Revelation 22:1-5, Genesis 2:4-9
Fruitful: God and Good Fruit
Ok friends. Summer vacation is over, for better or worse, and now it’s time to see what you remembered. This year, we’re going to be focusing on the four themes that we touched on briefly in turn this spring. We’re going to take each one, dig into them, in depth, and figure out what God is calling us to do and how we’re going to respond. And those four themes – and here’s a tip if you’re forgetting or haven’t been here recently – they’re in the bulletin on the bottom right – those four themes are: prayerful, invitational, missional, and fruitful. And this fall, for the next several weeks, we’re thinking about God’s call to be fruitful. We’re starting with this not just because this happens to be a great time of year to be thinking about harvest and gathering in fruit in a church called Apple Valley. No, we’re starting here because for me, being fruitful is the umbrella over the other three themes. Being prayerful and invitational and missional are ways in which I hope we can express our primary purpose: being fruitful disciples of Jesus.
I shared with you in the spring that there are literally hundreds of references to fruit and fruitfulness in the scriptures, running from Genesis to Revelation, in the history and prophets and poets, in the gospels and letters. Everywhere we turn, the scriptures are talking about fruit. We’ll talk about what it means for us to be fruitful, what kind of fruit God wants us to have, how we cultivate our good fruit, and what happens when we’re fruitful in the weeks ahead. But today, I want us to think about the source of our fruitfulness, who is, of course, God, our creator. God created us to be fruitful, and created a fruitful world. Fruitfulness is a part of God’s very nature. But I hope, today, we can figure out a little bit more about what that does and doesn’t mean. And to do that, we’re looking at the beginning and the end of our scriptures: Genesis and Revelation.
In Genesis, we find an account of creation. We studied the account in Genesis 1 a few weeks ago, and here we get another telling of creation. But in both, we find an abundant God. Here, we find God creating human beings, and God brings the first human, Adam, to life by breathing into him. God’s breath gives life to humanity. And in Hebrew, the word for breath is also the word for Spirit – God’s breath in us – God’s spirit in us. And we read that the people are placed in a garden, a paradise, where “out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” From the beginning, God sets humankind in the midst of fruitful abundance.
In Revelation, in the very last chapter in our Bibles, in John’s vision of eternity, we read: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Trees in eternity that bear good fruit perpetually, year-round, with giant leaves, meant for the healing of the nations. According to John, the end is as fruitful and abundant as our beginning, all given to us by God. We begin and end with images of God’s abundance, God’s nature of fruitful overflowing goodness.
Clearly, being fruitful is a good thing. The lush vivid goodness is meant to be a gift to us. I often joke with people that fruit and dessert are separate food groups that never need meet. Fruit isn’t dessert. Fruit is fruit. Chocolate is dessert. But such a concept is certainly modern. Fruit is sweet and full of natural sugars and represents a gift, a pleasure, an indulgence even. This is what God wants in the world: sweet gifts, offered to us again and again. The psalmist says “taste and see that Lord is good.”
We serve a God who creates with a generous abundance and calls forth from us good fruit. And yet, somehow, we get off course. A few weeks ago, I shared with you the creation story of pointless people – of the snake convincing everyone that the point of life is to see who can get the most points. I think we get obsessed with being productive instead of being fruitful. It’s easy, maybe, to confuse the two. After all, we talk about produce, a noun, the products of working the land. We can produce good fruit, right? But we twist things from God’s vision for us into something that eats away at our souls.
My favorite Christmas movie is Santa Claus, The Movie. I am a child of the eighties, and it is a classic eighties movie. One of Santa’s ambitious elves named Patch, played by Dudley Moore, comes to Santa with a great idea for increasing toy production. Basically, he envisions a toy assembly line, which will construct toys for children with great speed and efficiency. Another of the elves and his team feel that the hand-crafted work they’ve done with toys for centuries is worth the time it takes. But Santa can’t deny how much more they can get done with the assembly line, so they give it a go. Everything is going smoothly – until the quickly-made toys start falling apart and unhappy families throw the broken pieces away. Santa and the elves return to their slow, careful toy making process, and Patch is disgraced. Maybe a Christmas movie example seems out of place in the beginning of September, but I couldn’t help but think of it when I was thinking about the difference between being productive and being fruitful.
Every once in a while, I’ll hear someone say, “Well, you have to remember that the church is a business.” Sometimes, this comes up in the concept of talking about budgets and finances and figuring out how to make ends meet and wanting to adopt practices that for-profit businesses use. I understand what people mean. And certainly, churches and business both have budgets. But when it comes to the reason for existence, and the guiding values, and what makes a church church – what we find is the difference between fruitfulness and productivity.
Businesses operate as part of this crazy economic system that runs our world. Our whole system is structured on a myth of scarcity. How many commercials and ads have you seen with the word “while supplies last” as part of the offer? Or “limited edition”? We are meant to understand that the fewer there are of something, the more valuable that thing must be. It’s a mindset that says if there’s a limited supply, I better make sure I have it, so that I don’t run out, so that my needs are met, so that I can possess something. The myth of scarcity allows us to be ok with the fact that some people have nothing, because we can pretend there’s just not enough to go around, and that it’s ok for some to have 100 times, 1000 times more than others, because they’re just making sure that they don’t run out. In the system that runs the world, we try to produce the most we can, at the lowest cost, while creating the highest demand for a product by giving the impression that we’re’ just about out.
But God desires fruitfulness, not productivity, which means both that God cultivates abundance and overflowing goodness at every turn, and that God is not productive in any way that would fit in a nice business model of supply and demand. There are none of us who cannot bear good fruit for God. This isn’t an offer God makes only to some. We’re not trying to produce the most or the best or the most exclusive or the fanciest whatever. Instead, God calls for us to be fruitful, with more than enough fruit for everyone, fruit that tastes good, that satisfies, that fills you up. And the best fruit comes not from an assembly line, not from a factory, try as we might to make it so. The best fruit, the most tasty, with variety, and longevity, the most enjoyed fruit – it comes from gardens, from orchards, from creation, from sun and rain and harvest.
In the weeks ahead, we’re going to think about what kind of fruit we have to offer – personally, and as a congregation. What do we have to show for ourselves? What is our life making? What’s the impact, the fruit, of Apple Valley? But I want us to know what we’re talking about, what we’re looking for, when we start looking for signs of fruitfulness. We’re not looking for the biggest pile of stuff. What we find might not measure up to any best business practices. But will it be sweet to taste? Will it fill us up? Will there be more than enough for everyone? If we can say “yes” to those questions, we’ll be talking about fruit that belongs in the garden of our generous, abundant Creator. Amen.