Readings: Acts 10: 44-48; John 15: 9-17
In both the Lectionary and in the media there have been a lot of references to good and bad fruit with a Royal Commission revealing so many organisations and people profiting from handing out bad fruit to customers, and taking a lot of good fruit for themselves. But last week the theme in many churches reflects the good fruit of Jesus who declared `Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.` The way this saying is presented by John makes it clear that Jesus realises that the time has come for him to make a voluntary offering of his life, so that his work will be accomplished. I often wonder how much the life of Jesus would be remembered if he had not been willing to be the seed that died.
The reading last Sunday was about the vinedresser who prunes the vines in order that they might go on producing good fruit. Once again Jesus declares `He who abides in me, and I him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.` (John 15.5) The same reading also suggests that the proof of really being a disciple lies in producing much fruit, and also says that the reason why the disciples were chosen was that they `should go and bear much fruit and that their fruit should abide`. (John 15:16) Our reading today begins with the words that immediately follow: `This I command you, to love one another.`
There are at least 200 references to fruit in the Bible - beginning with the story of the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden story, which is assumed to be an apple. References throughout the old Testament are to actual fruit as well as, metaphorically, the children being described as the fruit of the womb, milk and honey being described in Numbers as the fruit of the land as is the increase in flocks. In Deuteronomy Moses is said to pronounce a blessing on those who keep the commandments: `Blessed be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your peace, the increase of your cattle and the young of your flock. (Deut. 28:4) Some of the Proverbs speak of words being the fruit of mouths and the prophet Isaiah has harsh words of the people of Israel. `You have sown in equity, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies.` (Hosea 10:13)
The idea of people being fruitful clearly means many things. I think it is clear that Jesus saw the fruit of his life being new life for all the generations to come. To die and to return to the mystery of what we call the resurrection, is to offer the possibility of new and abundant life for all who were willing to die to themselves, and to begin a new life as followers of their Lord. In the case of his disciples he wanted them to produce abiding good fruit, and in a very real sense they did this as they carried the good news of Jesus into many places and many situations. Our brief reading from Acts 10 is but one example of how the fruits of Gentile believers came about without the necessity of accepting Jewish rites and rituals. Acts is full of examples of good fruit whether it comes to individuals such as Cornelius or the Ethiopian eunuch, or through mass conversions such as that celebrated on the day of Pentecost. Of course, there were plenty of bad fruit along the way - there was tension between believers with a Jewish background and non-Jews. Paul had a very hard time in Corinth, and there were divisions emerging and for the first 300 years the infant church was constantly persecuted by the Roman authority. It could be argued that persecution produced good fruit, but if we think of the growth of numbers only, it is certainly true that much good fruit was produced by the work of those early apostles and their followers.
Another answer to our question is found in the letter to the Galatians where Paul speaks sharply to those who feel that in being set free to new life by Jesus they can do as they like. Paul tells them that following the desires of the flesh is just a new form of slavery, and he gives a list which sounds a bit like a very bad night in Northbridge. Read it for yourselves in Galatians chapter 5. He then goes on to say that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Embedded in Paul`s list there are certainly a lot of very good fruit, and I would be surprised that anyone could seriously oppose the idea that they all are cardinal Christian virtues.
The list begins with love and if we return to our reading from John`s gospel it is very clear that love sums up all that Jesus had in mind when he referred to good fruit but they can only be true if we accept what Jesus meant by love rather than what the world generally means.
I don`t want to repeat what you already know and that is that the love which Jesus referred to is so often misunderstood. I am sure that Jesus had an affectionate relationship with many if not all his followers, as well as outcasts and sinners, but when he tells them to love one another I don`t think he`s talking about hugs and kisses but rather caring, sharing, accepting, supporting - with all the other ways of relating to people which he expressed so clearly on the Sermon on the Mount.
I am willing to argue that the core business of the church has always been and should continue to be the production of good fruits - some would see this as being evangelists - trying to persuade people to accept the Christian faith and to become members of whatever church community they support. I must admit that if being an evangelist means to persuade people to change their mind from being agnostic or atheist I don`t do it very well. I can only hope that trying to be understanding, compassionate, helpful, generous, colour-blind and non-judgemental will be a message in itself. If you like - trying to reveal the unconditional love which I believe is the fruit that Jesus seeks.
I finish by finding a prayer which suggests a variety of ways in which we might be fruitful..
The words of Rabbi Jack Riemer`s prayer is displayed on the screen - people are invited to say them if they think they are of value:
We cannot pray to You, O God, to banish war,
for You have filled the world with paths to peace,
if only we would take them.
We cannot pray to You to end starvation,
for there is food enough for all,
if only we would share it.
We cannot merely pray for prejudice to cease,
for we might see the good in all that lies before our eyes,
if only we would use them.
We cannot merely pray`Root out despair,`
for the spark of hope already waits within the human heart,
for us to fan it into flame.
We must not ask of You, O God, to take the task that You have given us.
We cannot shirk, we cannot flee away,
Avoiding obligation for ever.
Therefore we pray, O God,
for wisdom and will, for courage
to do and to become,
not only to look on
with helpless yearning
as though we had no strength.
For Your sake and ours
speedily and soon, let it be:
that our land may be safe,
that our lives may be blessed.
The final comment. Good fruit comes not so much by asking God to produce a better world but by doing whatever we can to so live by the love which Jesus commanded that our lives produce good fruit.