Connection to Series
Today, we continue to look at life “between the trees” …the tree of life in Genesis and the “tree of life” in Revelation. In addition to the words of James, we are going to look at a passage from the second part of Luke’s “sermon on the plain”. Now, this is Luke’s version of Matthew’s more famous sermon on the mount, and like Matthew, Luke reminds us of God’s covenant. And this particular-passage is important because it encapsulates the very heart of the gospel message. Hear the words of Luke:
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit.
Each tree is known by its own fruit.
People don’t gather figs from thorny plants, nor do they pick grapes from prickly bushes.
A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self,
while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self.
The inner self overflows with words that are spoken.[i]
Let me start out today by asking you a question: What did you have for breakfast this morning? Eggs, bacon, toast, waffles? Not me, I had my usual bowl of cereal. I really love my cereal. All kinds. Life, Shredded Wheat, any kind of Chex. But when I was a kid it was Fruit Loops. Now, I didn’t get them all the time and never at home. Fruit Loops were a special treat that my sister and I got at grandma’s house. Because breakfast at grandmas often came in the form of a “variety pack” of cereal. You know what I’m talking about. Those eight little boxes of cereal wrapped in plastic with the sides that could be punched-out to make a bowl, which always leaked milk all over the table. But we didn’t care, they were eight boxes of sheer joy to us; a joy that always sparked a competition. You see, the challenge was to be the first one up so you could get first choice of cereal. And guess what, the first one to breakfast got the Fruit Loops.
Fruit Loops were the holy grail of breakfast cereals when I was a kid.
Now, I would have lived on Fruit Loops if I thought I could get away with it. But as we grow older and hopefully wiser, we come to understand that a Fruit Loops only diet would be a very unhealthy one. As we mature, we become aware that what we take into our bodies affects every part of our life and health. If we are introspective, we come to realize that we literally are what we eat.
The Gospel Text
As we turn to our text for today, it too calls for introspection; for us to take a long and hard look at our inner selves and how we treat others. And it’s a call not only to look, but then to do something about it. As we approach this subject, I think it’s important to ask ourselves: Are my words quick to blame, or to cut-down, or to ridicule others; or are my words compassionate and loving? When someone disagrees with me, how do I react; do I scream my point of view at the top of my lungs or do I listen to the other side of the issue? In other words, what fruits do I present to the world? Are they good and healthy and nourishing or are they dried up, old, and stale?
My guess is that, for most of us if not all of us, all the above would be the most accurate answer. True? Although we strive to be gentile of tongue, we all slip up occasionally. No one is perfect. Believe me, you don’t want to cut me off in traffic when I’m in a hurry, my reaction might be, well let’s say, a little less than pastoral. What comes out isn’t always our best.
And that’s what’s at the core of what Jesus is trying to teach us here. Basically, he is saying: if what’s on the inside is good, good things will come from us, but if our inner-most self is corrupt, then corruption with spill forth from our tongues. He’s telling us that what is required from a disciple is a “genuine goodness of heart.”[ii] So Jesus is concerned with the condition of our heart. And what our lives look like everyday says a whole lot about the condition of our hearts and that in turn, effects how we treat others.
So, the introspective part of all this becomes important because what’s on the inside, the good or bad in our hearts, has consequences for the rest of our lives and has an impact upon all our relationships; and ultimately, our relationship with God. I heard it put this way also… You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. It’s who you are on the inside that counts. So, your true being will spill over into your words and deeds.[iii]
Now, that interpretation leads us to another aspect of this passage; one that moves us beyond a focus solely on ourselves and into one that encompasses a broader sense community. If our insides are good, then, as this passage alludes to, then “our true being will spill over into our words and deeds.” Discipleship requires more than just good deeds. “It requires integrity and a purity of heart such as one sees in Jesus himself.”[iv] So the call of today’s lesson is to be Christ-like in our words and actions. We can’t just give “lip-service” to our Christian outreach, we must live it! Our challenge then is to “work the words” so to speak; to actually do what we say were going to do. It’s like what James said in our Epistle reading for today. He challenged us to be “doers of God’s Word, and not just hearers.”[v]
Let me give you an example of what I mean. During a Saturday afternoon community service day, Pastor Bill White writes that he was walking down a narrow side street in the city of Compton, California, heading towards one of the worksites sponsored by a local church.
It was towards the end of the work day, and dozens of yellow-shirted church volunteers—maybe 50 in all—were streaming out of the site, getting ready to head off to dinner after finishing a complete makeover of a local house. Bill was six or eight houses away when he passed a married couple working in their own yard. He paused to compliment the woman on her roses, and she asked him what they were doing down the street. He replied that they represented a band of churches united in by desire to serve the city. They then continued to chat about the radical neighborhood transformation that she had witnessed by their simple acts of kindness. Now, during their conversation the woman’s husband had been working on other side of the front yard. But when he saw Bill’s yellow “volunteer shirt,” he came over and joined the conversation. Pastor White then said, “I will never forget his words. After looking into my eyes, he nodded approvingly towards the renovated house down the street and then said, ‘I love your heart. Where can I get a heart like yours?'” Flabbergasted, Bill replied, “We got our hearts from Jesus, and he would be glad to give you one like his, too.”[vi]
Friends, the unparalleled Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to change hearts, homes, neighborhoods, and indeed the world. When we take the good that is within our hearts, and share it with others, that good is multiplied. When we “live out” our faith by serving all of God’s people, whether they are from our church or not, we reflect the face of Christ to all who see us. Because remember, “… in a pluralistic world, a religion is valued based upon the benefits it brings to its nonadherents.”[vii] And who knows, maybe someone who is on the fence, who has been hurt by the church in the past, someone who’s only experience of Christianity is flipping past the TV preachers… maybe someone like that will see the goodness of your heart, if you are letting that goodness flow out, by reaching out to others in need. And maybe, just maybe, that call starts today.
[i] Luke 6:43-45. Common English Bible (CEB)
[ii] The New Interpreter’s Bible. (NIB) Vol. IX (Abingdon Press: 1995) 151
[iii] Excerpt from Luke 6:43-45. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Eugene H. Peterson
(NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, Co. 2002)
[iv] NIB. 151
[v] James 1:22 (CEB)
[vi] Story told by Bill White, Paramount California (www.preachingtoday.com) 2012.
[vii] A Generous Orthodoxy Brian D. McLaren (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 2004) 111