Posted by: dacalu | 2 October 2011

Kingdom Produce

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching at St. Alban’s, Tucson.  The sermon was improvised, but these notes formed the core of my message.

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 (The Ten Commandments)

Psalm 19 (The Heavens Declare the Glory of God)

Philippians 3:4b-14 ( whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ )

Matthew 21:33-46 (The Parable of the Vineyard)

 

Sermon

 

What are the fruits of the kingdom?

And what are you doing to produce them?

The parable of the vineyard – indeed, many of the parables –

have to do with the alternative economy of God.

It’s a different way of looking at the world.

Maybe it has the same things in it,

but we’re asked to look at them in a new way –

value them in a new way.

 

Let us start with trees.

Trees produce fruit of many kinds, apples, pears, bananas.

If I were to speak of the fruits of plants,

I could say many things.

Plants produce sugar and sweetness, tartness, flavor.

Fruits are made to be eaten, and to scatter seeds.

There is a value system there.

Good fruits are those that effectively spread seeds.

Good fruits taste good and are attractive to the eye.

Good fruits are even nutritious.

When Jesus spoke of the fruits of the kingdom,

I don’t think it was a casual metaphor.

He was speaking quite consciously of the things produced

and the values we associate with them.

It is easy to imagine an entirely vegetable world,

where there is no intention or values other than

nutrition and reproduction.

This is not, however, the world we live in, or the world we are called to.

So let us speak of capitalism.

We needn’t judge for good or bad,

But we can ask what are the fruits of capitalism?

If I were to wade into this, I would say:

Increasing productivity – More stuff made, more services provided;

Flexible industry that responds quickly to demand;

Money of course, and ways of accumulating, storing, and transferring money;

Property.

These are the fruits of capitalism, and there is a value system there as well,

Frugality, Flexibility, Independence, Growth, Reliability, Stability

Clearly defined property, Creativity

It’s easy to imagine an entirely commercial world,

where all values are the values of commerce.

It’s been done often enough, but

considering where you are of a Sunday morning,

I’m thinking that this too would be too simplistic a world for us.

 

I could make similar arguments for the fruits of democracy,

or academia, or nationalism, or the rule of law.

I find them all important

and I have no wish to set any of them up

or tear any of them down this morning.

I simply want to tell you that the concept of fruits,

is really quite central to the way we look at the world.

What we do and how we think and who we are,

each of these, like a tree, produces fruit,

and we are asked to tend the garden of our souls,

to look at what grows there, and what fruit it produces.

Just as we are called to look at the gardens that grow

in our church, our nation, our world

to look at what grows there, and what fruit it produces.

 

Jesus says, “I tell you,

the kingdom of God will be taken away from you

and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

And I must tell you, for all capitalism and nationalism, academia and law produce,

those are not the fruits of the kingdom.

We confuse them at our peril.

 

God asks us to grow different fruits –

often alongside these others, but sometimes in their place.

So, what are the fruits of the kingdom?

 

Love, Compassion, Faithfulness, Patience, Hope, Joy, Humility,

Generosity, Kindness, Gentleness, Self-Control

 

And are we producing them?

Do you all know each other?

Oh, not just so that you can identify them in the supermarket.

Do you really know what these people around you

Think and believe and feel?

Do you love one another?

Really, truly want what is best for one another,

not only as you envision it, but as they envision it,

as God envisions it?

Are you patient with one another?

Kind?  Gentle?

Do you take joy in one another?

 

These are not abstract questions.

There is nothing metaphysical or theoretical or supernatural involved.

Do you love one another?

 

We (that is Christians) have been accused

of being an impractical people

a “pie-in-the sky” people.

It isn’t so.

We are a kingdom people,

or we should be.

Jesus said we would be known by our love.

 

When is the last time, you said to yourself,

How can I be kinder to the people in my life?

How can I be gentler, or more joyous?

 

 

We live in a consumer paradise –

not like a great supermarket, though we have those as well.

No, we live in a world and a country

where the market for fruits could not be more customer friendly.

We are offered the fruits of progressivism and conservatism,

militarism and pacifism, fundamentalism and secularism,

humanism, individualism, skepticism,…

you name it.

And in all the advertising and hullaballoo,

it can be easy to forget that all the exotic citrus

and funny fuzzy things from asia,

still can’t replace the fruits of the kingdom.

Love, Compassion, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Joy.

You can have a varied diet,

I really don’t mind.

You might choose democrat or republican,

evangelical or catholic,

but none of that replaces the basic sustenance

that God has given us in

Love, Compassion, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Joy.

 

And the problem is,

we’ve become so good at shopping,

that we’ve forgotten the fruits of the kingdom are free.

They are, when you get right down to it,

something different than the other fruits,

something real-er and more holy.

But for all that, they can be harder to grow.

 

I come to you today

to talk about the difference

between the real and the imitation,

between the meat and the seasoning

between genuine understanding and a simple list of facts.

In a world of shopping,

we have come to the mistaken conclusion

that idolatry means choosing the wrong brand –

as though the difference between Adonai and Ba’al

were like the difference between AT&T and Verizon.

Coverage: “My God has visible steeples, wherever I go.”

Signal Strength: “I get a warm feeling every time I go to church.”

Customer Service … you get the point.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The classic example of idolatry in the Bible

comes as Moses is receiving the 10 commandments

on Mt. Sinai.

The Israelites made a golden calf to worship.

It was not, incidentally, meant to be a foreign god.

The calf was a stand in for the Lord of Israel.

They got tired of actually talking to God,

who had funny rules and was taking

His own sweet time on the mountain.

They wanted God – the ruler of heaven and earth –

to reside in a little gold statue –

a statue they thought of as representing Him.

Idolatry comes from trying to trap God

in something less than God

or limiting the thing itself to an image.

It means replacing a relationship with a commodity,

friendship with ownership,

understanding with control.

 

The fruits of the kingdom are all about appreciating

the thing for itself.

Faith values trust over certainty.

Compassion values service over control.

Joy values the blessing of experience over judgment.

And love, when you get right down to it,

love simply values the beloved.

We are called into a real relationship with God,

a relationship that is open to God saying things we don’t expect,

a relationship that allows God to be more than we imagined.

We are called into relationship with a God who,

as the collect says, is

“always more ready to hear than we to pray,

to give more than we either desire or deserve,

to forgive us even those things of which our conscience is afraid.”

We are called into a real relationship with people,

made in the image and likeness of God,

for no reason beyond themselves.

 

This is the good news,

that by opening ourselves to God,

with love, compassion, faithfulness, gentleness, and joy,

we may come to actually know God.

By sharing ourselves with one another,

with love, compassion, faithfulness, gentleness, and joy,

we may actually grow into a community,

and not just a collection of individuals.

And this separates the fruits of the kingdom

from all the fruits of other ideologies, disciplines, factions, and schools.

The fruits of the kingdom make us one with God

and with one another.

 

Christians value this above all else,

that we should love one another,

and love God.

 

What are you doing to bring this to pass?

And what can you do to make it better?

 

Choose whatever additives you wish, whatever ideology,

but at the end of the day, at the end of every day,

ask yourselves some very simple, practical questions.

 

Have a loved better today?

Have I been easier to love?

Do I have a better relationship with those around me?

Have I done something today to make

Compassion, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Joy

easier, fuller, and more available to the people in my life?


 

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