The fruit of the life in Christ is produced by you when God makes you a good tree, a life that naturally bears God’s fruit of love for the healing of the creation.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Lect. 7 C
Text: Luke 6:27-38 (plus 39-49 from Lect. 8 C, hardly ever used)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Fruit is a little miraculous to me.
We had a raspberry patch in the back yard of the first house we ever bought. Invariably infested with ravenous mosquitoes, those prickly bushes were intimidating. Until little red bundles of joy showed up. It always seemed a miracle that such beauty and grace would simply appear in that formidable thicket.
And Jesus is absolutely right today. The kind of fruit is completely determined by the plant that makes it. A thorn bush can’t grow figs, or grapes, he says. An apple tree won’t produce lemons. So if you’re looking for a particular kind of fruit – and botanists have known this for centuries, to our great delight and benefit – you need to be working with the plant.
That means there are at least two challenges in Jesus’ words today. First, what kind of fruit do you want to produce in your life? And second, how might you be nurtured, developed, to bear such fruit?
The kind of fruit Jesus calls those who follow to bear has never been a mystery.
The will of the Triune God for those who live in Christ is not hard to discern. Jesus is always crystal clear, including in today’s overview. Those who are in Christ bear this fruit, Jesus says today:
They are loving and kind to those who hate them, hurt them, abuse them. They pray for such people, do good for such people.
They are generous without any expectation of return – whatever anyone asks of them, they give. They even offer to give more.
They do not judge or condemn others.
They forgive freely and fully.
None of this fruit is a surprise to you, if you’ve ever listened to the words of the Son of God, read the Gospels. Those who are in Christ have always known this is the fruit God wants to see in the world from us, from you, the fruit that will bless the whole creation.
The problem has never been knowledge. It’s always been desire.
We don’t necessarily want to bear the kind of fruit Jesus describes today.
We live in a world that despises such fruit. A world that promises revenge and payback. A world that screams that your highest priority is that your rights are cared for, not the rights of others. A world that teaches you to suspect anyone who asks for help, for money. A world that values criticism of others, especially in social media, encouraging personal attacks and hatred. Literally everything Jesus asks of you here is something this world mocks and disdains. If you live as Jesus says, you’ll be seen as weak, cowardly, foolish. You’ll be mocked.
Of course, not everyone in our world thinks this way. Many of us were blessed to be raised or mentored or loved by people who valued what God values. But don’t underestimate the pernicious strength of pressure in this country on making your own needs the highest value, the greatest good, to the exclusion of anyone else you decide to disregard or disdain. Sacrificial, vulnerable love as Christ models and commands is a fool’s game to many in our world.
That pressure makes us reluctant to embrace Jesus’ teachings, even if in our hearts we want to.
That’s why Jesus asks the only relevant question after all these teachings.
Are you in or are you out? “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do what I tell you?” Jesus asks.
There’s a path of living that is of Christ. Jesus talks about it all the time. Jesus’ only question is: do you want to walk it? Do you want to be in Christ? Do you want to follow God’s Son, whose life, death, and resurrection bring life to you and the world?
Here’s a test. How much do you try to parse any one of Jesus’ teachings, trying to figure out if he really meant it? For example: “Give to everyone who begs from you.” That’s really clear. If you’re trying to explain why Jesus doesn’t understand the socioeconomic realities of 2022, or if you’re spending any time thinking how you won’t have to do this, you’re not ready to follow. Every single one of Jesus’ commands is clear, simple, and unambiguous. If you can’t see that, on any one of them, you’re probably on the fence about this “being Christ” thing.
But if you want to live in Christ, bear God’s fruit, God will make it happen.
Since a good tree can’t produce bad fruit, you just need God to work on your tree, on you, your life. So even if you are on the fence on any of Jesus’ teachings, even if you fail at any of them, the question that matters is “do you want to follow?” Do you want to bear all the fruit Jesus proclaims throughout his teachings? If you do, good news: God will make it happen.
That’s the beauty of Jesus’ imagery. Apple trees bear apples simply because they’re grown to do it. If the Spirit begins to transform your heart and your mind and your body and your strength to bear the fruit of God’s love and grace in the world, you will bear that fruit. It’s as simple as that.
And if you ever doubt whether God is working in you, don’t look at your failures. Look for any time such fruit as Jesus calls for today came from you. If it did, God was there, and you can trust God will still be there to help you grow into a Christ tree bearing God’s healing for all things.
And, please don’t ignore Jesus’ clear warning today about your neighbors.
The only tree you and I need to worry about is our own. Don’t start looking at your neighbor’s fruit, or lack thereof. Jesus says you’ll be looking at a speck and thinking it’s a log, while ignoring the 2×4 sticking out of your eye. Don’t get distracted by how anyone else is doing, Jesus says. You’ve got enough on your plate as it is. Stay in your lane.
The life God pours into the world in the Spirit will produce the fruit God needs to heal and bless all things.
That’s what Jesus promised. That’s what the prophets of Israel promised. That’s what the first disciples filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost promised. God’s life will do what God needs it to do.
You can be a good tree. A blessed tree. A tree bearing God’s fruit of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and generosity and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. If you want this, God will grow it in you.
And do look at your life. You’ll see God has already been at work. Fruit has been borne from you as a blessing to many. Let that joy sink into your heart even as you ask God to keep gardening you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen