"Remember-Our Fruits Matter"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 2, 2005
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Matthew 21:33-46
Clearly, the vineyard was Israel. The vineyard owner was God. God had richly blessed Israel throughout its history, giving God’s people everything the nation needed. This reality was illustrated in the parable by describing the vineyard as having a fence, its own wine press and watchtower, the place where the tenants lived. Only wealthy and powerful people could afford to construct vineyards that were as well equipped as Jesus described.
As we return to the story line, the owner of the vineyard sent a series of servants to the tenants to collect his percentage of the vineyard’s profits. Jesus’ listeners knew that he was talking about the number of prophets God had sent to Israel in the past. Those whose faithfulness to God had blended with the politics of kings had killed many of the prophets. Finally, the vineyard owner sent his son to the tenants, and Jesus pointed out that, like the others, he was killed.
Then Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all.” Jesus ended with these words, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to people who will produce the proper fruits.”
Every person listening to Jesus, including the chief priests and Pharisees, knew the symbolism of each metaphor and reference used during his storytelling. The righteous knew he was talking about them. Only fear of the crowd prevented them from arresting Jesus.
Is it not ironic that those who believe they are following the truth are always the ones who want to prevent, discredit or destroy those who are bringing new understanding? Fear is what prevents people from stepping out in faith. Throughout history, people of vision have always had to struggle to gain an audience. Nothing, however, can stop new and different light from shining.
When our primary response team returned from Laurel, Mississippi, one of the stories they brought back with them concerned the reaction of a number of area churches. Other Christians responded with a decision to care only for the sheep of their flocks. They refused to be in ministry to all in need.
West Laurel United Methodist Church opened its doors to everyone. Their decision was challenging because there are only 75 members in the church. The pastor there knew about the kind of power that accompanies a person who has faith the size of a mustard seed. He knew that to move mountains one has to step forth in trust. He knew that light would attract others like a magnet. He understood the often-used quote from the movie The Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” They did build a mission station and the people came.
That little United Methodist Church attracted UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee On Relief), our primary response team, the presiding Bishop of that annual conference and her husband. Together they took care of over 10,000 families. Talk about the loaves and the fish being multiplied. It happened! Out of nowhere, supply trucks arrived, and that congregation became a living witness for what love looks like. Jesus reminded his listeners that the quality of their fruit represented everything that is essential about life.
What should resonate within us in the 21st Century is that we may have all our theology and beliefs carefully crafted to suit what we believe are God’s Word and Will, and yet still stumble over the cornerstone Jesus Christ represents. The chief priests and Pharisees did that very thing.
When believers are not careful, the Kingdom of God, which they think they own as their inheritance, may be taken away from them and given to others who are willing to produce the fruits that make God’s presence visible. Beliefs are not fruit. Theology is not fruit. The patterns of our worship experience are not fruit. Knowledge of the Scriptures is not fruit. The fruit of the Divine pours through those who respond with open arms. Thank God for that congregation in West Laurel, Mississippi.
What was true in Jesus’ day is also true today. The fruits of our discipleship are always on display. People become unhappy during their lives because of a host of small decisions and responses made long before they lost their joy and enthusiasm. People’s lives become complicated because they refuse to be creative with the hand they have been dealt. They resent having to grow in the direction their branch has been bent. They resent that their plans were foiled, that their truth was displaced or that someone did not treat them fairly. When the Self needs gratification, security and even eternal assurances, our neediness causes us to stand in our own shadows.
Those who make a difference in this world are those who cling only to God’s presence when life presents them with mountains to climb. God, who equips our vineyards with everything they need, will never abandon us. Remember, if we are to be a light in darkness, we have to be surrounded by life’s winter-nights.
Clearly West Laurel United Methodist church experienced such darkness. Like Jesus and his twelve, that congregation understood that for faith to be given hands and feet their discipleship must be visible. Has each of us acknowledged this same understanding and made it an integral part of our personal mission statement? Our fruits matter; through them we announce to the world who we are and who we serve.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Ever present and faithful God, how grateful we are for the bounty that surrounds us, for the relationships that nurture us and for the optimism our trust in you instills. When the symbols that give our lives meaning are swept away, grant us peace. When a goal we have counted on slips from our grasp, grant us patience and perseverance. When the unforeseen forces us to take a detour, grant us unwavering faith. When we are tempted to fall prey to resenting minor changes to our self-portrait, grant us the remembrance that you are the artist. When others challenge the quality of our discipleship, grant us the courage to remain steadfast. Help us to radiate peace when the sun shines and when the rain falls. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, we are so grateful that in our blindness to some forms of truth, you still lead us. We are grateful that during times when we do not understand life, you know that there is nothing of which we ever need to be afraid. We are grateful that when our minds are challenged by so many unanswered questions, we understand that you never lose control over any aspect of creation.
People who appear to have no regard for the value of human life trouble us. We see children with guns, we experience carjackings in our communities and we find innocence suffering in so many places. We sense frustration when our world leaders find few solutions that might lead humanity toward a lasting peace. We cannot make sense of issues like these, but we know that you have sent us into a world with the faith that you can. Each of us desires to be instruments of your peace. Help us to succeed.
We do not need to know how the story ends before we choose to be a participant in life’s drama. We do not need to make sense out of our experiences for us to make visible the truth that we know. We do not need to have clarity to any outcome before we become a healer with our responses. As we come to the table this morning with Christians around the world, may we understand our combined strength as we confront ignorance. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .