October 2017 Pastor's Message:
Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples" (John 15:1-8).
A photo friend of mine from the UK recently posted a photo of a cluster of grapes glistening in the sunlight with these verses in the comment section. I 'faved' that photo, not only for the quality of the photo, but especially from these verses in John’s Gospel. Among others, these verses are one of my favorites from this personal Gospel.
We have heard much about bearing fruit in these previous Sunday’s lessons. Jesus tells parables about vineyards, Paul talks about the life of the believer in Christ, and the Old Testament calls for a repentant life that worships the true God and produces the fruit of faith. Those messages haven’t changed since the Bible was given man, even when God told Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply..." The question for us today is, "What kind of fruit are you producing?”
Vineyards in Bible times were scenes of hard labor, not just at harvest time, but throughout the year as the vine would have to be nurtured and tended so that the fruit would have the best chance to come. In the fifth chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7), he talks about the harvest of the grapes from the vineyards of Judah. No, the prophet is not talking about the green, leafy vines producing grapes; he is talking about the individual lives of God’s people. What kind of fruit were they producing?
"Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit."
How disappointing! After all that hard, backbreaking labor and all that is found is bad fruit. The Hebrew word can be described as stinkberries-worthless fruit. God’s people were not faithful to Him; they would turn to worship other gods, leaving a bad taste in God’s mouth. God would act in judgment against His people, even after calling them to repentance-and He would continue to do so even as they would be sent into exile in Babylon.
My friends, God continues to call His Church to repentance. We hear that theme in the 95 Theses of Martin Luther, who posted those statements 500 years ago on the Church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. The message Martin Luther learned from the Scriptures hadn’t changed since God delivered them to the prophets and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He wanted to make that Word very clear to the people in his day, just as the Spirit of God would want to make those Words clear in our day.
But what kind of fruit are we producing?
The visible fruit may be seen in our church attendance and offerings. Those are two 'quick' ways to see how a church is performing. They are numbers, and those numbers show a decline and a deficit. That’s not a good thing to report, but it is what it is. A farmer cannot make more grapes appear on the vine than what is already produced. He can’t change the numbers to make them look better. But, he can’t hide from the numbers, either.
Are we producing good fruit or stinkberries? Are we living a repentant life, one that drives us to worship each week to receive the forgiveness of Christ, or are we staying away from that which would produce in us the fruit of God’s Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Are we hesitant to come to church because we’ve had an argument or disagreement with someone, and we want to avoid them? Jesus had much to say about forgiveness, even with the fellow believer, whom He calls our "brother" who sins against us, and against whom we have sinned. He calls us all to repentance and faith, using His gracious invitation to receive His forgiveness.
Jesus transforms our 'stinkberry' lives into lives of sweet faith of trust, love, and fear by the power of the Gospel. That sweet faith calls us to worship faithfully, to receive His body and blood frequently, to serve humbly, to contribute joyfully, and to fellowship in peace, anticipating the harvest of our souls on the Last Day.
What will that harvest day be like? Will there be joy and celebration? Or will there be weeping and gnashing of teeth? Will the sheep and lambs of God be gathered into the courts of heaven or will the goats be gathered into the eternal fires? (That will be another topic for next month!) "By their fruits you shall know them," Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. What kind of fruit are you producing?
Pastor Ron Brauer