St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, July 26, 2020
“For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?”
WHAT MAKES your life valuable? What gauge can measure a man or a woman? Many scales have been suggested. If it were your funeral, how many friends would come to pay their respects? How many would shed a tear? If a surprise birthday party were being thrown for you, how many would travel some distance to sing you Happy Birthday? For some, it’s an election to public office and obtaining a majority of votes. For others, it’s the number of people who love you. And still for others, it’s how many people you love.
What are the fruits of your life? Are the things you’ve produced worthy of others to add to their own lives? Or are your fruits simply what you’ve consumed along the way? Are you the kind of person who just takes, spitting the pit out anywhere, or are you the one who gives? That is an important distinction in people. For some, the one who dies with the most toys wins. For others, it’s whoever has given the most people joy.
We’re a consumer society. Consider the millions spent every day on advertising. The ad section of the Sunday paper is 3X as thick and heavy as the news, isn’t it? The splashy photos of things you’re supposed to want, and happy people enjoying them, are all geared to attract you and move you to buy. Consider what a minute of air time costs for a televised sports event—like we used to have?—and you know where our values are. And what was advertised? Hamburgers and soda pop.
As a consumer society, our values have been pointed to acquisition. We want more electronic gear, iPads and X-box and all-terrain vehicles and Lite beer and Pop Tarts and Nike shoes. Lines leaving Costco daily toting giant TVs show our purchasing patterns and how we spend our time. What is TV but a means of consuming entertainment while doing nothing, producing nothing.
Jesus talked about fruit, both good and bad, that distinguishes a good tree from a bad one. People may talk all about themselves and blow their horns, but examine the fruit, says our Lord, and see whether this is a tree you want in your orchard, or not. For Him, it’s not just trees in neat straight rows, but what quality of fruit has your life created? What’s the goal? the end product of your life? For our Lord, fruit is the most important gauge of measuring our lives for their value. What are fruits? What kind of thing is He looking for?
First of all, ask yourself, is this good? Sin is disobedience to God and His ways.
Righteousness—goodness—is living within God’s perfect design. Sin is evil fruit, but living right produces good fruit, and that fruit results in “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” as St. Paul writes. Galatians 5:22-23
The fruit of your life is found in yourself and in others. Our goodness should inspire similar goodness in those around us. We influence others, for good or ill. We are all commercials for the lives we lead. How many people’s lives are better for your having been in them? Your influence is important. When the fruit of a life results in sexual misadventure, things valued above God, witchcraft, hatred, arguments, jealousies, shouting matches, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, drug dependence, etc.” Gal 5:10-21 then these are the examples you set for your children, friends, neighbors and relations. Due to you, they also can fall to the same failings, the same bad fruit, by your weakness lived before them.
Salvation since the Reformation is seen as the only fruit worthy of mention; all other accomplishments or signs of piety being mere pride and works of the flesh, attempting to earn God’s favor. Jesus did it all. His grace alone is our way to heaven. Nothing we do may add anything to it. But this is not biblical. Both Jesus and St. Paul said much about the way we live our lives as the measure of who we are and how we will be judged. Mere grace simply will not cover the lies, treachery, thieving and greedy habits and spiritual assaults that some “Christians” still practice and lead others into while relying on God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus found a fruitless fig tree on a day that He was hungry, and finding its branches empty His judgment fell. Fruit matters.
Now, perfection is not a place we’ve left behind us, a state we once had and can never achieve again because we’ve blown it and our character, our very nature has been skewed by our failings. No. Perfection was never ours, in fact: we were born ruined, the flawed products of a fallen world. God knows this. He knows that our finest deeds are imperfect. And still He loves us.
He set a new standard in His relationship with Abraham, who “believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Gen 15:6 This was a significant exchange, and it set up the true path of salvation that would be fulfilled in the Seed of Abraham, that One who was sent to bless every member of the human family in every age.
The Law only brought us to our knees, begging God’s forgiveness and patience as we struggle to be as good as His commandments. The commandments still stand, His standard is unabated. But look at the people He most favored: see their flaws: Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Daniel, Esther, even Mary and Joseph. It isn’t their perfection that brings God’s approval, but their faith. Their eyes and hearts never stray from Him, even when they’ve fallen down. And they never lie about their sins before Him. Their repentance is outspoken and real and it truly changes them.
Then they do something about it. They don’t just receive grace. They are not spiritual consumers, scanning the ads for church services, checking out sermon titles to decide where I go Sunday for what I like. The TV spot with all the happy faces, door hangers with dancing children, the church ad banner high in the search engine results—I wonder what God thinks of advertising churches? My point isn’t the ads, it’s the consumers. Go to a mega-church, any church, and ask those in the padded pews what they’ll do for their church. Most of those interviewed have said they just come and watch and listen. It’s great. The kids have a good program. The music is good. I like the messages. And we don’t have to dress up.
As a nominally Christian country, our witness to the world is explicit violence and sexual messages in our music, massive drug addictions, destructive protests, anti-depressants, serial marriages and divorces, abortions, new age religion and witchcraft, and a growing dependence on governmental entitlements and control. That, if you will, is our national Fruit.
Christ’s answer is Christ Himself. He is not, however, a panacea, a wonder drug you just take and presto! You’re okay just as you are, just show up. The ‘Christ’ we imagine smiles at us, feeds us, and comforts us into a sweet slumber.
St. John wrote there are many anti-christs in the world. Any Christ who tells you not to sweat it, not to try and live a godly life before Him, bearing good fruits back to Him is not Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but the son of some other, lesser god. Every single parable of Jesus Christ tells us this fact, and the tares go up in smoke.
The answer Christ gives us is to die to ourselves, first. This is unpleasant. There’s no way to dress it up and make it sound like a Starbuck’s Frappuccino. It’s death. There are things we’ve grown attached to that we see as our due, our reward for breathing. These things have to go.
There’s a persona inside us called flesh or sin nature. He must be denied food, water, air, time and, for heaven’s sake, entertainment. Such a death is symbolized by baptism, whereby we cut ourselves off from Egypt, then we go onto the desert. “Pick up your cross and follow me.” This is what the true Jesus says. We’re supposed to know it’s hard. What kind of heaven would yield itself and its rewards to ten billion spiritual couch potatoes? It is hard. And we’re not good at it.
No matter. The faith by which we are saved has won God’s favor, and His Holy Spirit in us keeps us strong, lets us know our missteps, and encourages us to continue.
It’s not all desert. The Promised Land, our life after this one, is not the only reward. It’s not a plate of cookies. Our tastes are being changed. The wafer for Communion has no chocolate chips or cinnamon bursts, in fact it’s tasteless, as tastes go. Other senses are being nurtured in us, a sense of satisfaction after working hard, giving all, seeing good fruit planted and growing, and watching the harvest come in for His kingdom that fills the craving in us. That’s a hole that no amount of cake or cars or careers could ever fill. The fruits of a simple, generous, loving person far exceed the fame and fortune of a selfish movie star or recording artist.
It’s not all desert. When our tastes have been reoriented, and our values reordered, the win column begins to show us where real pleasure is meant to be experienced.
The roads around Butte County are dotted with fruit stands offering seasonal produce from many farms: strawberries, cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, heirloom tomatoes and fresh aromatic herbs.
Your own fruit stand is offering the world a taste of your farm, the full yield of your life’s produce, the true and lasting value that either justifies God’s creation of you, or His judgment.
What’s on the table? May we sample one? Are they ripe? Are they organic? Did you grow all these yourself? My goodness, you have a nice fruit stand.