Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fruit and the Community of God

Last Sunday, I preached a sermon that presented my current understanding of John 15:18 through 16:4. This passage follows closely on Jesus' words that he is the vine and we are the branches. The last part of John 15 points out that the vine does not exist to make a wonderful life for the branches. In fact, branches that get in the way of the production of fruit are pruned away. The goal is that the vine and the branches work in concert to produce fruit. Fruit can be defined as love, joy, peace, patience, understanding, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (as in Galatians 5:22, 23). It must also be defined as justice for others (as in Isaiah 5:7) and as the growth of more fruit-producing branches (Matthew 28:19, 20). In the church, this latter definition of fruit means more disciples of Jesus.

The obstacles to the way of life that produces fruit of the Community of God are many; but the primary one is our western addiction to consumption and caring for our own wants. In Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Douthat speaks of the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, the largest congregation in the United States, and says that he preaches "an upbeat gospel where 'God gives without demanding, forgives without threatening to judge, and hands out His rewards in this life rather than the next'."

But before we are too hard on this charismatic pastor, shouldn't we also admit that we love to hear an upbeat gospel where God gives without demanding, forgives without threatening to judge (or prune), and hands out his rewards (to the branches) in this life rather than the next? Have we not been given the message for which we clamour? Is this not the message we would prefer to hear? Do we not secretly think that this is the message of God to us? We tend to think that the gospel is much like the American or Canadian way and that we just need a little help to steer us toward God. Randy Stonehill says it well in a portion of one of his songs:

We say we need a little help
We need some new direction
Avoid the blessing like a curse
We're only lying to ourselves
What we need is resurrection
What we need is second birth

God, please give us resurrection. Give us second-birth. Bear with us long enough that we might grow fruit before you prune us away from the vine.


That's Why We Don't Love God - Randy Stonehill

That's why, that's why we don't love God
Although our lips feign praise
Still our hearts are far away
That's why, that's why we don't love God
We're so consumed with self
We can't love anybody else

We mask the nakedness
Of our mortality
Cloaked in this poison pride
And the illusion of control
We need the gift of grace
More than the air we breath
But as it draws us near
Still it repels our stubborn souls

That's why, that's why we don't love God
Oh yes our lips feign praise
But our hearts are far away
That's why, that's why we don't love God
I don't want my prayers to be
Some meaningless litany

Why are we so afraid, guarded and counterfeit
Is it because we know all the shadows we conceal
And we are so alone
Wolves in the winter snow
Never imagining
That this mercy could be real

That's why, that's why we don't love God
Oh yes our lips feign praise
But our hearts are far away
That's why, that's why we don't love God
I don't want my prayers to be
Some meaningless litany
We say we need a little help
We need some new direction
Avoid the blessing like a curse
We're only lying to ourselves
What we need is resurrection
What we need is second birth

That's why, that's why we don't love
That's why, that's why we don't love
That's why, that's why we don't love
That's why, that's why we don't love God

Stonehillian Music/ASCAP

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