12/8/2013 sermon: Bear worthy fruit

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
2 Advent, Year A

Bear worthy fruit

In my Liturgy class in seminary, we had case studies. I’ll never forget the case study for Confession and Absolution. The scenario involved a prominent businessman in the community—an Episcopalian, wouldn’t you know—who had just been indicted for fraud, money-laundering, tax evasion, and selling radioactive bricks south of the border.

The point of this case study was to make us priest-wanna-bes think though the conditions (if any) under which we might decide to withhold Communion from a member of our congregation.

As students usually do, when confronted with a difficult assignment, we tried to avoid the issue. We pointed to the absurd nature of the scenario. Why would anyone, much less a Christian, knowingly make sick bricks to make sick homes and sick people?

At this point our professor merely smiled and shook his head, as if to say, “You poor, naïve, unsuspecting people!” Then he shared that our case study was based on an actual occurrence. The only difference was that the real case involved a businessman who had sold radioactive baby food in Asia. And is this really all that different that the case we heard in the news this week, of a meat packer in Chicago selling beef from sick cows to school lunch programs?

Oh, we poor, naïve, and unsuspecting people!

Now you may be thinking that these scoundrels obviously wasn’t REALLY Christians. Oh, but they were—just not very GOOD Christians.

I have imagined this week just what John the Baptist would have said to Christians who did such things. Actually not much imagination is required. John would call them a “Brood of Vipers.” And then John would have told these scoundrels to “Bear fruit worthy of your repentance.”

That’s John’s phrase that caught my attention this week, “Bear fruit worthy of your repentance!”

Now you might be thinking, “What is Jo thinking? WE wouldn’t sell radioactive bricks, or bad beef.” No, I don’t think that anyone here would, not literally. My own radioactive bricks tend to be my righteously held opinions, and my bad beef my judgments—spoken, or more often held in my heart—about other people. What are YOUR radioactive bricks and bad beef?

Thanks to the Apostle Paul, we KNOW what the fruit are that are worthy of our repentance. These God-worthy fruit are the fruit of the Spirit:[1] love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (to quote the King James Version). In the more-familiar New Revised Standard Version this list of God-worthy fruit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In any version of the Bible, these are the fruit that we are to bear, the fruit that are worthy of our repentance. When we let any of these fruit, these outcomes, rule our actions, they lead to all the rest. When we invite ANY of these fruit into our heart, we invite God to dwell within us and to operate the controls of our actions.

But we don’t always manage to create these good fruits in our lives, these God-fruits, do we? And when we don’t measure up, when we produce a rotten cornucopia instead of fruits worthy of our repentance, we humans always have excuses.

Our gospel lesson tells us the prime excuse that people used in John the Baptist’s day. They said, “I am the right kind of person, favored by God. Abraham is my ancestor, don’t you know? In other words, God has chosen me. La Dee Dah!

episcoshieldOur equivalent excuse today might be, “I am baptized, a member of the Church, and bound for heaven. AND, I am rich, rich, rich, so God must love me. And I am a cradle Episcopalian, don’t you know?”

John the Baptist warned his people then, as he warns us today, that God could choose to withhold his favor, or to redirect his favor, to others. Just as we are know by our fruits, we will be judged by those self-same fruits. And Christ Jesus will be our Judge.

I trust and hope and pray that I am not telling you anything new here. I trust and hope and pray that you all bear much holy fruit, bear fruit worthy of your repentance.

And Advent is one of two times in the year when the church asks us Christians to take stock of our lives. Of course we should always be taking stock. But we don’t always do that as regularly as we should. So when Advent and Lent come around, we are to take stock. In Lent, just before Easter, we look for and repent of patterns of sin rooted deep in our lives. In Advent, though, we approach our spiritual assessment from the other end: We look to see the type of fruit that our actions are bearing. And in Advent we ask ourselves, “Where have we placed our hope?”

To the extent that our hope has become misguided, we seek forgiveness and ask God once again to help us bear fruit worthy of God’s mercy. In this way we prepare for the Coming of the Lord anew into our lives.

Bear fruit worthy of your repentance!


[1] Galatians 5:22-23

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