Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sermon - 2nd Sun. after Pentecost - Matthew 7:15-29

2nd Sunday after Pentecost – May 29th, 2005
Matthew 7:15-29
“Working Around the Garden,Working Around the House"

I. Introduction –
Memorial Day Weekend… time off work, time to relax, maybe have a cookout. Also time to get some of those chores done. You know, those annual jobs many people do – gardening, or maybe fixing something, doing some spring cleaning. Working around the garden, working around the house. That of reminds me of our Gospel reading.

Here in today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses two pictures to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like.

The first is a picture of a fruit-bearing tree. The other a picture of two houses with very different foundations. In both cases there is a contrast between the one that is bad, and the one that is good. In both cases, what makes the thing good is Christ himself, and his Good work.

Take a look at the pictures Jesus is painting, and see the tree with good fruit, and the house with the good foundation. Take a look a little deeper, and see the good work of our great Savior!

II. Good Trees, Good Fruit
Jesus warns his followers about false prophets – those who teach, but don’t teach the truth. He says they are like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But their disguise is not perfect. You can know the false prophet. There are clues. Likewise these words have a wider application to all unfaithful, unbelievers, who may also masquerade and pretend to be good. Maybe they even apply to us, in a way…

First Jesus calls up the image of a tree. You can tell what kind of tree it is, by the fruit it bears. A bad tree produces bad fruit – thorns or thistles. You wouldn’t want to eat those. But the good tree makes good fruit – tasty and nutritious. What is Jesus telling us here?

Fruit is a common scriptural symbol for works. The fruits of the Spirit are the works of the Spirit. Having many children, one is “fruitful” and multiplies. Hebrews tells us that the praise of God is the “fruit of lips that confess his name”. Fruit is the effect, the end result of something.

The end result of a false prophet is destruction. The lies he speaks lead only to death and despair. Likewise any unbeliever will produce works that we could call, “bad fruit”. Bad people do bad things. It’s just the way things are.

And ever since our first parents ate from the forbidden tree, we humans have all produced bad fruit. Sin leads to more sin, and heartache, disease, even death. Even us Christians, if we were to look only at our outward fruit, we might conclude that we too are “bad trees”, producing thorns and thistles. The problems, the worries of life. So many of our troubles we bring on ourselves. So much of life’s suffering, we have a hand in. In sin, we are bad trees, and no matter how hard we work, we can’t produce good fruits. Maybe we feel like we are masquerading, pretending to be so good, when we know deep down we are not.

How then, do we get good fruit? Remember, it’s the tree that makes the fruit. So how do we become a good tree? A change must take place. A miracle must happen. And for us, it has. And it all goes back to another tree, the tree of the cross.

The cross. The fruits of the cross. The redemption Christ won for us on the accursed tree is a fruit that makes us into good, fruit-bearing trees. His crown of thorns for our thorniness, his pierced hands and feet for our thistles. He bore the rot of all our fruits spoiled by sin, and there on the trash heap of Golgotha they are forever discarded.

By the cross, in the Christ, a change takes place and bad trees are made good. Sinful people are made holy. First in God’s eyes, then by the sanctifying Spirit, and finally at the completion of all things. Likewise, the works we do, God sees them as good fruit, even now. The Spirit guides us in His ways, and through him we do bear more and better fruit. And finally the fruit will fully ripen, to extend the metaphor a bit, when the final harvest is announced, and Christ comes to judge all. If fruit is not only the work, but the effect, the end result, then we must conclude the good tree is the believer in Christ, the person of faith. And such faith produces the fruit of eternal life.

III. Good House, Good Foundation

The second extended metaphor here is a contrast between two house-builders, the wise and the foolish. The foundation is the key – where is the house built? On a firm or shifting base? Rock or sand? Steady or not?

We’ve all seen pictures of those homes in California sliding off the cliffs into a pile of mud. That’s a not a bad visual for the foolish man’s house. When the storms, rains, and floods of life come – houses with poor foundations are easily washed away.

I remember as a child, building sand-castles, spending all day on a large network of bucket-formed towers and carefully shoveled castle walls. Large and grandiose were my sand creations in my mind. But then the tide came in. And the next day, the house was gone.

So often we take our stand on the sand, build our house on shaky ground. Trusting in your own powers, your own reason, or abilities. You will be washed away by the flood. Trusting in people around you, your house will not stnad. Trust in any other god or any other person or thing or idea – and it all comes crashing down sooner or later. Such is the ultimate fate of the unbeliever, who builds his house anywhere else than on Christ. But trusting in Jesus Christ, our rock and foundation, we are wise. He is the only unwavering strength we have or could have. He alone makes us strong to the end.

The metaphor of the two houses is good, but even Jesus only meant it to go so far. For the wise man who trusts in Him isn’t really the builder. Jesus is the builder. Or maybe we need to take the metaphor a little further:

Our spiritual house of faith is something God builds for us, through Word and Sacrament. Saved by his grace alone, we bring nothing to the table. He lays the foundation in Christ. He provides the materials. He brings the plans. He assembles the walls. He raises the roof. He opens the door and carries us across the threshold. He makes us his dwelling, and he keeps us – maintains us – for all eternity. All that we are and have and will be, we owe to him, and his work.

IV. Good Work, Great Savior!
In every aspect of our salvation, God is the doer of the good work. We are the recipients of his labor. We enjoy the fruit he has cultivated. We are given the house built on Christ.
And though in Christ the work is done, and “it is finished”, the work of God continues on in his church. When a child is baptized. When a young person is confirmed. When an adult kneels to receive the precious sacrament. When a word of encouragement or Christian love is shared. When sins are forgiven, and faith grows – the work of the Savior goes on. By His Grace. Through his Spirit.

I hope everyone has a nice Memorial day weekend. Maybe you’ll be in the garden, maybe working on the house. Maybe you’ll be working hard – and recalling the hard work Christ has done for you. Or maybe you’ll be taking it easy – and recalling that in Christ, the good work is all done. Either way, remember that he is our hope for salvation, and he alone gets the job done! Good work, great Savior! In Him, Amen.

V. Conclusion
Jesus uses two metaphors to describe the difference between believers and unbelievers. But either way, Jesus makes the difference by this work at the cross on our behalf.

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