There was this moment a couple of weeks ago when I was out on a walk and ran into one of my neighbors. As we were talking, he asked me a question that just totally caught me off guard. It left me flat-footed. I stumbled over my words. The question was: “What are your hobbies?” My mind just went blank. I struggled to come up with an answer and spent a terribly-awkward long time in silence before doing the oldest trick in the pastor book and turning the question back on him. “That’s a great question. What are your hobbies?” And, well, that got him going. I breathed a little easier. His kid started fussing, and they needed to keep moving, and I was so relieved.
But I gotta tell you — ever since then, that question has absolutely haunted me. I’ve lost sleep over it. It’s basically triggered an existential crisis. What are my hobbies?
I mean, I’m not sure I know anymore. I’d love to join you in some of yours. It feels like every waking moment is accounted for between meetings and phone calls and parental obligations and trying to catch up on emails and writing sermons and getting at least six hours of sleep at night — so that leaves little time for the things I’d love to do like go birdwatching or become a coffee snob.
Don’t get me wrong: I love this work. It’s a calling. I get to do this. But holy moly, this seemingly innocuous question from a neighbor has absolutely wrecked me in the best kind of way. I’m reevaluating everything.
But it’s also just a fantastic question — because it flips the script on the things we normally ask. So often, when we meet someone new or are trying to get to know something a little better, we’ll ask what?
“What do you do?”
But this is a pretty one-dimensional question, isn’t it? Relegating the entire existence of a person to their job. Their actions. Their productivity. There is so much more to you than who signs your paycheck.
And not only that, but research suggests that when we ask a different question — something other than “What do you do?”… something like, “What are your hobbies?” or “What’s something you’re looking forward to?” or “Where did you grow up?” or “Who is your favorite superhero and why is it Black Panther?” — it opens the possibility of multiple points of connection with another person and makes the likelihood of friendship that much greater. It’s like velcro — many different ways of getting stuck together.
So next time you meet somebody new, think about what you’re going to ask them instead of “What do you do?”
So we start here not only because I needed some new hobbies, but it’s also to prime us for today’s scripture.
But first, a reminder that today is the third week of our sermon series for Lent called “Full to the Brim.” Lent is the forty-day season in our church calendar in which we prepare for the heartbreak and hope of Holy Week and Easter. Lent gives us the chance to throw open the windows of our hearts, souls, and lives — let a fresh breeze in and feel something new. Something fresh. Something abundant — something that perhaps has been there all along.
Normally, when we think about Lent, we think about giving something up or taking something on. And if that’s you, do the thing. We are proud of you, and please let us know how we can encourage you.
But I also saw something this week that said, “This Lent, I’m giving up... period. I’m just giving up.”
And if that’s you — if that’s how you arrive this morning because everything is a lot, and the world feels so heavy, and you’re not sure you can handle one more thing, then this is the series for you.
“Full to the Brim” is the anti-Lent in that way. Instead of one more thing to do or take on or give up, all this season asks of you is to simply receive the goodness of God that is already abundant. In other words, what if Lent didn’t have to be about self-flagellation or self-denial? What if it wasn’t about emptying ourselves to nothingness? Instead, what if it was about abundance? About orienting our lives to experience the fullness of what God has for us? That’s what Full to the Brim is all about.
This week: “Full to the Brim: You Are Worthy.”
You Are Worthy… which may not be the direction you saw this going after hearing the scripture. It’s a strange narrative we get here from Luke’s gospel — Luke’s biography of Jesus. This comes actually a bit earlier in the chapter from what we heard last week. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, the place his journey will culminate during Holy Week, and here we basically find him in the middle of a lecture. He’s talking about the importance of repentance.
You see, there’s this crowd around Jesus, and they’re telling him about some violence that has happened against some Galileans — some fellow Jews at the hands of Pilate. They’d been murdered while making sacrifices and the crowd is trying to make sense of it all – in the same way we try to make sense of it when we hear of a tragedy or are stunned by the violence. And so Jesus asks the crowd, “Do you think they died because they were sinners? Because of something they did? No,” he essentially says. “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. And the same is true,” Jesus continues, “for the 18 killed when the tower fell. It was an accident. No one caused it. But they didn’t die because they were somehow worse than you.”
But then Jesus says, essentially, “And while that’s not how this works, you do need to know that unless you repent (which simply means to turn around — to have a change of mind, a change of heart) — unless you repent, you’ll perish just like they did.”
He says this twice before launching into this story, this parable, about a man who planted a fig tree in his vineyard — which is an odd place to plant a fig tree. And he comes back around looking for fruit — perhaps wanting to sit under the shade of its long branches covered in lush leaves and sink his teeth into the fruit. But when he gets there, he finds no fruit.
Instead, he finds the gardener. Notice what the man doesn’t say to the gardener. He doesn’t say, “Aw man… No fruit. What a bummer. I’ll come back in a few weeks. Keep me posted for real if anything changes.”
No, the man is indignant. He’s beside himself. He starts ranting. “I’ve been coming to this tree for three years looking for fruit, but again and again and again, there’s none. So just cut it down. Get it over with. What a waste.”
And the gardener responds, “Hey, look. Just give it one more year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it, and if a year from now, there’s still no fruit, you can cut it down — but if there is, we’ll eat it and celebrate.”
One way of reading and interpreting this passage is to hear a real sense of urgency about repentance — about changing one’s heart and life — as if Jesus is trying to say, “Chop chop, y’all. There’s not much time. Remember the Galileans? Remember the tower? You get one more year, but after that… chop, chop.”
And I don’t necessarily think it’s a wrong reading. To be sure, Jesus is inviting those who’ve gathered to take an active part in their transformation — to receive the gift of new and abundant life that he has set out for them. To turn from heartache to hope, from pain to possibility, from death to life.
But I also think that if we were to dig around this tree and fertilize it and sit under its branches for a while, ourselves, and maybe strike up a conversation with the gardener, we might sink our teeth into another truth — one that is disruptive and disorienting in a world that so often measures success and defines worth
by market forces and measurable output
by how much content we produce and how full our calendars are
by the numbers of Instagram followers and YouTube subscribers
or how large our bank account is
or whether we have that significant other right now
or how many people we manage
or how many letters come after our names.
Because the man wants to ask, “What do you do?”
But the gardener wants to ask a different question: “Can the fig tree have worth even if it never produces any figs?”
For the tree’s owner, the tree’s worth is only defined by the fruit it produces. It’s not bearing fruit — which is what a tree is obviously supposed to do — so he thinks it’s worthless. It’s just taking up space. So just cut it down already.
But the gardener knows that this is a one-dimensional take. That it doesn’t tell the full story. Because they know the shade it provides for the vineyard’s laborers. The gardener knows the birds who nest in the tree’s branches. They know the nourishment the leaves provide for the insects.
Even when it seems like the tree is doing nothing at all, the gardener still understands the tree to be worthy of care, of nourishment, of tending, of love.
To put an even finer point on it, we’re invited to see with the eyes of the gardener.
When people don’t live up to the expectations we’ve placed on them — often without consulting the dreams they have for themselves.
When we cultivate friendships and relationships based on what we might get out of it rather than for who they are in and of themselves.
Or when we discount or write-off another and fail to see the full picture of the gifts they offer this world.
We’re invited to see with the eyes of the gardener — to see others and to see ourselves as the gardener sees. As Jesus sees.
When we compare ourselves with others and fail to see our own self-worth.
When we wonder if we’re a lost cause or feel like a waste of resources sometimes.
When we’re not seeing the results we had hoped for.
Maybe for you, it’s something else.
And I know, y’all, that it’s hard to move this idea from our heads to our hearts — and that’s why it’s so important to be here. This is why our Sunday Liturgy matters — this reminder again and again. That the love that God has for you overflows and God delights in you just for being you. Just because God made you. That you are worthy.
And this matters, my friends, and we saw why recently right here in Chatham County in a horrific display of racism when Black middle school students at J.S. Waters School were “sold” during a mock slave auction on a baseball field. Yes. Right here in our own backyard. Black students were commodified and marked with a price by their peers.
It’s awful on so many levels: the dehumanization, the racism, the horrifically misplaced worth, the pain those children will carry, the scars it will leave. And perhaps the worst part is that it had been happening, but the children of color didn’t even think to tell their parents about it because it’s just so common, and they came to believe that this is just how it is.
Lord, have mercy.
But here’s the thing: These kids who were pretending to sell their classmates? Pretending to be slavemasters? Commodifying their Black siblings? Those kids weren’t born putting a price on another human being. They learned it somewhere.
And this is why we need a new vision. This is why there’s indeed an urgency in Jesus’ voice. We need that vision of the gardener. We need that vision of Jesus that sees each and every child as full to the brim of sacred worth — just for who they are. Period.
And it’s true for you, too. You’re not defined by what you do or don’t do. You are marked by God’s love that is absolutely full to the brim for you.
So maybe the question isn’t “What do you do?”
Maybe it isn’t even “What are your hobbies?”
Maybe the question is, “Will you let that love spill over?”