First Lesson: Acts 8: 26-40
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22: 25-31
Second Lesson: 1 John 4: 7-21
Gospel Lesson: John 15: 1-8
Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There is a famous saying that has hung outside more than one church that says “God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.”
Let me begin with a story, I’ve told this to the confirmation students before. When I was growing up, I knew a guy named Hank. I played basketball with Hank’s sons. If you met Hank, you would think that he’s the most religious man that you’ve ever met. You run into Hank at the grocery store the conversation would go like so:
“Hank, how are you doing Today?”
“I’m doing fine, Praise the Lord!”
“Nice weather that we have out there.”
“God is good, Praise the Lord!”
“Too bad about the boys losing that Basketball game the other night.”
“We’ll get better, Praise the Lord!”
Hank was a fine upstanding Christian. Hank would pray out loud at restaurants. Hank could quote the scriptures better than a lot of ministers. No one could ever accuse Hank of not being motivated and excited about what God did for him. To many Hank would be a religious nut, Hank was quite vocal about how his religion affected his belief system.
The issue with Hank though was not of sanity; it was rather one of insecurity. Hank was like the teenage girl stepping on the scale every morning, hoping that she can reach a goal weight as the total defining mark of all that she is to be.
The issue with Hank seems to be how he understands the Christian Life. Hank believed the Christian Life as something that was visible, something that he needed to reveal bluntly and directly in every encounter that he had.
If Hank isn’t the model of the Christian life what should it be?
Let’s break the exactly what is spiritual fruit. The phrase “spiritual fruit” is Biblical. The most famous phrase occurring in Galatians 5
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
We’d like to know people that can be these things all the time, kind, joyous, peaceful, and self-controlled. What I’ve found is that even when I think I’m doing pretty good with all these things then the Vikings will lose in disappointing fashion, I’ll go sulk in my room and be back to square one.
So why do we come to Church then if we keep ending up at the same place again and again? The meaning of “spiritual fruit” leads us into our Gospel for today from John the 15th chapter.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”- John 15:5
I’ll freely admit that this is not my favorite passage to preach on. You start talking about being vines and branches then everyone will quickly get confused. John 15 is a passage about how not only we are to live as Christian people, but about how God runs the world.
One of the most important concepts within Luther’s belief system was his understanding of how God runs the world through two separate kingdoms. The right-hand kingdom is that God rules through the instruments of Word and Sacrament. God reigns by giving clear words of promise to those who hear them. Contrast the right-hand with the left-hand kingdom which is where God places us in this world to live out our callings to our neighbor through individual vocations. We must not get these two kingdoms confused. Everyone wants to save the world, yet no one wants to do the dishes and for Christians this is inevitability a problem. We must always keep our responsibilities straight. The key to living as a Christian is to remember that your responsibilities are always going to be for the world around you.
A while back, a church in town had some members go to the parking lot at Zup’s. They came up and started asking random people how do they know that they’re saved. People would say “I go to such and such a church” or “I’m a good person” or something like this.
The people asking this question wanted to more proof that the person was saved such as some testimonial where they went from being in bar fights to leading Bible studies. The thing is salvation doesn’t occur by proof; salvation merely occurs by promise.
“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”- John 15:3
Only once we come to terms with the fact that our salvation is already achieved can we move outwards without hesitation to serving the world around us.
How do we live as Christian people? Let me tell a story as recalled by Tim Zingale.
In 1954, Time magazine told the story of a Korean boy named Ronnie. Ronnie’s mother died during the war, and Ronnie’s father abandoned him. Ronnie is found nearly dead on the floor of a shack. Ronnie eventually falls into the care of a Korean nurse named Grace. Grace adopts Ronnie.
Raising a child was not going to be easy for Grace especially one with Ronnie’s health. Grace had to make many personal sacrifices so that Ronnie could receive the food and vitamins needed to get back to health. Grace did all that she could, yet Ronnie wasn’t getting any better. Ronnie eventually develops tuberculosis and the only way for Ronnie to become strong was through bone grafting. Remember in 1954, medical technology wasn’t what it was today, especially in post-war Korea.
Grace insists that since they need bone to take it from her leg. The doctors really didn’t want to do this. Grace was not well herself having just healed from kidney surgery. Grace would not take “no” for an answer. The doctors eventually give in, when presented with no other options. Grace would be in a cast for the next several months. Grace would never walk right after this surgery. Grace never regretted doing this though. Grace knew that she had done what she was called to do whenever she saw Ronnie running, laughing, and playing. Grace was not this boy’s mother; Grace became the boy’s mother. Grace’s actions were crazy because they went against what every reasonable person would deem logical.
“Something is not a fruit if you have to think about why you do it.” Grace just acted this way towards Ronnie for reasons that she could not explain.
This week we’ve seen some of the worst of human instincts play out before our very eyes in Baltimore. The worst of all human ideology has been on display. The conservatives blame the liberals, and liberals blame the conservatives. People use past sins as a justification for present sins. Baltimore is not a unique situation. It’s just a sign of the times that we can dehumanize each other and not think anything of it. We are often slaves to our own belief system regardless of its rightness. We must emphasize again and again that this world is under attack by forces that we can not often name. Look at the mess that is our world as we turn on the TV and tell me that there isn’t a devil present and lurking.
The Church can merely be branches on the world’s vine. In the words of Russell Moore, our calling to exist does not lie because we are smarter or more moral than those who would rather sit at the coffee shop then attend worship. We do not produce fruit because we have brains that the non- religious could not possibly have. We do not produce change because we even have greater character than an Atheist. We exist because we are a forward-looking people. We believe that the Gospel belongs to the most serious of sinners and we have the Gospel, we have the vine.”
The only thing that makes the Church unique is that we have Christ. If a branch breaks from a tree, then it will surely die. The Father sees to it though that the vine shall grow and keep bearing fruit. One day all the unproductive branches will be pruned once and for all. The branch is always in the vine; Christians are always in Christ.
How should we understand our lesson for today? We begin by understanding its audience. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, the ones that would have been thought to be the religious nuts of his day. People knew the Pharisees religion far and wide yet according to Jesus their religiosity wasn’t producing fruit.
The Disciples are the branches. The Disciples are the ones who are told that they are going to produce fruit. The thing about fruits is they are called “Fruits of the Spirit” because we do not produce them as rewards for our efforts. Rather fruits are what we produce as a gift. We never produce good works as Christian people. A good work can never be so because our motivations are often in the wrong place that we need to look good before God and Man. If you need to discern your motives, then you aren’t producing good work, whereas a fruit like in the tale of the Korean nurse Grace comes without much need to try to discern why.
Fruits come just by living life as a normal person. The Christian life is not about being a hero. You live as a Christian when you do all sorts of things that maybe don’t seem all that outwardly religious from scrubbing floors to being a part of the life of a child.
The vine supports the branches; you are God’s child. Your life depends on the vine promising not to snap.
The Christian life is not easy. It would be way simpler if every time you came to church you saw dramatic changes in your own life and the life of those around you. Nobody masters the Christian life, yet our spirit remains present. Change comes in our lives precisely when we don’t see it. Faith is hidden. Apart from Word and sacraments, Christ is hidden.
The following sermon is not a how-to manual on producing “spiritual fruits”. I don’t believe such a manual can be written. Fruits don’t decide they are going to latch to the vine. You don’t decide to produce spiritual fruits any more than an apple choose to be an orange. What rather happens is that the Spirit takes us at moments that we don’t expect to serve our neighbor in ways that we could not previously imagine. One ultimately doesn’t have to be thought of as a religious nut to produce spiritual fruit. Amen
 Galatians 5:22-23a.
 Pastor Donavon Riley pointed me to a reflection for Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter found on the Higher Things website based on 1 Peter 2:11-20 which served as useful reflection considering the purpose of the Christian life. This reflection is for April 28th, 2015 and edited by Rev. Mark Buetow.
 Zingale, Tim. “Are YOU Attached”. Sermon Central. May 2003. Web. Apr.28.2015
 The best commentary on Balitmore was written by Reverend Russell Moore entitled “What Balitmore Needs” 27. Apr.2015. Moore to the Point(Russell Moore.com). Web. Apr.28.2015.
 Moore, Russell. Reverend “What Balitmore Needs”
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Pages 73-74.
 The Cross Alone Website has an article pointed out to me by Joe Burgess entitled “Not ‘the centered life’-but “hidden in Christ”. This line is a direct quote from the article. The website is maintained by Dr. Meg Madson.