I remember hearing a story once. Somebody told me that when a wine had a hint of another fruit in it, that meant that the vineyard had been planted where an orchard once stood.
So if you had a pear orchard somewhere, the flavor of the pears would seep into the ground. And if you took out the pear trees and planted grape vines, then the vines would pull a little of that flavor out of the soil. And when you plucked the grapes… and mashed the grapes… and fermented the juice… and poured the wine…
…the wine would have a hint of the pear trees that once stood where the vines grow now.
And, over the centuries, as a patch of land was used for one thing and then another, layers of flavor would build up in the soil. And when a vineyard was planted, those layers of flavor would be drawn into the grape. And you could know the history of the land by the taste of the wine.
Those aren’t the facts, of course. The facts are that the fermentation process breaks down the grapes and unlocks the different chemical compounds that make up flavor. And some of those chemical compounds are the same as the ones found in other fruits. And so, depending on how things break down, you might get hints of pear or apple or grapefruit or whatever.
But the facts are boring. And the story has a little bit of truth in it. It might not be a truth about wine; but it is a truth about people: you can tell a lot about the soil that a person is rooted in by the taste of the fruit that they bear.
We can tell a lot about the soil that we are rooted in by the taste of the fruit that we bear.
Today, we are continuing our summer sermon series entitled Be a Blessing. You can probably say this along with me by now: we have talked about leading with love, praying often, practicing peace, giving thanks, being joyful, and being kind. We have talked about how those are ways of being blessed and ways of being a blessing.
And we will talk about having courage, working for justice, being the light, and encouraging others. We’ll talk about how those are ways of being blessed and being a blessing.
And today, we are talking about doing good. And I don’t think I need to tell you that we are blessed when we do good. I don’t think that I need to tell you that we are blessings when we do good.
This could be a very short sermon.
Over the last year-and-a-half or so, we have made a lot of choices and we have done a lot of things. We have closed the building and reopened it. We have met online and in person. We have worshipped in the parking lot and in the sanctuary. We have suspended coffee hour and started it again.
And some of those choices have been made by the Church Council. And some of those choices have been made by the Worship and Fellowship Leadership Team. And some of those choices are still being made.
And the hard truth is that none of us know which choices have been good choices… none of us know which choices have been the right choices… none of us know when we’re been too cautious… or not cautious enough… or exactly the right amount of cautious.
And the harder truth is that we usually don’t know those things.
I have made a lot of choices. And they’re all based in knowledge and experience and study and prayer and a certain amount of guessing. And I don’t always know if they’re good choices. I often just don’t know if they’re the right choices.
I know that I am blessed when I do good. I know that I am a blessing when I do good. It’s just that… a good chunk of the time… I don’t actually know if what I’m doing… is doing good.
Our reading today is three little snippets of the gospel according to Matthew. It’s three little snippets about how we know whether we’re following Christ… about how we know whether we’re following God’s will… about how we know whether we’re doing good.
And what it comes down to, is this: taste the fruit.
It’s easy to imagine that being Christian—that following Christ—is about dutifully checking items off a list of the things that we’re supposed to do and the things that we’re supposed to believe.
I know that because I know that there are communities who have those lists. I know that because I have been part of communities that have those lists. They’re posted on the website. They’re the topic of sermon series… es. They’re on the form that you sign when you become a member and they’re what you talk about when someone steps outside of them.
And I know how easy it is to get attached to those lists. I know how easy it is to think that if I do the things on the list and believe the things on the list, then I am following Christ… and when I stand before his throne on the day of judgment, Christ will tell me that I have been a good servant and a faithful servant, and invite me into the his kingdom.
I know how easy it is to proclaim that the fruit of those lists must be good—even if it looks gnarly and smells putrid—because the list is good.
Here are these three little snippets where Jesus tells us that it doesn’t work that way.
Here are these three little snippets where Jesus says that I can prophesy in Jesus’ name, I can cast our demons in Jesus’ name, I can perform miracles in Jesus’ name… and I can still end up standing in front of that throne, telling Christ the things that I have done in his name… and hear him tell me, “I have no idea who you are.”
Because the truth… the hard truth… maybe even one of the hardest truths… is that there is not a nice neat clean little list that will tell us what to do in every situation or believe about every thing in a complex world.
We have knowledge and experience. We have study and prayer. We have testimonies and way-finders and guideposts. And we have a certain amount of guessing.
But when we’ve made our choice… we can see the results grow around us.
And when we see the results grow around us… we can taste the fruit.
And that is when we know if we’ve rooted our decisions in love. That is when we know if we’ve rooted our decisions in the gospel. That is when we know if we have rooted our decisions in God.
That is when we know if we are following Christ. Because if we are, then the fruit will be good.
Over the last year-and-a-half or so, we have made a lot of choices and we have done a lot of things. And the hard truth is that none of us know which choices have been good choices… none of us know which choices have been the right choices… none of us know when we’re been too cautious… or not cautious enough… or exactly the right amount of cautious.
But to the best of my knowledge, no one in our congregation has died from COVID-19… very few of the people in our congregation have had serious cases of COVID-19… and we have had no community spread go COVID-19 from church events.
The fruit of our choices has been pretty good. And that shows that our choices were rooted in good soil: we trusted the science and we acted out of love for the most vulnerable among us.
And as hard as that has been, I believe that it has been worth it. I believe that we have done good. And I believe that we have done good because I see good fruit all around.
And here’s the thing…
There will always be times—as a church… as families… as individuals—when we come face-to-face with hard decisions. We’re not always going to know whether the choice that we’re making is good. We’re often just not going to know if we’re making the right choices.
And there will be times when we are tempted to proclaim that the soil is good.
But the test—the test that really truly matters—is not whether we stick to a list or adhere to an ideology. It is whether we see good fruit come out of it.
Because we will know that we are rooted in love when we see love growing around us. We will know that we are rooted in justice when we see justice growing around us. We will know that we are rooted in mercy when we see mercy growing around us.
And we will know that we are rooted in Christ when we see his kingdom growing around us.