This year, as we did last year, and as I attempt to do every year, our family, myself and my encouraging any of my children to help, we planted a small garden in our back yard. Last year the garden did not do so well, perhaps from a lack of rain, or that I am not the best gardener. But this year what we have planted so far seems to be doing pretty well. We planted some beans, peas, tomatoes and squash. Some of the things we planted are growing really well but some, not so well. I must admit, I do not understand all the why’s and how too’s of gardening, but it sure is great when all the hard work pays off and you get to sample the “fruits of your labor” and sometimes it is even more fun when you can share that fruit with others.
One thing you will notice about gardens, especially as you till the soil, is that it has a lot of roots. As human beings, we also have roots, or what we call our roots. We can usually trace our family tree back down the roots a few generations. However, we do not like to talk about the horse thief in the family. We would much rather talk about the Doctor or Scientist or sometimes even the pastor or church worker. We want to talk about the “good” roots. When you plant a garden you want to make sure that the soil is loose, that there is fertilizer in the ground, that you water the plants, and so forth. You want the roots to take root and run deep. You want the plants to have good roots. Likewise, in our own Christian lives we want to make sure we have good roots. We do not want our roots to be planted in heresies or incorrect Bible teachings. We do not want our roots planted in some cult. No, we want good roots. We want our roots to be firmly planted in Christ who alone is the good soil.
Once in a while you need to weed the garden. You get down on your knees and pull out the weeds. Sometimes you come across a plant which has already died and you usually just pull it out and throw it away. It is important that these weeds and dead plants do not take up space or precious nourishment which the other, healthy plants need. Sometimes you might come across a plant that just needs little extra help so it will make it. Maybe you need to dig it up and put it in a pot by itself, or maybe you just need to dig around it and add a little fertilizer. Likewise, from time to time we have to do a little weeding and pruning in our congregation. This is not that we are doing something out of meanness. This is something we try to do in love. There are some members on our list who have moved away and have not taken the time to transfer. There are some members who want to stay on the role just in case they might need a baptism or a confirmation or a wedding or even a funeral. There are some who have died spiritually and have just not yet been weeded out. What is being done is that we are taking care of what has already taken place, the person has absented themselves from our fellowship. Others just need a little prompting. And this is not simply the “pastor’s job.” Yes, most pastors tend to know who sits where and when they are absent, but so do you. Look around on Sunday morning. If someone who sits near you is absent, give them a call and ask how they are doing. You do not need to be mean, “why weren’t you in church today.” Maybe they are sick. Maybe they could use someone to bring them a pot of soup. Maybe they just need a word of encouragement. These days it may be that they still have some concerns about the COVID pandemic. It does not matter the reason. It is the privilege of each one of us to care for each other as members of the body of Christ and that is how we build up the body of Christ, by caring for one another.
When you have taken care to cultivate the garden ground well, add fertilizer, and water your plants, they begin to grow. As they get to the size of maturity they begin to bloom. With the bloom comes the fruit and when the fruit is ripe it is delicious to eat. You can then, literally, enjoy the fruit of your labor. Likewise, as Christians, having roots that are nourished by the Word of God, by confession and absolution, by our remembering our Baptism, by our being given the Lord’s gifts through His Holy Supper, then, being a part of the vine is a joy, a privilege, and it elicits from us a response of commitment. Quite frankly, unless we are filled with the Word of God and His Spirit we never will share our faith with anyone else, in other words we will never bear fruit. In order to bear fruit we must first be filled. I like to use the illustration of a pitcher and a glass and you have heard me use this illustration before. God is like a pitcher. We are like a glass. Every Sunday, and whenever we read and hear His Word, we are filled from His pitcher, which never runs out. Now, if we absent ourselves from His Word, then even what we have in our glass will evaporate. Likewise, if we come back every Sunday and then bring a bigger glass the next week we will never fill up. However, the goal is that we come and fill our glass so that it is overflowing and that is when our faith spills out on others and we share that faith with others.
You can tell what is planted in a garden by looking at the fruit which is growing and maturing. The same is true for Christians. We like to talk about what is important in our lives, but do we live what is important? A lot of people tell me what are their priorities, and I always answer, “you do not have to tell me, because you show me.” Too often, and I believe this might be some of the devil’s doing, we say church is our priority, that our relationship with Jesus is most important, but we live otherwise. One of the devil’s greatest victories today is our busy-ness. The devil does not tempt you to not go to church, he knows that will not work, instead he tempts you with so many things that you do not have time for divine service. “Sorry we missed divine service, after all there was our son’s soccer game, our daughter’s piano recital, dad’s softball game, mom’s Bunko club,” and the list goes on. Which begs the question, “what is important?” That which is truly most important to you is what you will make the time to do.
When we plant a garden, most of us do not plant it just for the fun of planting it. We plant a garden in order to enjoy the flowers, or to enjoy the fruits and vegetables. We Lutherans like to talk about Eph. 2:8,9, but we do not like to talk about verse ten. We are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus alone, that is through faith in His death and resurrection. We are saved by grace through faith which is a gift from God. Yet, we are not saved for nothing. We are saved for a purpose. Certainly, as you have heard me say before, God created us for a purpose, to love us. God saved us because He loves us. It all starts with God, He is the prime mover. And now, here in our text, Jesus is talking about verse ten of Ephesians, that He works and stirs in us a response of faith, to do the good works which He has for us to do, “that we bear much fruit and so prove to be His disciples.” We are justified, we are made right in God’s eyes by grace through faith so He might also work in and through us what we call sanctification, that is that we might live lives of faith bearing fruit of faith.
We sing the old song, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Will they? If we were accused of being a Christian would there be enough evidence against us to convict us. Do we exercise our grace, or do we sit on it? If we were a Christian plant, would our fruit be the fruits of the spirit? “But, pastor,” you say, “this is hard.” Yes, but with God all things are possible. Every Sunday we come here to hear our pastor say the most beautiful words of all, “your sins are forgiven.” And with those words, along with the Word of God which is read and preached, we go forward with another chance to start over and with His help to do what He would have us to do.
This is the St. Matthew Lutheran Church Vineyard. This is a vineyard whose main vine is Jesus and whose vinedresser is God the Father. This is a growing vineyard. I believe that most gardeners would tell you that if you want a healthy vineyard you will want a good deep root system. Deep roots help the plant, especially in time of little water and drought, because the roots are deep enough to have access to the deep water. Here at St. Matthew we might say that we have deep roots. We have over 120 years of roots in faith in Jesus and in the Word and Sacraments.
Traditions and celebrations tend to come and go and they can be wonderful things. It is great to celebrate. I spoke earlier of the garden our family has planted. We planted several types of vegetables in our garden. What a celebration we look forward to as we watch it sprout, mature and ripen and as we look forward to eating the vegetables. Every other day or so we can look out and look at our garden grow. As it grows we will celebrate. Finally, the day will come when we will celebrate the fruit on the vine and eat our vegetables. Celebrations are a good thing. Yes, some seed falls by the wayside. Some plants do not make it. Some weeds kill off some of the plants. God never promised an easy life. But we have the advantage. We are connected to the Vine. We are connected to Jesus Himself. Each day is a celebration, because each day is a gift from our Lord.
St. Matthew Lutheran is a church which bears fruit. Fruit that is a response of faith. We cannot help but show the faith that is in our hearts. If there is faith, it shows. James reminds us, faith without works is dead. Now, do not get me wrong, I am not preaching work righteousness, I am preaching Ephesians 2:10 which we talked about earlier. Let me put it this way, if someone gave you an unexpect gift, would you take out your wallet and offer to pay them? Certainly not, that would be an insult. Neither would we take out our wallets and try to pay God for His gift of forgiveness and eternal life, which actually costs a high price, the price of the life of His Son. We would not offer to our friend to pay for the gift, but we would offer words of thanks as well as have an attitude of response to that person. Likewise, we do not offer to God to help pay the price for our sins, instead we thank God for His good gifts and blessings and we respond with lives of thankful living.
God’s will is that all people are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. God works through us imperfect vessels to show His love to others. As the moon reflects that light of the sun, so we reflect the light of the Son of God. May the Lord continue to bless your growing here in this place so that when our last hour arrives we may all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.