Holy Trinity Sunday – B LSB #849
Text – John 3:3
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
SEEING THE KINGDOM
Oak trees are one of the last types of tree, each spring, to sprout their leaves. We have one behind our home & the leaves are just beginning to push out & open. In the fall, when the frost kills the leaves, even though they fall off the other trees, the oak leaves cling stubbornly to their branches, even though they are as dead as any of the other leaves already on the ground.
Then come the sharp winds of winter, but they also are powerless to shake the hold of those stubborn oak leaves. Later comes the snow & the ice but their efforts are equally futile. Then comes spring. In the heart of those oak trees the sap begins to rise, new leaves push out & the old, dead ones finally drop away to make room for the new.
That picture is very similar to what happens in a human being as faith in Jesus comes to life. The old fruit, of the father of lies, is pushed aside & drops away to make room for the new fruit once you get connected to the Vine, which is Christ Jesus. Being grafted into the Vine causes the branch to bear good fruit from the Father of life.
After the long, cold winter plants begin to signal the renewed life & warmth of spring. When people begin to see the blossoming of flowers & the sprouting leaves they recognize that more vivid color will once again return to the landscape. Seeing that in the plant kingdom brings joy & peace & hope that new & refreshing times will arrive.
Since the heavenly Father created human beings to be in relationship with Him, C. S. Lewis likened The Fall into sin as a long, cold winter. In the Narnia Chronicles, he likened the coming of Christ to the warming of spring & the return, once for all, of summer. Because human beings were created to be in relationship with our Father, the saintly nature in us longs to see the kingdom of God. We want to see evidence of God at work in our lives, but sin has corrupted our ability to see. Satan takes advantage of that desire to see, & of our corrupted vision, in order to deceive us, & to manipulate us, into doing his will instead of the will of our Creator.
So a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus had come to Jesus & said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Like all human beings, Nicodemus wanted to see, but Jesus warns him that the gift of sight only comes from God. Seeing never comes by our own effort or doing.
The Gospel of Matthew states, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 3:1-2 ESV) He announces the arrival of Jesus by stating that the kingdom of heaven is near.
Kingdom of heaven & kingdom of God are basically interchangeable terms. So the words of the Baptist teach us that wherever Jesus goes, so goes the kingdom of God.
Next, we’re going to consider the words of Matthew in his 25th chapter. There, Jesus is telling us where we will see the kingdom of God:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry & you gave me food, I was thirsty & you gave me drink, I was a stranger & you welcomed me, I was naked & you clothed me, I was sick & you visited me, I was in prison & you came to me.’”
He is looking ahead to Judgment Day, & Jesus is connecting the dots for those who believed in Him. He tells them that when they fed the hungry they were feeding Jesus. When they gave something to drink to the thirsty they were doing it to Jesus. When they welcomed strangers or visited the sick they were doing it to Jesus. Now, if all those things were being done to Jesus that means the kingdom of God was there in those very moments. In other words, when we encounter people who need our help, we are encountering the kingdom of God.
The question is this: “Do you see, or do you recognize, God’s kingdom in people who need your help?” In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches that you need faith in Him as your Savior in order to see the kingdom of God. Some people don’t see the kingdom at all because they do not believe in Jesus as Savior.
Yet there are many times that those of us who do believe also do not see. Being too selfish will blind us to God’s kingdom. Being too busy will blind us to God’s kingdom. Being too self-absorbed will blind us to God’s kingdom. Those sinful attitudes do not automatically make us unbelievers, but those attitudes do turn our hearts away from God.
Being turned away from Him makes it really difficult for us to ‘see’ God. Being turned in upon ourselves makes it really difficult for us to ‘see’ the kingdom of God. That doesn’t make us unbelievers, but it should make it clear to us that we’re heading in the wrong direction. Seeing God’s kingdom has as much to do with our heart as it does with our eyes.
St. Paul wrote: “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6b-7 ESV) What Paul tells us is that as long as we live on this earth it is really difficult to live, as a child of God, by sight. We are too corrupt, too sinful, too self-centered, to clearly see the kingdom of God with our physical eyes.
Sinful human beings too easily get caught up in the glitz & glamor of Hollywood, or the power & wealth of Wall Street, or the success & the growth of Mega Churches. Nicodemus had sought out Jesus because of the miracles that he saw Jesus do. Because of those tendencies of our sinful nature our heavenly Father most commonly chooses to reveal His kingdom in the downtrodden, in those who are lost, in those who are poor or hungry, in those who are sick or in prison. One time God revealed His kingdom in a wealthy man named Zacchaeus, but he was a tax collector repenting of cheating people on their taxes.
Sickness can be a gift to us just like health. Poverty can be a gift just like wealth. The reason for this is our sinful tendency to worship the gift rather than God who is the Giver. We are less likely to worship sickness & poverty, than we are health & wealth. We are less likely to worship failure than success. We are less likely to worship repentance than righteousness.
After all, it was Jesus who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Holy Spirit has to change our heart from one of stone to one of flesh before we can see the kingdom, or the things, of God.
Nicodemus had seen the signs, other Gospel’s call them miracles, but apparently his heart had not yet been changed because, according to Jesus, he did not see. If Nicodemus desires a sign of God’s kingdom, he will need to be confronted with the cross. St. Paul says “We preach Christ crucified” because it is in weakness that God chooses to reveal His kingdom.
We look for kingdoms in power & in signs of strength, because they are easier for sinners to worship. Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified” because it is the consummation & the meaning of all the other signs performed by Jesus. Jesus crucified is the greatest sign of all; the greatest demonstration of God’s power & glory & kingdom.
Yes, it is a grisly sign, a scandal & offense to the eyes. But to them that believe, it is the greatest sign & miracle of all. “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) If you can see The Kingdom of God in His Son’s crucifixion, then you can find rest & peace in Jesus. And that is God’s will for you, so the fruit, which was produced in you by the father of lies, would be pushed aside & drop away by the new fruit coming forth after your connection to Christ Jesus the Vine.
The goal of Christ in this text from the 3rd chapter of John is to move us, His “born from above” people to confident living in Christ, by His power, as we focus on Him as the One who was lifted up in our place. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” Amen.
Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming storms & feeding thousands with the very Bread of peace. Let us praise the Word Incarnate, Christ, who suffered in our place. Jesus died & rose victorious that we may know God by grace. Let us sing for joy & gladness, seeing what our God has done; let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one. Amen. LSB 849:1, 3.
 Matthew 25:34-36 ESV
 John 3:17 ESV
Pentecost – B LSB #502
Text – Ezekiel 37:3
And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
CAN THESE BONES LIVE?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the one Ezekiel just painted is strikingly relevant to what happened on Friday in Texas. The hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel & as he was set down in the middle of a valley that was full of bones. God’s Spirit led him around among the bones & they were very dry. It was a valley full of death.
Ten people were killed in Santa Fe, TX. In just the count of human bodies – a far cry from a valley full of bones, but the ten who were murdered, though on a smaller scale, present the same picture that Ezekiel saw in his vision. Two days ago, that high school in Texas was full of death. Ten people murdered out of the twisted confusion of sin.
People want to ban guns. They want to blame parents. The suspect might have been bullied, or he could be mentally ill. Do you think maybe our heavenly Father knows what caused the slaughter? Will anyone in the realm of politics dare to name the real cause? I hope that people are hearing about it in churches this morning.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Romans 6:23 gives the answer – plain & simple: “The wages of sin is death...” Whether brought by cancer, or by accident, or by premeditated murder, the underlying cause is always the same. Everything in God’s creation has been poisoned by sin. Because of it, everyone living is at the same time on the road to death.
No matter what road you are traveling in life, each & every one of them winds up at the same sign – Dead End. This universe, this planet, & the human beings occupying it, are so corrupted & poisoned by sin that you & I – like Ezekiel’s valley of bones – are full of death. Antietam & Gettysburg, Normandy & the Battle of the Bulge, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, each of those names is well-known for death on a massive scale, not as punishment for any specific sin, but simply as the result of human sin in general. God’s creation has been poisoned, & because of it – people die. Because of sin you & I will die.
Yahweh is the source of all life & rebellion against Him always brings death, no matter what form. The plain & simple truth is this – “The wages of sin is death.” The crazy thing is this – the answer to death is just as plain & simple. 2 Chronicles 7:14 provides that answer:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, & pray & seek my face & turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven & will forgive their sin & heal their land.” Would you say that our land needs healing? When Jonah finally went to Nineveh to warn them of God’s impending judgment they believed Him & repented.
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, & He did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10 ESV) It hardly seems possible that the people of our nation will turn from their evil ways. The Israelites never turned more than half-heartedly from their evil & eventually lost their place as God’s people.
Will any of the leaders of our nation dare to place the blame where it truthfully belongs? Will any of them dare to address the real issue? Anymore, would our people even vote for the truth? History tells us the answer will be no. There just won’t be enough people voting for you if your campaign slogan is, “Repent! We are all a bunch of sinners.”
That has to be done by the people of God. It is not just our job, it is our calling from the very moment the heavenly Father says to each of us individually, “You are mine!” It is God’s design, & tremendous blessing, that Christian parents always bring their children to Him for Baptism at an early age. Listen to what God said to Abraham in Genesis 17, & I want you to
focus on His use of the word covenant:
“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you & your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me & you & your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, & it shall be a sign of the covenant between me & you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.” (17:9-12a ESV)
At a mere 8 days of age, parents are instructed by God to bring their sons to Him that they too might personally be called into covenant with their heavenly Father. Covenant is not a common word for us, but basically it means to create a relationship with someone. As we see with the command to circumcise at 8 days, God doesn’t wait for the child to decide on his own.
In OT circumcision Yahweh was creating a relationship between Himself & the male children. Today, in Baptism, Yahweh creates a relationship between Himself & all children – male & female. In a real way, when God creates that relationship, He is bringing us out of the darkness & in to the light. Our Lord is bringing us out of death & in to life.
In the context of Ezekiel, what was left of God’s people was exiled in the pagan nation of Babylon. In a sense, for a time, they were a dead people. They had wandered from their heavenly Father & followed pagan gods, so Yahweh gave them their heart’s desire. He did so that they might see the folly of their ways. Ezekiel describes how they felt while in exile:
“Our bones are dried up, & our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (37:11b ESV) They were a people unable to rescue themselves. It was as if they were a valley full of dry bones. Their future looked hopeless & destitute. They were, like the people in Santa Fe, TX are this morning, surrounded by darkness & death.
In Ezekiel’s day, the people of God, like Christians in our nation today, are surrounded by the darkness & death of a culture that is wandering away from their heavenly Father. In the 33rd chapter, the prophet Ezekiel was instructed to write: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way & live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV) It is our calling, as the people of God, to be taking that message out into the valley of dry bones.
The Spirit of the Lord took Ezekiel & set him down in the middle of a valley that was a sea of scattered, disconnected bones, & He said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Had another human being asked the question, it would have been laughable. As you & I look at the culture we live in, might God be saying to us, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
To be honest, we’d have to answer, “By our efforts & commitment there’s no way!” It’s why, for several years now I’ve held the 1st confirmation class of the year at a cemetery, & I ask, “What is the problem with cemeteries?” The answer is that everyone there is dead! It’s like a garden of very dry bones, yet we put them there as a sign of hope!
All the school shootings are a sign that our culture is rapidly becoming a valley filled with very dry bones. “Son of man, can these bones live?” It is a laughable question were it not for the fact that it is the Lord of life who is asking. For thousands of years, Christians have been burying bodies, & now ashes, in cemeteries in the sure & certain hope of the resurrection!
In the coming days there will be families in Texas burying their dead. I pray that they are Christian families who have that same sure & certain hope of the resurrection of the dead that is to come. Romans 6:23 begins harshly enough, but it does not leave us in despair: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sin is the cause of all the suffering in this world, whether it be the horror of a school shooting, or a terrorist attack, from the brutal action of war, or simply death by illness or a freak accident. If we as the children of God had been following our calling with confidence the media, & our politicians, would be talking about the true cause of those deaths in Texas. If we had been the salt of the earth as we were called to be, the leaders of our nation would not be turning attention away from the truth & placing blame on guns or parents or mental illness. You & I & our culture have become like a valley that is full of very dry bones – hopeless & full of death.
And still, Yahweh asks, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And He does not ask out of foolishness or sarcasm. Our Lord asks because He wants to assure us that the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” At the death of Lazarus Jesus told the man’s sister, “I am the resurrection & the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25 ESV)
The problem with cemeteries is that everyone there is dead. For that reason some people are very uncomfortable with being there. Yet, God does not take Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones in order to frighten or depress him. Yahweh takes the prophet there in order to give him hope. Yes, these bones can & they shall live! So the last words of the Gospel reading proclaim:
“Therefore prophesy, & say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves & raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, & raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, & you shall live, & I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:12-14 ESV)
After thousands of years of history, the Israelites eventually lost their place as God’s people. That is how completely they failed. They would become like a valley full of very dry bones. Jesus became the New Israel. He took their place in order to rescue them from the exile of sin because without Him God’s people were unable to turn from their wicked ways.
“Repent! We are all a bunch of sinners,” would certainly fail as an election campaign slogan. Unfortunately, even as God’s children we fail to repent perfectly, & when we do repent we almost immediately fall back into our sins. If the truth be told, you & I are unable to turn from our evil ways. Murder & disease & war will always be with us in this life.
Sinful human beings, & the plans of sinful human beings, are just not capable of rescuing
us, no matter what any politician or even religious leader may promise. This reading from the book of Ezekiel, with the valley full of dry bones, is about the full-fledged rescue of sinners from sin. And it is not merely a generic rescue of all them bones, but an intimately personal rescue of individual sinners from each of their individual sins.
Jesus, the true Israel, has taken the place of His people that we might be holy in the sight of our Creator. Jesus was raised from death to eternal life, that our bones might no longer be dry. Finally, Ezekiel tells us why our God does all these things: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:14b ESV)
May you all know the Lord from this day forth forevermore. Amen.
Holy Spirit, the dove sent from heaven, ever one with the One who is Three, from the Father you came, words of peace to proclaim, come & comfort us, speak tenderly. You, the fragrance of life we are seeking; fill Your temple, Your altar make clean. Joyous shelter of love, gracious friend from above, in Your care we are resting, serene. Holy Spirit, the fire celestial, Who on Pentecost came as foretold, to descend from on high & the Church occupy as the cloud filled the temple of old; all the baptized You seal with Your promise, all believers Your gift there receive, so that all the elect – all in Christ – may expect to enjoy what by grace they believe. Amen. LSB 502:1-2.
7th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 816, 708, 919
Text – John 17:12
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, & not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
EXCEPT THE SON OF DESTRUCTION
It is mother’s day & sermons across our nation will be working with stories about mothers & what a blessing they are. On the other side of the issue “progressive” people want to eliminate mother’s day because it is too sexist for the gender fluid society they are trying to create. They want to eliminate what they consider to be ‘evil’ stereotypes.
As Lutheran Christians we ask “What is God’s will?” That does not matter at all with people who don’t follow Jesus, but it is of utmost importance to those who do. If mother’s day is important it is because of all the sacrifices they make in raising children. And of all those sacrifices which is the most important? What is a mother’s greatest duty?
As I said earlier that strikes many people today as a question based upon sexist stereotypes, but I’m heading that off at the pass because I think the exact same answer applies to the question, “What is a father’s greatest duty?” The Word of God does not leave us hanging on either question. Moses wrote about it in the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, & shall talk of them when you sit in your house, & when you walk by the way, & when you lie down, & when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7 ESV)
Moses leads off with what is basically the 1st commandment. Then he tells the people that the Word of God which he commands them shall be upon their heart. Do you keep God’s Word that close to you? Is it with you every moment of every day? And the reason God’s Word should be an intimate part of who you are is this parents are to diligently teach the Word of God to their children. You can’t teach what you don’t know, & the Bible does not offer you the option of “farming out” the spiritual education of your children. Among all the things that God calls parents to do, teaching them the Word of God is infinitely the most important.
If you’re asking for specific reasons why, consider the Gospel lesson I read a short while ago. It’s known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus – a rather highfalutin name that tends to obscure the serious nature of Jesus’ message. He prayed this just before He heads to the Mount of Olives for Judas to betray Him. Here’s a synopsis of Jesus’ thoughts:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name… While I was with them, I kept them in your name… I have guarded them… But now I am coming to you… I have given them your word… I do not ask that you take them out of the world… They are not of the world… Sanctify them in the truth… And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Hidden among all that in-depth theological talk is a serious warning. It is an issue far more serious than the volcano erupting on the big island of Hawaii. It is far more serious than the talks coming up with North Korea, & it dwarfs the issue of pulling out of the nuclear treaty with the nation of Iran. In praying, Jesus made clear that hell is real. He said:
“I have guarded them, & not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” The matter-of-fact honesty of that sentence is brutally difficult for sinful beings to grab hold of & wrestle with. It may seem too serious & frightening a topic to be addressing on Mother’s Day, but it is a fear which lies at the heart of every mother’s & father’s worst nightmare.
Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, like you & me, had a mother & a father. All pastors, all congregations, every brother & sister in Christ should care enough about mothers & fathers to help them wrestle with the fear every parent experiences at one time or another, “What will happen to my child?” A common reaction is to stick our head in the sand & hope for the best, but Jesus offers you much more than that. Another reaction is to live in constant fear & allow that fear to drive our thoughts, our words & our deeds. Jesus offers us much more than that. Do you know, specifically, how Jesus addresses that question, “What will happen to my child?”
Anxiety, worry & fear drain the life out of us. In every case they are the work of sin & death & the devil. They twist & corrupt & poison the very creation of God. We see it with our physical eyes. We feel it in body & soul. It is real, but it is not eternal. Likewise, every parent’s legitimate concern for their children is real, but it is not eternal.
No pastor should minimize any parent’s concern for their child, yet we should also keep in mind the big picture. Your children do not belong to you. They belong to their heavenly Father who created them. He sent His only-begotten Son to die for their sins. To claim them as if they are your possession is to violate the right of their Creator & their Savior.
Rather than possess them, you are to diligently teach them the Word of God: “…when you sit in your house, & when you walk by the way, & when you lie down, & when you rise.” In other words, in every aspect of your child’s day, your heavenly Father provides opportunities to care for & love your child by giving them life through the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Whether a mother or a father – that is how you truly love your children! When anxiety, worry & fear are already draining the life out of you, or when they are just beginning to nip at your heels, you can find the same source of life & love for you. As the reading from 1 John 5 stated: “Whoever has the Son has life…” (5:12 ESV)
St. John continues: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” (5:13-14 ESV) For the Creator of all that exists to promise He will hear our prayers is beyond anything we deserve. That such Creator would give the life of His only-begotten Son in our place is simply unreasonable, & yet it is a true & historical fact. His love for us can never fail; no matter how often we succeed or how we fail in anything we do with the life Yahweh has given to us.
You may be the world’s best parent, or the world’s worst parent, & still He can & will overcome your failures. What God will not do is force anyone to accept His love. For those who willfully choose to reject Jesus as Savior from sin, even Jesus weeps. He was sent to take our place in every way, even in our grief – the Son of God grieves on our behalf.
Jesus grieves for every child who turns away from him as Judas did. In this High Priestly Prayer Jesus again takes our place & He prays in our behalf. At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed on our behalf. On the cross He died & in the tomb He rested on our behalf. On Easter morning the Son of God rose on our behalf, but this time so that we could join Him.
On the Last Day all who trust in God’s Son as Savior will be raised from death to join our Lord in eternal life. There will be no more sorrow, no more weeping, no more death. Most of all, there will be no more unbelief. No more struggle, no more need to warn people of the danger of following their ‘own’ star.
No one in heaven will be brow beating people for having sexist stereotypes. There will be no more debate about whether or not God created the world. You will never again be anxious for, or worried about your children, & their faith in Jesus, or lack of it. God knows what is best for us & He will accomplish it perfectly for all eternity.
Judas had a heart of stone, & he rejected the life that Jesus offered him. It’s a topic that may be especially difficult to consider on Mother’s Day. Yet, the fear is real, & Christ Himself longs to address that fear in your life. The Holy Spirit will help you wrestle with it, & if you don’t refuse His help, He will bring you out the other side of that struggle with the peace that passes all human understanding. Maybe God will accomplish that for you already in this life. Maybe He will accomplish that once He brings you into heaven. Either way, God is faithful. The key is to remain in Him, for God is guarding & keeping us safely in His name. Amen.
Abide, O dearest Jesus, among us with Your grace that Satan may not harm us nor we to sin give place. Abide, O dear Redeemer, among us with Your Word, & thus now & hereafter true peace & joy afford. Abide with Your protection among us, Lord, our strength, lest world & Satan fell us & overcome at length. Abide, O faithful Savior, among us with Your love; grant steadfastness & help us to reach our home above. Amen. LSB 919:1-2, 5-6.
 John 17:11b-19 ESV
6th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 770, 783, 663
Text – John 15:13-14 & 16
Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you to go & bear fruit – fruit that will last… (NIV)
Last week’s Gospel reading contained the well-known imagery of the branch & the vine. Jesus concludes, “Unless you remain in Me, neither can you bear fruit.” (John 15:4c) This week’s Gospel lesson continues right on the heels of last week’s, & it’s still talking about fruit. Today’s sermon is titled, “Fruit That Will Last,” & we’ll be looking at what that is.
We’ll be thinking about whether or not we produce any of it, & what determines whether that fruit will last or not. Who is it that’s supposed to bear this fruit? What does it look or feel like? How much of it should be produced? Where is that to be done?
Last week’s reading established rather clearly that we bear fruit only by remaining in Christ. He is the source of everything good that we produce, & we produce nothing good without Him. Apart from Jesus Christ, even our righteous deeds are but filthy rags. The Son of God must be living within in order for us to do anything worthy of notice.
To illustrate, there’s the story of a native from a remote village who had the opportunity to visit a modern city for the 1st time. He could not take much home with him, but he was amazed at the electric lights he saw everywhere. So, he bought a sack full of light bulbs & sockets with switches.
Arriving home he hung the lights in front of his house & on his & his neighbor’s trees. Everyone was watching with curiosity & asked, “What are you doing?” but he only smiled & said, “Just wait until dark – you’ll see.” When night came he turned on the switches & nothing happened. No one had told him about electricity. He didn’t know the light bulbs were useless unless connected to the source of their power. Are you connected to the source of your power? Are you looking for power in all the wrong places? PAUSE
By definition, the sinner in us serves only ourselves, so the words, “Love one another,” are foreign to our sinful nature. That side of me, loves only me, & no one else. That side of me looks out for number one, & only him. Other people are nothing more than tools to be used in order to get what I want.
For people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus that’s how they live, all the time.
As Jesus said of the Pharisees, they may look good on the outside, all white washed & shiny clean, but on the inside they’re nothing more than a collection of dead people’s bones. On the inside, without Christ, they have no life, & only death.
Yet even God’s children struggle with every kind of sin there is. No matter how good anyone looks on the outside, their insides are just as filthy & dirty as any unbeliever’s. Belief in Jesus as our Savior does not make us immune to sin. It only makes us immune to sin’s eternal effect. Our belief in Christ only remains strong when fully connected to the Vine – Jesus Christ.
As we drift away from the source of our life, & the source of our power to do good, our sinful nature takes over. We end up living like the unbelievers of this world. We produce more & more rotten fruit. Bitterness, anger & jealousy become the results of our living, which is actually a spiritual death in progress.
Can you recite the list of things that set you off? What sort of actions by others get under your skin? Has it occurred to you that those reactions of yours are not the fruit that will last? Is it possible, you need to ask God for help in dealing with those issues? Being connected to our power source is the answer to bitterness, anger or jealousy!
Being connected to Christ, brings peace, joy & fulfillment out of the very same broken circumstances in life that cause rotten fruit to form in people not connected to Jesus. It’s not the circumstances that determine the outcome; it’s your relationship with the Man who died on the cross in place of you. That relationship determines how you respond.
Without a relationship to Christ, your response has to be negative, because you have no life with which to respond. You cannot produce fruit unless you are connected to the Vine. Remaining connected is our chief job as followers of Jesus. As long as we remain connected, the Holy Spirit WILL work through us to produce results.
However, so many of us Christians drift away from the church. We fall away from regular attendance & from the Lord’s Supper. It seems harmless at first, but so gradually that we don’t even notice our love grows cold. Then, when troubles arise, we wonder, “Where is God?” We wonder why our lives seem dead & useless. Where’s the joy? Where’s the fruit?
The fact is that our lives are dead & useless whenever we are not connected to the Vine. A dead branch bears no fruit, no matter how hard it may try. And a dead branch cannot choose to reconnect itself to the Vine. Jesus Himself says that we did not choose Him. He chose us, & He did so in order that we might bear fruit – fruit that will last.
What kind of fruit is it that your life is bearing? An obvious example of fruit are the children in your family. The Apostle Paul wrote to Ephesus, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline & instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV) No Father in the world can raise Godly children if he himself is not connected to the Vine.
Fathers, are you connected to the source of your power? And are you bringing up your children in the training & instruction of the Lord? PAUSE
Another visible example of fruit that will last is a person’s marriage. Husbands & wives are blessed by God with each other, not simply to satisfy each other’s physical & emotional needs. They’re also to support & help each other grow in their faith. Wives aren’t there only for raising the children, & husbands aren’t there only for earning the income. God has a much more balanced & fulfilling design for marriages. They’re intended to reflect the relationship that Christ has with His church.
As Jesus gave His life for the church, the husband is to give his life for his wife. As the church is to submit to the loving will of Christ, so a wife is to submit to the loving will of her husband.
Sure, sin has made a mess of how marriages reflect that Godly relationship, but that doesn’t make the ideal marriage invalid. After all, it isn’t just marriage that sin has corrupted, but Christ has overcome sin. Christ has promised to bless marriages & families. The reason they fail in any way is because we are not capable of remaining fully connected to the Vine.
Christ Himself has to do the connecting. That’s one reason God became man – to reconnect the relationship that had been broken by Adam’s sin. Once Christ was born of Mary, it was again possible for individual human beings to be connected to God. The Orozco family is trying to teach that to the people they serve at the Latino Mission.
But now, even after Jesus paid for all sins, even after He reconnected us to Himself in Baptism, we still have the freedom to walk away, to drift away, to lose sight of our forgiveness. Faith has been given to us, & if we don’t use it, it is likely to die. Faith does not live by itself. It needs to be fed, nourished & exercised.
Families & congregations have been given to us for that purpose. It’s in our families & our congregations that you & I have countless opportunities for producing fruit that will last. Friendships that are neglected produce nothing. Faith that is neglected does not produce fruit.
Faith in Christ is also a relationship with Christ. Like all relationships, it will fade away
if you neglect it. It will die if it isn’t fed. Fruit that will last comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you think Jesus made you His brothers & sisters in order to be lazy, careless & selfish? Does it feel like your faith is growing weak & wasting away?
Three weeks from tomorrow we celebrate Memorial Day & hopefully honor the lives of all those who have sacrificed for the freedom we have in this country. Those freedoms will not last through eternity. They are only temporary, & still, millions of lives have been sacrificed for them over the history of our nation.
How much have you sacrificed in order to remain connected to the source of your freedom from sin? The Son of God not only humbled Himself to become a human being, but He then sacrificed His life for our freedom. He offers the power of immortality, & the opportunity to share that power with those we love. Are you remaining connected to your power source?
Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.” Instead, the Son of God has called us friends & everything that He learned from His Father He’s made known to us. To bear the fruit of being a friend of Christ is a special privilege that is difficult to describe. It’s a feeling like no other.
In regard to money & possessions, they say you can’t take it with you. But in a certain sense, you are able to take your children with you, as you bring them up in the discipline & instruction of the Lord. So, the fruit that will last is chiefly to be produced in the family. If you have no children, the congregation is your family in a larger sense.
In the congregation there’re many opportunities to serve your Lord, both spiritual & physical. Not everyone is capable of making visits to talk about Christ’s teaching, so God gives us opportunities to teach Sunday School, or to assist with Soccer Camp. The church building needs maintenance & repair. I spent several years on the Board of Trustees fixing, replacing, installing, you name it, all so that the spiritual work could be done by others. Everyone in the congregation, every Christian, has been given talents to use & the means to use them in God’s service. As we stay connected to Christ, as we grow in faith, the fruit of our love for God will come naturally. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need prompting. We only need learn to trust Him.
As you share the story of your spiritual struggles with your friends in the church, you’ll find that they can be of tremendous help to you. Each of us is able to share in the role of encouraging one another, because Christ has connected us to each other in this family called church. Jesus has enabled you & me to love each other by His love for us.
Remaining in Christ’s love & keeping His commandments, will allow Christ’s joy to remain in us, & it will be full. That’s the kind of joy that exists in the Holy Trinity because of the perfect union of the 3 Persons of the Trinity. The joy of the Godhead is the kind that can exist in a marriage, a family & a congregation, because God’s joy is founded upon Jesus Christ.
It’s His work that allows everything good in this world. It’s Jesus’ work that brings everything good into existence. It is God’s will & the Holy Spirit’s work that bring forth fruit that will last. He’s offering you the opportunity to experience that joy. You can actually experience that because Christ has taken away all the guilt of all your sin. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet