Sunday, July 26, 2015
Homily for The Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 8)
Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“You will recognize them by their fruits.” Why does this statement of our Lord trouble you? It’s merely common sense, isn’t it? How do you know that you are looking at an apple tree? Is it not because the tree produces apples and not pears? How do you know that you are looking at a grape vine? Is it not because the vine produces grapes and not figs? And, how do you know if the tree or the vine that you are looking at is good or bad? Is it not because the good tree produces good fruit and the bad vine produces bad fruit? And, so, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”
Still, I know that this saying troubles you. This saying troubles you because, when you hear it, you hear it according to the Law. You think that you now have to do something - you have to produce good fruit. And, so, you fret and you worry if you are doing it, and if you are doing it right, and if you are doing it enough. You see, the Law directs you to yourself and to your works, so that you either take comfort in your works, which is self-righteousness, or you find your works wanting, which leads to hopelessness and despair.
However, that is not what our Lord teaches, is it? Jesus does not teach that you must work in order to bear good fruit, but Jesus teaches you simply that you must produce good fruit. Now, producing good fruit is not a work for a tree or for a vine, but it is simply what a tree or a vine does: An apple tree produces apples. A grape vine produces grapes. Whether the fruit is good or bad does not depend upon how hard the tree or the vine tried, but it depends upon the nature of the tree or the vine itself: is the tree itself good or bad? Is the vine itself good or bad?
Now, when it comes to you, living, animate, sentient creatures of God, made in His image, you are something quite different from trees and vines, aren’t you. You have wills, and you make good and bad choices. However, the goodness or the badness of the fruit that you produce doesn’t depend upon your will or your choice at all, but it depends upon your nature. And, now you should be troubled! For, what does the Lord have to say about your nature after man’s fall into sin? Nothing good, I assure you. In fact, our Lord Jesus teaches that, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Therefore, if it is by your nature, and the fruits produced by your nature, that you will be judged, what hope is there for you? There is none. Best prepare yourself for the chopping, and for the fire that is to come. For, if you are to stand alone, naked, in your fallen nature, with your fallen production of fallen fruits, then you are cut-off, condemned, and damned. The Lord will not recognize you, because He will not recognize your fruits. You will be like a thorn bush or a thistle, producing no grapes or figs, fit only for the fire. For, apart from the LORD, you cannot produce anything that is good.
And, that is why you must not, you cannot, stand alone, naked, before the LORD. And, that is why you must not, you cannot, offer the produce of your fallen nature, naked and alone, to the LORD. For, the fruits produced by your naked nature alone are no fruit at all. But, take heart, your Lord Jesus has died and has risen that you may be fruitful once again! He who makes “waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” can make fruitless thorn bushes and thistles to be fruit bearing vines and trees! But, you must be grafted into Him. You must be grafted into Jesus so that you draw your life from Him, so that His life flows through you, His branches. Then, as He has promised, you will bear much fruit, and good fruit – fruit, not from your fallen nature, but fruit from the holy, innocent, obedient, and faithful nature of Jesus. Then you need not be troubled at the Lord’s words, “You will recognize them by their fruits,” for your fruits will be seen as only good in the eyes of the LORD, for they are the fruits produced through faith in the True Vine, Jesus Christ.
Still, there is another problem; your flesh likes to take credit for its fruits. And, worse still, there are plenty of folks out there who will play on this fact, and who will encourage your flesh, and your fleshly reason, to trust in your works and in your fruits, to just try harder and be a better person. Jesus calls them false prophets, and wolves in sheep’s clothing. And, the LORD warned Israel through His prophet Jeremiah centuries before Jesus, saying, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’.” Who are such false prophets? How will you recognize them? The Lord says also that, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”
So, what are the recognizable fruits of a false prophet? Well, your Lord teaches that they will be as recognizable as fruitless thorn bushes and thistles. That is to say, their fruits – or, fruitlessness, really – will be contrary to the fruits of the LORD’s Word. For example, if someone calls evil good, and good evil, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet. If someone bends, twists, annuls, repudiates, or directly contradicts the Word and the commandments of the LORD, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet. And, if someone directs you to your works, to your trying harder, to your manifesting spiritual gifts, or even simply to thinking positively, in place of, or above, the Word of the LORD, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet.
However, false prophets do not think of themselves as false. Moreover, they do not want you to think of them as false. Therefore, they wear disguises. They attempt to pose as faithful prophets. They will offer you enough of the LORD’s Word to make themselves sound credible, but they will combine it with false teaching, or they will offer you only part of the LORD’s Word on any given matter, withholding His full counsel. You know who was really good at doing this? Satan. Satan knows the Word of the LORD better than you do, and he knows how to bend it and twist and distort it just enough so that, if you are not paying attention, or if you do not know the LORD’s Word well yourself, you will take the distortion at face value as truth. Consequently, many false prophets arose who filled the people with “vain hopes” that they could justify themselves by their works of sacrifices, prayers, and praise. This was demonstrated well when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest between the LORD and their false god. When Baal did not respond to the prophet’s prayers, they began to cut themselves and to thrash about wildly – they believed that they had to do something to merit their god’s attention. Likewise, the Pharisees were exceedingly well versed at the same. They minimized the Law of God and lowered the bar of its expectations and demands, they bent its truth in order to make it more palatable and more do-able, and they taught others to do the same.
Thus, your Lord warns you to beware of them. But, how will you know? “You will recognize them by their fruits.” This means that you must know the Word of the LORD well yourself. No, you don’t have to have every verse and word memorized, but you need to keep His Word and commandments at all times; they must be precious and holy to you. You must meditate upon them and draw from them wisdom and truth. The chief way that you do that is not by doing, but by receiving – by being here in Church, and by receiving the LORD’s words and sacraments with the community of the faithful. You do this by exhorting and being exhorted by your brothers and sisters in Christ, your family of faith, and your pastor and teachers of the Lord’s Word. And, you do this by keeping the Word and the commandments of the LORD in your homes, father and mother teaching them to your children, and the whole family praying together and studying and sharing the Word and the commandments of the LORD. For, you are all of one family, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, children of our heavenly Father, heirs with Christ of a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
But, you must bear good fruit. No, I am not saying that you must try harder, or behave a certain way, or think more positively – that’s what the false prophet’s will preach to you – but, I am saying that your fruit must be good, always. And, the only way that you can produce good fruit is if you are grafted into the True Vine, Jesus Christ. He is the Vine, and you are His branches; if you remain in Him, He has promised to remain in you, and you will bear – not just a little, but much, and good, fruit. For, “a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit,” and you are a healthy tree, because you are in Christ, and Christ is in you, and the fruit that you bear is Christ’s fruit – fruit that can only, and always, be good.
Jesus said to His Church, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that day is now! Our resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus offers you the fruit of His tree, His precious body and His holy blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life and salvation evermore. By eating and drinking of the fruits of the True Vine Jesus, you remain in Him, and He remains in you, and you will bear much fruit. And, because you bear the fruits of Jesus, His Father recognizes you by these fruits, and He loves you, and He calls you His children, even His Son.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.