Transcribed from the sermon preached October 23, 2016
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:15-18, Judges 9:5-22
After sharing a variety of fruit with the kids a couple of weeks ago, I decided to look at fruit and fruit metaphors in the Bible. Sometimes I think we forget how yummy things are, how basic and beautiful and yummy. It cracked me up when I was trying to serve the kids with a toothpick; after they figured out that indeed the fruit was for them to eat, they just mobbed me and I lost control. Rather than me talking about fruit, the simple Gospel became about them eating the fruit.
But isn’t that a great message for us. Before kids are taught manners and propriety, culture and prejudice, they are all in for yummy. Like God on that proverbial third day, it’s all good. Lesson one in the sermon series on fruit – recognize the good, the diversity, give thanks, enjoy.
But we do have to grow up don’t we? We do not remain innocent as children, just gobbling up all the yummy fruit of the garden, because there is also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We hope and pray that our children don’t have to learn about or eat from that tree too soon. But they will, because they are human, curious and egotistical, and the knowledge of sin and death changes our little garden of youth into a big frightening place where thorn bushes become king. The act of grabbing to fill ourselves, to make ourselves bigger opens our eyes to our smallness, to our fallibility and finitude.
Upon walking up to a Kekchi friend’s house in Guatemala I was shocked to find him swatting his young girl’s backside. I could tell that the father felt bad about swatting her, but he still swatted her a couple more times. He said she had gotten a hold of a poisonous fruit, and had put one in her mouth. There is some fruit that may look really good, but if we want to live a long and prosperous life, we should leave it alone. Don’t pick it, don’t eat it. Don’t run after that ball in the street. Leave it alone. There is a whole lot of other edible fruit in the garden, some things you just have to let go.
This fruit of the knowledge of good and evil may unveil itself in numerous ways. Someday we want our children to grow up and discern that sometimes what is sweet to us is not always so sweet to others, not in this post garden world. This was the lesson of Cesar Chavez and the farm workers. As immigrants in 1965 it was almost impossible to organize, so grape pickers worked for well under the minimum wage, often had to pay for a drink of water, had no bathrooms – among other problems. Philippine and Latino farm workers joined in the strike together, but soon enlisted the help of the dock workers union in Oakland and others, including customers. Chavez broke his hunger strike by eating the bread and drinking the grape wine of Holy Communion. Essentially, Chavez opened consumer eyes that grapes from unjust land owners is a fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, don’t eat this fruit until justice is done. Sometimes eating a fruit can be a sin. This awareness is the purpose of our fair trade coffee and chocolate sales – to help us think and pray for sustainable and just food, from farm to table.
So God creates all fruit and calls it good, then lets us know there is some fruit we should just leave alone. But if we don’t so then we have to deal with the consequences, the knowledge of sin and death.
In our passage from Judges 9 we get this fascinating political metaphor where the good and useful trees decide they should anoint a king. We take note that the book of Judges is a collection of mythical history gathered prior to the uniting of the twelve tribes, probably 1200 BCE. Society is kind of a disorganized mess with each tribe focused on its own strengths, wants and needs. Strongmen from one tribe fight with strongmen from another, and brothers fight each other. Abime’lech executes seventy brothers on one stone, and because he has the power or because others don’t want to be bothered, they decide to make him king. Jotham, the last surviving brother tells the parable.
The olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine were all considered possible front runners for the king position, because they had actual talent and qualities that would be valuable. But they all said no. They were too busy doing their own good thing. Then since none of them want to step up and be king, the worst possible candidate, the sticker bush gets the job. It is as much a story against the people as it is against Abimelech – Seriously, is this the society that we want to live in? Where the nastiest wins or refuses to concede loss? You know we talk a lot about the sacrifice of soldiers for our nation. And it is true that a special acknowledgement should be noted for those who risk and give the last full measure of devotion for our freedom and prosperity. Let us also lift up the sacrificial act of people who are talented and capable of getting rich in numerous ways, and choose to do so helping people, building community, and serving in government. With just a couple weeks left in what must be one of the craziest presidential elections in American History, I feel the need to thank all of those talented and worthy politicians who have done their best to serve their country in peace. Last week for instance, John McCain released the following statement:
“All Arizonans and all Americans should be confident in the integrity of our elections. Free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power are the pride of our country, and the envy of much of the world because they are the means to protecting our most cherished values, the right to liberty and equal justice.
“I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance. A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.”
Then we come to our passage from John: I am the vine, you are the branches. He or she who abides in me, and I in him or her, bears much fruit.
Now here I am going to make a confession. I actually believe this in the old fashioned sense, the evangelical sense. I say it is a confession because I don’t think I can prove it in a scientific sense, and if we extrapolate out theologically, systematically and logically in all directions we run into all sorts of trouble. But I don’t want you to think broadly about the significance of this image. Rather, I want you to think of it personally. That is, if you are willing to dedicate your whole life to Jesus, and honestly seek to do his will in your life, rather than feel enslaved you will know freedom, and rather than being inhibited you will produce abundant fruit. The evidence is only in the trial, in true dedication, and really, you are your own evidence. It is more about the attitude you have than the rules you follow, which is not to say that there are not some rules we will have to follow which at times we would rather not. But the attitude is that with God’s help, I have the power to do what I need to do to become the best me that God has created me to be. Sometimes that means we will need to prune a branch here or there. We may need to cut spending or cut consumption or cut attention to a couple of areas and refocus in others, and that might be painful for a time, but it is also empowering as we tap into the root system, the power of God.
This vine metaphor is systematic: that is it may appear that attention to this root that runs way over there should have nothing to do with that branch that runs way up and out over that way, but they do. One part of our life and faith affects apparently unrelated parts. Health and well-being, relationships and work, our habits and hobbies, our church, our kids and our parents, our superiors and inferiors, our money, our treasure and our pleasures are all related. It has been noted that “If you go out to dinner with someone and they treat you nice but are not nice to the waiter, they are not a nice person.” Someone who turns good on here and off there is someone who doesn’t know who they are or who they want to be – their power is going in different directions, fighting against itself.
So what Jesus in John is suggesting is that if we are willing to stay rooted and grounded in the love of God found so profoundly in Jesus Christ, if we are willing to say, God, I turn it all over to you, I am yours, with my boss and the waiter, with my wife and myself, then we will actually become personally rich with the fruit we will find flowering in our lives. We will experience more health, more joy, more pleasure and more prosperity if we truly dedicate our whole lives to God.
Our level of happiness, contentment or prosperity upon dedicating our whole life to God is not measurable from the world’s point of view. But it is by our own point of view. Taste and see. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.