“Good Fruit or Sour Grapes?”
Pastor Tom Millner
Luke 6:43-46; John 15:1-8
February 13, 2011
When our son went off to college in Chicago he was confronted with some interesting responses from folks when he told them he grew up with two dads. The most frequent response was “well are you gay?” When he responded that he indeed was not the second question most often followed: “Are they upset that you’re not?” I was at first puzzled by their response. Then the premise behind the assumption occurred to me; one kind produces the same kind. There was the belief that because heterosexuals expect to produce heterosexuals, homosexuals must also expect to produce homosexuals. Interesting reasoning, but why would homosexuals desire to produce homosexuals when heterosexuals are doing such a fine job of it? Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the kind of fruit to which our scripture is referring today.
When training new managers for a major pharmaceutical company some years ago, I used the borrowed line that “the best predictor of future performance is past performance.” Job resumes emphasize previous accomplishments in the hopes that the one reviewing will extrapolate a person’s past accomplishment into future potential for the job being sought. Seasoned interviewers can readily spot inconsistencies between what is written and what is said in an interview. Experiences can easily be recalled, but lies are hard to remember. Even the most qualified may be passed over for a job because of the perceived need to embellish what is already sound experience for the job. We tend to take the same tactics into our spiritual lives and wind up with sour grapes instead of good fruit! God’s grace is not contingent upon our impressive performance; it is in its fullest in the face of our honestly depicted performance. More than that, God’s grace seeks the heart behind the performance even more than the performance itself. God seeks the grossly unqualified for therein lies the greatest potential to learn and grow with Him. Let’s look at some things we need to keep clear in our minds as we bend our hearts toward Him.
1. The problem you have with everybody else is you! Now, that’s a loaded statement. Some of you may have already checked out to “ain’t going there land.” Stick with me here for a few and see what might pop up. Let’s talk about that preacher from the past that told his congregation that all gay folks who stay gay are going to hell for choosing to live the “gay lifestyle.” Now, who had the problem with what he said? If the preacher is straight, he didn’t have a problem…not being gay was a piece of cake for him. In fact, it probably wasn’t a problem for over 90% of the congregation. For a few of us, this presented a problem. We look at the preacher and call him a bigot. We extrapolate his words as though he were the mouthpiece for the broader church and summarily cancel our membership. Suddenly we are at emotional war. God has now become the enemy and our judge and we turn in anger from Him. For many, the next steps are numerous one night stands, seeking affirmation through medication (whether alcohol or drugs) and building of defenses around the name Jesus. Get the picture of who has really been bothered by the statement of an ignorant and possibly naïve preacher? The problem is not what has been said or with who has said it. The problem is with the person who heard it as being an indictment of self and BELIEVED it. If the person didn’t believe it, it wouldn’t in itself be a problem. If I told Pastor Les that her nose had grown into an elephant’s trunk she would laugh and brush it off because she knows her nose. There are other things I might say to her, however, about which she is insecure, and she would sit sobbing and later let me have it! We are most bothered by others when we believe their actions or words say something about us. The slow poke in front of me is annoying me! No…I am worshipping the god of my agenda and I believe that someone else is responsible for my interrupted worship. Believing a lie leads me to a place of anxiety, rather than to a place of recognition that I’m a sapling about to squeeze away from the vine! Anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, rejection and hurt are signals to us. In our human state we see them as fight or flight signals. In God’s Kingdom these are a call to the vine…where we get our nurturing to grow and bear fruit. We can’t turn anxiety into peace of mind, anger into loving sacrifice or fear into a bold confidence worshiping at the god of self-righteousness. We may make some progress by rational interventions, but lasting change comes only from and in His presence... (Or better stated; our presence with Him). He desires for us a juicy harvest, not sour grapes.
2. For the best fruit, you have to go out on a limb! On our pear tree in the front yard at our farm, we gather each year an abundance of luscious pears. Many of the best ones are out on the branches where it has been recipient of full sun while still connected to the richness of nutrients from the trunk of the tree. More than one pear may be on a limb, but often the best one is out on the limb. That fruit is sometimes the hardest to pick because it is out on the limb. If you shake it loose, it falls and is bruised. If you pick it, you have to go out on the limb. Some of the greatest achievements many have ever made have been those done at great risk. The astronauts heading to the space station on the next space shuttle journey will do so at great personal risk. Technology has advanced so much since the Challenger, but it has not moved to zero on the risk scale. You took great risk in getting here this morning by driving or riding in a motor vehicle. Last year, thousands of people died in such vehicles, believing they were safe from harm. Some folks have a fear that relationship will not work out, that only hurt will result because of this, that, or the other fears that reality will fall short of fantasy. God calls us into relationship with Him. It’s the safest place to be, but to discover that means we have to risk letting go of the familiar defenses, pre-conceived ideas of who He is or is not, strap ourselves in with the seatbelt of faith and discover the ride of our life! It’s no easy task. Not a single one of us, if we’re honest, has planted ourselves in His “glory shuttle” and not bailed when the god of self-defense or the god of self-righteousness raises its ugly head. Don’t believe it? Check out Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Live there all the time? When not living there, we are not in our right mind!
3. Your right mind is in the Vine! Jesus was not just whistling Dixie or a version of the Star Spangled Banner when He stated “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.” He also tells us through His Word that the kingdom is within. Jesus is serious about our relationship with Him. We so want to believe that He meets us where we are, as we are, for who we are. Yet, because we aren’t surrendered in our minds to where that is, how we are, or even who we really are, we try to have a relationship with a fantasy Jesus who turns out to be no Jesus at all and cynically say “well, that didn’t do it for me.” People turn to Jesus for all sorts of reasons. There’s the “feel better” reason, the “higher power” recovery reason, the “be the greatest me- how great I art” reason, the “everything’s gonna be all right” reason, and the “I can do all things” reason. Whatever the reason we turn to Him, relationship with Him means we take up different and more eternally meaningful reasoning as a result of the relationship. I am not the same person who at the age of 6 baffled the pastor with my knowledge of what it meant to accept Christ as my savior. His relationship with me and my relationship with Him has changed me. I have fought Him, I have defied Him, I have denied Him, I have avoided Him, and I have abused our relationship by trying to convince Him that I was some place other than where I was. Each time I regained my right mind, it was in a place stripped of expectation, devoid of defenses, laid bare before Him and covered in the grace of His presence. Each time I came to Him with pre-conceived notions, requests for him to take away my anger, bitterness, or hurt as a condition of our continued relationship, I went away lacking. We yearn to believe that He accepts us and forgives us, and loves us just as we really are (forgetting that we aren’t even fully clear about ourselves) yet, we aren’t open to accepting Him as He is, where He is, as He is. He calls us to a meeting of the minds – His, where we are defenseless, vulnerable, trusting, naive, truly desiring to turn away from our self-rule. He calls us to our right mind – His. Paul urges the believers in Rome to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) His will lies not in our wants; it lies in our relationship with Him. Each time we approach the relationship with the insistence upon our wants, we wear the fig leaf that surely tells Him the real story behind our hearts. We’re not fooling Him. He wants US – the real, honest, defenseless, unpretentious, trusting, and vulnerable us. To the degree that you can bring yourself to that place with Him, you’re closest to your right mind. How do you get there? One moment, one dismantled defense, one step of faith and one thought at a time.
Folks, it’s time to stop playing God and start relating to the real Jesus. He died for a relationship with you. Are you willing to let your prejudices die for a relationship with Him? Are you willing to invest with no promise of a return as you desire it? Are you willing to give your all without knowledge of from where any more will come, like the widow and her mite? That’s the heart that Jesus desires to meet Him. That’s the heart that can relate to Him and be enriched by Him. That’s where the best fruit grows, even on Wilton Drive! All else is sour grapes.