Sermon Script: Matthew 3:8
Sermon Purpose: What does it mean to be fruitful for God.
Sermon Title: “Bear Fruit”

This morning I’m going to tell you a secret. It’s one of those obvious secrets. You know the kind. It’s one of those secrets hidden in plain sight. I want y’all to really think about this for a minute. In the book of Acts there were followers of the way of Jesus Christ. They weren’t even called Christians yet. They were just followers of the Apostle’s teaching about Jesus Christ. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and fellowship and breaking bread with one another. They lived simply and sold property to make sure those who were in need around them did not go hungry, or homeless. God saw what they did and added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47). You see when focused on loving God and loving others a church cannot help but grow. That is the obvious truth. The secret is this. It takes work – real work for a church to become small and to remain small. It is the work of bullying, bitterness, anger and regret. When churches decide “those people have to come to us because we aren’t going to them,” a church cannot grow. These trees are bearing rotten fruit. These are the opposite of what the Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ did in the book of Acts. These trees are not bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.

Let’s start this morning by really talking about what is repentance. Repentance has been described in a lot of ways. I’ve heard repentance described as a “U” turn. God allows U-turns. That’s a pretty popular one. My favorite; however, is to think of repentance as an about face. In the military and for those in marching band they use this command called an about face. This is what it looks like to do an about face.

The reason I like to use the “about face” command to define repentance is because the word repentance literally means to turn around – to turn back to God. God graciously allows us to try all kinds of different things to figure out how best to serve God. However, we cannot continue to do the same things over and over again if they do not work. We have to be willing to take stock of what we are doing. We have to look and see if what we are doing is working. If what we are doing is not working it is time to do an about face. It’s time to repent.

What do I mean by not working? By not working I mean not bearing fruit. By not bearing fruit I mean doing things, and thinking things, and saying things which do not help us to reach people for Christ. We try all kinds of things in this life. It is okay to try new things. However, if those new things bring harm to others; needlessly hurt feelings; and push friends and family away then they are rotten fruit. And it is okay to return to God. God calls us to repent and bear fruit in keeping with, or worthy of repentance. I’m sure y’all remember the Biblical definition of righteousness is being in right relationship with God and right relationships with other people. God blesses us when we seek Biblical Righteousness and God then sees to it we bear fruit. The fruit is fruit in keeping with repentance with a turn back to God. Now the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23). But the greatest of these is love (1Cor 13:13). Take a look at yourselves for a moment. Think back on some of the things you have said this week. Think back on some of the things you have done this week. Has what we have said and done this week brought love, joy, peace, or goodness into our lives or the lives of others? All too often we go about our lives thinking we are alright, and everything is good, but in truth we have wandered too far, and have forgotten how good it is to be loved by God. And the reason we have wandered away from God is always someone else’s fault. I think that’s the frame of mind the Pharisees and Sadducees must have been in when they wandered down to the Jordan River to see John the Baptist.

When the Pharisees and Sadducees come down to the Jordan River to be baptized John the Baptist lashes out at them. John calls them a, “brood of vipers,” and asks who warned them to flee the wrath to come (Matt 3:7). I think John lashes out at the Pharisees and Sadducess for the same reason I am preaching this new sermon series on bearing fruit. I think John wants to see God’s people be a blessing and spread God’s good news to everyone. That’s what God called Abraham to do (Genesis 12:1-3). Being a blessing to others is what Israel is supposed to be doing, and instead Israel’s religious leaders are preaching more and more that to be set apart means shutting others out. To be set apart means trying to be better or more holy than everybody else. The example of the Pharisees and Saducees is if you can act good enough you will be better than everybody else. How is that any different than Americans who say if you spend enough money, or make enough money you are better than other people? How is that any different from people who claim to be Christians and then insist that people come to their church, or worship their way if people want to be saved? Good fruit? Bad fruit? Good fruit? Bad fruit? Think about it. Think about it. (pause)

Now, I am going to be very transparent about my reasons for preaching this sermon series. I am preaching this series because I believe in the transformative power of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus changes lives. I believe Jesus changes communities. I believe Jesus changes towns, and I believe Jesus changes the world. Amen? Amen! Amen?! Amen!! Ours is a community in need of changing. I look out my doors and see the poor and working poor struggling with addiction and working three jobs just to live in the Budget Inn. I have seen those who have so very little to begin with extend the hand of compassion to those who have even less through the ministries of Open Hands. I have seen first hand lives changed for Jesus Christ because of what God does when we bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

I have also seen what misery can do. Let’s have a show of hands. How many of y’all have heard the phrase misery loves company? How many of y’all have seen grudges and resentment tear a part families? How many of y’all have seen bitterness and resentment tear a part churches? Yeah. I think we all have. It’s painful to watch. It’s painful to hear about, and yet we have this community to which we are called to be a church. If we want to stop being just another church in this community and to become this community’s church then we have to make a choice which kind of fruit are we going to bear. Are we going to bear the bad fruit of, “strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions and envy (Gal 5:20). Or are we going to bear the fruit of justice. I was reading just this week how, “the Bible calls God’s people to live in a state of justice that far exceeds occasional moments of compassion or generosity. The call for justice is the expectation of God that all people will find adequate resources to enjoy life.”[1] How might our church look, live and be different if we were a church focused on bearing the fruit of justice all the time because God is good all the time?  That’s the church I want to visit. That’s the church I want to be a part of. That’s the church I want to serve, and I believe that’s the church this church can be, but we aint there yet. There is still some pruning to be done.

Here’s the thing about being fruitful. To be fruitful, the fruitful branches have to be pruned and the unfruitful branches need to be taken off all together. Pruning is often painful at first. We don’t often like it. However, the growth that follows is well worth the pain of the moment. What makes the pruning worth the pain is the ways God’s fruitfulness follows. How do we know what to cut and how much? First, the faithful are like a little spark in a new camp fire. They must be challenged by the breath of the Holy Spirit that they burn hotter and brighter to be a beacon of change for others. Second, those who are struggling with fruit that divides must be allowed to find their way back. They have wandered far from the home fires of God’s love. We should call out to them, but we should never enable them, or make it easier for them to continue bearing bad fruit. They have a choice to make. They can continue to wander further away from God’s love and hurt themselves, or they can choose to come home. My deepest wish is that they would come home. I sincerely want those who are wandering away and making themselves miserable to turn back and be graphted back into the tree of life. There is a tremendous need for the fruit of justice and compassion in our community. There is an awesome opportunity to be this community’s church again. However, to be this community’s church we have to choose to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.

[1] Lovett H. Weems Jr., Tom Berlin, Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results, (Nashville, Abbingdon 2011) 7.