Worship Service, November 22, 2020 “Letting the Good Fruit Grow”

Worship Service, November 22, 2020 "Letting the Good Fruit Grow"

Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik

Sunday morning via YouTube

 

The message for November 22, 2020 by Pastor Erik,

“Letting the Good Fruit Grow” 

can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday.

 

 

 

“Letting the Good Fruit Grow”
Matthew 25: 31-46

As we find ourselves staying home more at night during the pandemic, one thing our family has done is to try to pick a television show we can all agree on, and then watch it all together over the course of several weeks. One of the series we have watched, which I would highly recommend is called, “The Good Place.”

You can find all four seasons on Netflix. The show is about four main characters who die young on earth because of some inherent character flaws they have, and then go through a series of adventures in the afterlife. As the characters try to get to the good place, the story explores philosophical and even theological questions about heaven and hell, about what it means to be good or bad, and what it means to be human, all told with a very creative sense of humor.
On their journey to try and get to the Good Place, as opposed to being doomed to the bad place, our unlikely heroes discover there is an elaborate point system which makes it very difficult for humans to get into the Good Place.

In several episodes, the main characters are allowed to go back to earth and while they are there, they decide they want to do all they can to help people be good so that others can have more of a chance to get to the Good Place than they did.

They soon discover, however, that this is a very difficult task because even if people believed what they said about the afterlife, they could not reveal to the people that there is a point system, since that would mess up their motivation. The problem would then be that people would only be trying to be good to get points, as opposed to just doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. In other words, it wouldn’t be true goodness if they were only doing it to get a reward.

This part of the television show reminded me of how we can sometimes hear the parable about Jesus, that he tells in today’s Gospel. The story is about the Son of Man coming in glory to judge the nations. At the end of the story, Jesus says that some of the people will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Because there is this reference to the afterlife, I think we can then hear this parable as a sneak peek into who gets into heaven and who goes to hell. We can hear it as a kind of cheat sheet about how to get the points we need to make it to the Good Place.

The great surprise, however, is that Jesus reveals that the people in the story didn’t realize that when they were feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned and welcoming the stranger, that it was like they were welcoming Jesus. They were not doing those things to earn points or because they thought they had the blueprint for getting into heaven. They were doing them because that it just who they were. The goodness had just grown inside them and that goodness was bearing the fruit of God’s love in the world.

Matthew’s Gospel is big on this image of bearing fruit. Before we even hear about the ministry of Jesus in the Book of Matthew, John the Baptist comes on the scene and is warning people that they are like trees and if they do not bear good fruit, they can be cut down. In chapter seven of the Gospel, Jesus says, “Be aware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves…. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-19)

In the parable today, we hear that good fruit seems to be equated with good actions, like helping people who are in need. But the fruit that grows from the soil of our hearts is also revealed through the words we use. As Jesus says in Matthew chapter twelve, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit… For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks… I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)

Jesus can sound kind of harsh sometimes as he gives his warnings, but he does so because he wants people to be how God made them to be. An orange tree is meant to grow oranges. If it were to try and grow something different, it wouldn’t go well. Likewise, humans were made in God’s image and God said that they were made good. That is what we are meant to be, but when we go away from the path of God, then we end up not bearing the fruit of goodness God placed within us.

It is important to remember that when Jesus gives his warnings about how people will be judged, he is not asking them to do something that they could never attain. Rather, he is calling them back to who they are supposed to be and who they already are, but maybe they had forgotten about. In Matthew chapter five, Jesus tells the people, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” He does not say you will be salt and light. He says you are salt and light. Then he says, “So don’t lose your saltiness and don’t hide your light because a city on a hill is meant to be seen.”

I mentioned earlier how in the television show “The Good Place” there are four main characters who are struggling to figure out what is going on in the afterlife, after they have died. One of the things that they discover is that even though they made some mistakes on earth and their character flaws are what led to their early deaths, in the afterlife, they can actually become better people. They discover a potential for goodness within themselves that they didn’t know they had before. This in turn helps them to realize that there is potential for goodness within other people as well and they want to work to multiply that goodness.

Jesus also talks about how our lives can multiply the good fruit they are called to bear. In Matthew chapter thirteen, he tells the parable about a farmer who goes out to sow some seed. All the seed has potential to grow, but how well it grows depends on the kind of soil it lands in. When he is explaining the meaning of the parable to his disciples, he tells them the seed that lands on good soil represents those who hear the word and understand it, they bear fruit and yield a harvest, in one case thirty fold, in another case sixty and in another a hundred fold increase.

A couple months ago we received a gift at the church which to me is a great example of how the seed of God’s word can bear fruit that multiplies as people are inspired to give. The story of this gift begins with one of our church members noticing that the woman down the hall from her in the assisted living home needed some extra help. She reached out to the single woman who had lost her husband and began to provide assistance on a regular basis and helped to keep her company.

The woman’s family wanted to give our church member a gift for all she had done for their loved one. They knew our church member would never accept the gift directly, so they decided to give it Holy Trinity in her honor. Imagine our surprise when a check for $10,000 arrived! We were shocked at this very generous gift which seemed to come just out of nowhere. The church member was surprised too. She did not know the family was doing this and that it would be so much. She had not helped the woman down the hall as a way to get a reward or to earn some points. She had simply felt it was the Christian thing to do, to reach out to the neighbor and offer to help her.

The result, however, is that the woman’s family was touched by her acts of mercy and kindness. That moved them to want to show kindness to others, which led to them giving generously. The $10,000.00 was used to pay for over half of the ramp repair we did at the church, which in turn will enable many more people much easier access to our sanctuary, where they will be able to hear and experience the mercy of God in worship.

This is life in the kingdom of heaven as Jesus reveals in the parable today. When people live out their faith by visiting the sick and welcoming the stranger, the fruit of that goodness gets multiplied as others let the fruit of God’s love grow in them as well. As professor Dirk Lange writes: Judgment, as it appears in this parable, has more to do with mercy than it does with conscientiously performing good works to earn points. On the right hand of the Son of Man are those who have lived out their baptism. They are the ones who have risked dying and rising with Jesus in this world and are not waiting for some other future world or life.

For the believing community, this means a considerable change in self-perception. Rather than just simply looking inward and considering ourselves the holders or keepers of the mystery of God. We discover that God is always already outside the circle we draw and the boundaries we create. The Mission itself becomes redefined when we consider the move outward as a move towards God! The community is sent out as the body of Christ only to discover that the body of Christ is already waiting for the community in those suffering in the world. In this Gospel reversal, we find out that Christ is not in some far off place, but is as close to us as the needs of our neighbor. Amen.

-Pastor Erik Goehner

 

You may view any previous worship services by visiting the

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Thousand Oaks YouTube channel.

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