Proof of the Pudding
e was a good looking kid, lean, but muscular, tall for his twelve years of age. His dad was rich so he always had the best Little League official equipment. He was potentially a great asset to our team; but, the problem was that he could not hit or catch a ball with any degree of consistency. Yet, something about his charismatic personality made us all root for him. Coach Smith was the last one to give up on him, first demoting him to way out in right field, and batting last; then he was a regular bench warmer; finally, the next year he never showed up for our first practice. The great ending to this tale is that today he is a successful car dealer and has done well in everything else, except baseball. But, I suspect if you could get into his heart you would find a lingering empty place where baseball should have been.
Life has a way of judging us by our actual production. Bruce Chen was given an opportunity to start for our Atlanta Braves against the Florida Marlins yesterday. He was judged by the outcome: His attitude, his determination, his ability to throw a little white ball across that small white home plate. And he did well, allowing just one hit. He seems destined to make the Braves pitching rotation, maybe next year, if he can keep pitching well. One of the reasons that baseball is Americaís Game, is that it so fairly judges players by their actual production, performance, output. And I am pulling for Chen.
Also, from the experience we have all enjoyed in dining we have learned that the proof of the goodness of a meal is in the eating. Likewise, the measure of a person is seen in the fruits they bear. Jesus certainly knew this from practical experience. As a carpenterís apprentice he was taught to evaluate a product by its beauty and functionality. I am sure that he had to resaw many boards before he became worthy of being called a carpenter, the son of Joseph. A part of Jesusí self-limiting of his divinity was to submit to the judgment process that we all are subject to. Sometimes its hard, and can be cruel, but it is reality.
A preacher was preaching his trial sermon in a high steepled church. A parishioner came up and said to him, This must be a difficult experience for you to have all of us judging you by how good a sermon you can preach. The minister replied, I am praying that God will help me to preach a great sermon, but I am also praying that you folks will be able to recognize greatness. Judgment is everywhere, even in the pews.
In Matthew 21 we hear Jesus attempting to explain, by way of a metaphorical story, something about the nature of Godís new coming Kingdom (The Church). Gradually he had revealed itís true nature and worldwide inclusive scope, that would seek to bring in all people everywhere, and not just a select few. Although the Covenant that God had established with the chosen people of the Old Testament was intended to be an eternal relationship, it was conditional on the peopleís faithfulness. When the covenant was distorted God began to conceive of a new and broader relationship/friendship between Him and all humanity that would be available equally. Jesus came into the world bearing the Good News of great joy about our New Covenant that offers salvation equally to all. The point of the gospel is not exclusion, but inclusion. Thus, in todayís text we hear Jesus announcing that, ...the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. (v.43, NRSV).
The little song we all sang as Sunday School children still rings true, Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Our worldly society draws circles that keep folks out, but God has drawn a circle that attempts to bring everyone in. The main thing we need to remember about our New Covenant is that it is not exclusive of anyone, but is inclusive of all.
And arenít we glad that He included us! We are assembled in this church as a diverse mix of folks from many ethnic and national backgrounds. Yet, we are one in Christ. Todayís universal invisible body of Christ is absolutely open to every beating human heart who is willing to respond to Godís invitation to come on board.
All of this means that we have been given a wonderful opportunity to extend the scope of Godís People to All People. However, the question still remains whether we will we remain faithful to the covenant in producing results by bringing in the sheaves. If we do not act on our opportunity to produce the fruits of the kingdom, we too will be excluded by our own failure. But, like every good athletic coach, God wants us all to produce fruit, and somehow knows that we must. He supplies the grace, and the opportunity, we supply the faithfulness. The question that haunts us is, Have we faithfully produced fruit, or have we just been sitting on the sidelines watching others produce fruit?
In this parable, God clearly is represented as the landowner, and Jesus is certainly the son. Those who actually heard Jesus tell the story understood it clearly. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
The question for us today is: Do we hear this same story and understand that Jesus is also encouraging us to be faithful producers? We have a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the resurgence of this great church in this great city. Will we produce fruit?
God will have a faithful local congregation in this redeveloping community, as thousands of new residents move back downtown. Will you and I become willing to respond to the opportunity to meet that challenge? We could debate all day about how the people in Jesusí day responded, but the real question is, How will we respond?
We are creating new avenues of entrance for new folks. We are developing new worship services, and new programs, that will attract folks from all over this 4 million population metro area. I stand on tiptoe as I catch a vision of what God is going to do with and through us on this historic corner. I know you share that vision!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor