting is, “To tempt the Lord God to destroy you.” How is it that God would destroy you? Jesus is said is brought to a very high tower on the temple. There is a verse in the psalms that says that “Angels will rush around you to protect you lest you come to any harm lest you dash your foot against the stone.” So here’s a temptation the devil says to Jesus. If you just jump off of here, thousands of angels will come and catch. in midair and bear you safely to the ground. And all of a sudden, you will be accepted by the Jewish people because that’s how they expected the Messiah to come. What’s the temptation? Putting yourself in danger because you believe God will protect you or prevent anything bad from happening to you. So you can do anything you want because you’re counting that God’s going to protect you and everybody around you. Everybody who texts while they’re driving wants God to protect everyone around them. But sometimes, God just lets consequences happen to fools. We cannot manipulate God with a prayer. Even though it’s true we’re limited only by our faith, only a foolish person would try to force God to do something that God does not want to do.

Final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a high hill where you could see all the kingdoms of the world and the devil says, “If you’ll worship me,” well, what does that mean? Well, “If you’ll make me the priority, if you’ll make what I want the priority, then, you can rule all of these.” And now, we have to connect the dots. You can become the King of Kings without having to go through the cross. We know that Jesus understood the pain of the cross; there in the garden of Gethsemane. He said to God, “Lord, if there’s any other way!” Nevertheless, He said, “Thy will be done, not mine.” So what’s the temptation? To skip the cross and go straight to the winner’s circle.

And friends, the same temptations come to us today. Human beings are still tempted to choose being comfortable. Human beings are still tempted to skip the hard work by saying God will protect me. Human beings are still tempted to skip the part where they take up their cross and willingly endure discomfort in order to fulfill God’s will. Those temptations are still there.

Nonetheless, Matthew 21 seems to indicate that the only limitation upon us is our faith. But watch out for these temptations that Jesus endured and people still endure.

The curious thing, though, is where Jesus says, “You can throw this mountain into the ocean.” Maybe, this parable isn’t so much about fig trees as it’s also about this mountain. What is the mountain?

What I want to tell you, I’ve been here. This is the Dome of the Rock, the third most holy place in Islam. It sits right on top of where they believe the Jewish temple stood. And the Jewish temple plaza, this whole area here, it is five football fields wide, five football fields this way, three football fields this way. They actually expanded the mountain top to hold the temple.

And the theory is that as you go toward the bridge on the Mount of Olives to cross over to Jerusalem, this is what you’re looking at. The theory is that the fig tree that Jesus was looking at was just a tiny little bit down that slope to where all around it all you could see was that mountain. That’s the only thing that makes all of this make sense.

Mark Chapter 11, on the following day when they came from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree and leaf He went to see if He could find anything on it. And when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves and Mark explains: For it was not the season for figs. And Jesus said to the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard it.

Well, what is it that Jesus has against fig trees? It’s not even harvest time! Maybe it’s this. As Jesus is going through the leaves, not only does He not see ripe figs, He does not see buds. All He sees are leaves.

Then they cross the bridge into Jerusalem. He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple. And He overturned the tables of the money changers? and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And He would not allow anyone to take the shortcut of carrying anything through the temple. And He talked and said to them, “Is it not written my house shall be called a house of prayer?”

So Jesus is going through the fig trees, looking for fruit, spreading the leaves apart, and then He goes over to the temple and doesn’t like what He sees. Because the temple is full of activities and programs. The temple is full of ornate worship services, and giant choirs and horns blowing in the background. The temple is full of places where people are selling stuff. The temple is full of places where what they’re selling are pigeons because you can’t be forgiven unless you buy a sacrificial animal at the temple. Because it’s not just hot dogs and soda pop that’s for sale – it’s your forgiveness that’s for sale. And they are making money hand over fist. It’s like a mall on Black Friday.

And Jesus looked at that and He says, “What’s supposed to happen is I’m supposed to see people praying. That’s what belongs in God’s house.”

And not only that: People of all nations. There’s actually a sign at the doors of the temple that say, “If you’re not Jewish and you come in here, we will kill you and we’re warning you because it’s your fault.” It says it slightly differently but that’s the meaning of it.

Jesus says, “You have made this place of prayer a den of robbers.” And the chief priests in the Scribes have heard it and sought a way to destroy Him, for they feared Him because all the the multitude was astonished at his teaching; he was actually voicing what they had felt for many years.

And when evening came the disciples and Jesus went out of the city. But as they passed by in the morning headed back to the temple, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said, “Master, look. The fig tree which you cursed has withered,”

And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.” Now we get a deeper understanding of how this prayer matters.

“Truly I say to you,” Jesus said, “Whoever says to this mountain,” and if he’s facing the fig tree he’s talking about the temple mountain behind him, “Whoever says that this mountain be taken up and cast into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”

Apparently fig trees take overnight, but Jesus’s prayer that the temple would be different, that it would be cast into the sea, was answered in AD 70 when the Roman soldiers destroyed it utterly. Some prayers take overnight, some prayers take 40 years. But whoever it is, and whatever the prayer, the person who does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.

So there is the recipe for prayer for us. We pray, we believe that God will answer our prayer according to God’s will, and because we believe we are praying according to God’s will, we know that it will come to pass. And we support it with our faith, and we continue to live in hope however long it takes.

Now Mark, of course, wants to give a full answer, so he also adds verse 25, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone. So that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Forgiving other people is an important part of claiming something in prayer. Because a whole lot of our prayers are tied to something and someone who needs forgiveness. Who has done something to hurt us, and they may not deserve forgiveness. But a lot of our prayers are tied to some hurt that we have, and when we pray for God to act we want to forgive as a part of that prayer.

What did Jesus want? What was Jesus looking for? Jesus was looking through the fig tree, and looking for fruit. I think it’s not only that he didn’t find ripe fruit, he found no buds. There was no possibility of this fig tree ever bearing fruit because it was nothing but a bunch of leaves. It was pretty as can be, but it was not in the fruit business. It was in the leaves, keeping busy business.

Let your heart dwell for just a moment on what this pandemic has done to the church. Everything that makes people comfortable is gone. Everything we like, the big praise bands and the hundred-voice choirs and all the things that make it the greatest show on earth, can’t happen in a pandemic. The pandemic has taken away the church that we have tended to love that is all about busyness and activity. And to be honest, the big churches that are more like circuses than like us, they don’t quite know what to do. All of their toys have been taken away except one. Which is that no pandemic, no government mitigation in response to a pandemic– no one can take away the right of Christians to pray.

So Jesus is going through the leaves of the fig tree looking for fruit. He’s going through the leaves of the temple looking for people praying. Because maybe that’s where the fruit comes from is people praying. There’s a place in scripture that says in the second coming when the Son of Man comes, will He find people praying? Maybe what Jesus wants in a church is for people to be praying because that’s the fruit.

I’d like you to imagine with me – this is a story I made up, of course – a farmer who sent his young son out to check on the corn every morning. And the son would come home after a day of looking at the corn and Dad would say, “Well, how’s the corn, son?” And the son said, “The corn looks great.” What an astonishing thing for that farmer to come out to the field and find that the corn did, indeed, look great. But there were no ears on the stalk. And he looked at his boy and he said, “Son, did you get out and actually look at the corn?” And the son said, “No, Dad. You can tell just by driving by that it’s doing great.”

And I wonder if God is looking at the church and looking for the ears of corn the way that Jesus, perhaps, was looking for the people who were praying. Because if they’re there, you’re going to see a harvest. But if nobody’s praying, if everybody’s just tapping their foot to the music, maybe the church is not bearing the fruit that God wants.

We have to ask ourselves, “Are we bearing fruit? Or do we just look good?” Now I do want to reassure all of you. You look really good. But God wants you not just to look good, but to be good. And I think being good involves praying and seeing God answer your prayers.

So let’s pray. Lord Jesus, I thank you that we’re growing. I thank you that our churches are growing. But Lord, churches are more than just leaves. Because the purpose of the leaves is to produce the fruit, and the purpose of all the activities in the church are to produce the fruit of people praying. Are to produce the fruit of new people coming to Christ. And Lord, we often get distracted by the leaves and forget that this is meant to be a house of prayer. Whether we can pray in it, or because of a pandemic we have to pray on the street outside of it, or even have to pray in our homes. What you have asked us to do, Lord, we can still do. Remind us, Lord, and help us to pray that your will be done. Amen

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

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