Thursday, October 08, 2015

Sermon, "Fruitful: Jesus's Fruit," 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Sermon 10/4/15
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Fruitful: Jesus’s Fruit

            In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been talking about fruit! Fruit, fruit, and more fruit. Next week, many of you will be helping out at our booth at the Apple Festival, but for those who are here, we’ll close with a final reflection on what it means to be fruitful, before we turn to some of our particular expressions of fruitfulness at Apple Valley, namely that we increase our fruitfulness by being prayerful, invitational, and missional. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t hear any more about us being fruitful. I’m hoping that we’ll be returning again and again to being clear about the fruit we’re seeking. My hope would be that everyone here would feel confident expressing an answer if someone asked what fruit we’re trying to produce at Apple Valley.
            Still, on the last day we’re all together focusing on this in worship as our main theme, what is it that is left to be said. When I first sketched out our worship series, I was going to be talking about the verses in the gospels where Jesus looks at the crowds and sees how they need direction and tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, so pray for God to send more laborers into the harvest. But it just wasn’t connecting, wasn’t getting the import or urgency that I feel is attached to this work we’re doing on fruitfulness.
            Then I began thinking about how today is World Communion Sunday. There are many Sundays, many Sundays, when Christians around the world all celebrate the gift of holy communion. But World Communion Sunday is a day when we make particular note of the way we are bound together as people of faith by one bread, one body, one Lord of all. Our practices vary, but we’re bound together in that we are all members of the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ. To me, that means that we’re the expression of Christ in the world. As we share in the bread and cup, the product of the wheat of the field and the fruit of the vine, as we are filled up with the presence of Christ, we in turn become for the world the body of Christ. That’s what we pray when we consecrate the elements. We ask for God’s spirit to be poured out on the bread and cup, so that they might be for us the body of Christ and so that we might be for the world the body of Christ. We are Christ’s body in the world.
            And then it just kind of hit me, this phrase: We are Jesus’s fruit. As we starting thinking about the fruit we produce, and bearing good fruit, we talked about God’s promise to Abram and Sarai, which is basically that they would be fruitful, and their fruit would be fruitful. Generations of fruitfulness. That’s what God wants – fruit that is so good it bears more fruit. In the scriptures, Jesus is described as the first fruits of creation. First fruits are the best, in the scriptures, the best that gets offered to God, and Christ is the first fruit of everything. Christ is the first fruits. And as God calls us to bear good fruit, we’re tasked with this because we in turn are already the fruit of Christ!
            The awesome task, the awesome privilege, the incredible responsibility we have been given is to be the fruit of Christ. We, God’s children, drawing closer to God through discipleship, through following in Jesus’s footsteps, through claiming the life abundant that is really life – we are in fact Jesus’ fruit, what Jesus came to accomplish, the harvest of his work. We are Jesus’s fruit, Jesus’s harvest. And so people will look at us, watch us, observe our lives, and draw conclusions all the time about Jesus and his message, about being Christians, because they know too, even if they wouldn’t put it in these terms, that followers of Jesus are the fruit of Jesus’s ministry. What conclusions are people drawing from us, from you and me, from Apple Valley, about who Jesus is?
            In our scripture text today, we find the apostle Paul teaching the community at Corinth about communion. Apparently, some bad practices had developed quickly after folks started following Jesus. Gatherings of the faith community would take place at a member’s home, and usually a wealthy member, since they had spacious houses. Apparently, some people started making communion something where the wealthiest were served the best of the communion first, and lower class folks were only invited later, when sometimes the feast had already run out. Paul is outraged at such a corruption. If we demonstrate in the communion meal that we are one body of Christ, how can that be true if the meal turns out to only be offered for some? Paul condemns the disparity, condemns divisions, and says that anyone who comes to the table without discerning the body will be condemned. Discerning means perceiving or recognizing. So Paul says we have to “recognize the body” if we don’t want to be judged badly.
            So what does it mean to recognize the body? To discern the body in communion? It means that we recognize the presence of Christ in the meal, the presence of Christ in ourselves – that we are Christ-bearers – carriers of the presence of Christ into the world – and that we recognize Christ in each other. For Paul, then, the Corinthians failed to discern the body because the rich were forgetting that the poor were also Christ-bearers.
            We have been seeking after good fruit, and we will continue to do so. And part of that seeking is a process of discerning the body – recognizing the presence of Christ with in us, and the responsibility that comes with it, so that we can help others recognize the presence of Christ within them. We embody Christ in the world, because we are his fruits, and we in turn bear more good fruit, as we nurture and cultivate the seeds that God is planting.
            Teresa of Avila, a nun who lived in the fifteenth centuries, wrote this poem that has become one of my favorites:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

We are part of the harvest over which Jesus has labored. We’re some of his fruit, grown with love, with his own life poured out and into us. We are his fruit. We are his body. Let’s make for God a plentiful harvest. Amen.  

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