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Bearing fruit that will last

May 06, 2018

Passage: John 15:9-17

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Easter

Category: Easter

Detail:

Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B (2018)
May 6, 2018
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel) 

Acts 10:44-48      1 John 5:1-6       John 15:9-17

 

I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

Have y’all ever planted potatoes? I remember the first time I planted potatoes. I was in Michigan, and around the end of April, I began making preparations to plant the garden. When it came to making decisions about what to plant, I decided that a whole row of the garden would be devoted to potatoes. Before I went to the garden store, I had no idea about how potatoes grow, so I was kind of surprised to find that the store didn’t sell potato seeds, but rather, small potatoes. But I soon learned that the normal way of growing potatoes involves either cutting off a small piece of a regular potato and letting it sprout before putting it in the ground, or else getting a small “seed potato” and putting it in the ground. Further research into potato cultivation taught me that most potatoes are essentially clones. If you start with one potato, you can keep growing what is basically a clone of that potato indefinitely. It’s sort of like a sourdough starter that - if you keep feeding it and caring for it - can be passed down through entire generations. 

I’ll go ahead and tell you now that my first attempt at growing potatoes did not end well. Potato beetles are common in Michigan, and if a swarm of them finds your garden, it doesn’t take long for them to eat almost a whole  plant. And one evening is all it took for a bunch of beetles to wipe out my entire row! But that’s beside the point. The point is that, at least theoretically, it’s possible to have a potato that has yielded fruit for centuries and that if you kept scrupulous records, you’d be able to trace one potato’s lineage all the way back to the original potato. 

Now, what if I were to tell you that the reason we’re all here today is thanks in part to a 17th century German baker who gave a loaf of bread to a poor man? Or what if I told you that the reason we’re all here today is thanks in part to a 10th century Italian merchant paying for the construction of an orphanage? How about a 6th century Syrian monk settling a dispute between two rival villages? You might think my imagination has run a bit wild, but I would invite you to consider the reality that the reason we are all here today to hear the gospel - to be challenged by it; and to pray for the gospel to bear fruit in our lives - is because others who came before us heard the gospel, were challenged by it, and bore fruit. And the origin of the fruit that they bore in their lives is the commandment that Jesus gave to his first followers: love one another. If you will, that commandment is the original potato. And I think it fair to say that it has borne fruit down through the ages.   

I strongly doubt whether most Christians in centuries past imagined that their small acts of faithfulness and love would lead to this particular place and this particular gathering of people. But that’s really how each and every one of us got here: one faithful person bearing fruit in their lives encouraging another to bear fruit in their lives and so on and so on until it got…to you.

If you were brought up in the church and are still a part of it, I’d be willing to bet it’s because someone taught you something or showed you something that convinced you that the love of God is real, and you wanted to experience it for yourself. And here you are. Or if you’ve only been a Christian for a short time, then I’d be willing to bet that you have decided to stick with it because, thanks to another believer, you had some kind of encounter that showed you that the good news of Jesus is something you can base your life on. And here you are. And even if this is your first time in a church, I’d be willing to bet you came here this morning because you wanted to see whether what the church says about being welcoming and supportive is true; whether the church is serious about the business of love. And here you are. 

I cannot speak to the absolute perfection of this church, or any other church for that matter, and I know all too well that we in the church often fall short of the mark. And people can and do walk away from the church because they discover that we aren’t doing the best job of loving God and following Jesus’ commandment to love one another. And that is a shame. 

But I will say this: every time any one of us brings in a jar of peanut butter or a bag of rice for CAP, that’s being faithful to Jesus commandment. It’s bearing fruit that will last. Every time any one of us takes a meal to someone who is sick, that’s being faithful to Jesus’ commandment. It’s bearing fruit that will last. Every time any one of us doles out a serving of chicken bog to someone at the Shepherd’s Table, that’s being faithful to Jesus’ commandment. It’s bearing fruit that will last. Every time any one of us welcomes a newcomer or a stranger and tries to make them feel like they have a place in the community, that’s being faithful to Jesus’ commandment. It’s bearing fruit that will last. 

Little actions - especially the seemingly insignificant ones - that are done in love are the fruit that will last. It might sound like a flight of fancy to say that giving an orange to a homeless person will make an impact on events 300 years from now, but I can assure you that it’s by just such actions that the gospel spreads across the ages. And, who knows? In 300 years, a group of faithful disciples might decide to look back and say, “It was the faithfulness and charity of the people of St. Anne’s that helped the gospel spread to us here today.” 

Of course, hope for future recognition is not why we’re here. We don’t plant potatoes in the hope that future generations will acknowledge their debt to us. We plant potatoes in the hope that they will satisfy hunger in the here and now. In the same way, we gather to hear the gospel so that it will bear fruit in our lives today. We strive to love one another so that it will bear fruit in our lives today. 

But I still think it’s kind of cool to imagine that what we’re doing together as a church even right now stretches backward and forward across time; that it’s the same commandment to love one another that Christians in ages past obeyed which is now bearing fruit in us. In that sense, we are evidence that the fruit of showing love is the fruit that has lasted. And if we continue to be faithful to the commandment to love one another, showing our care even in the smallest of ways, that is fruit that will last.