16 Pentecost Proper A22                
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 21:33-43 Sermon                                        
October 2, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
536 "Awake My Soul, And With The Sun"
245 "God Loved The World, So That He Gave"
465 "Christ Is Our Cornerstone"


TEXT (vs. 42-44):  42Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lordís doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?'  43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him."


            This morning, Iím going to tell you about an apple tree I remember from my growing up years.  This tree belonged to an older couple, and it was growing on their farm.  It was about a chain or so away from the farmhouse, in the far corner of a meadow.  Sometimes the farmer would keep sheep in that same meadow.

            There were a couple things I remember well about that apple tree.  The first of which, was that it was always loaded with apples.  Year after year, that tree had an unbelievable crop, producing way more apples than what a person could ever think of using.  Sometimes they had the branches propped up with wooden braces so they wouldn't break. 

            Now I'm not sure of the particular variety of apples; I think she just called them "summer apples."  They were sort of squatty, and had a dull red variegated appearance, something like a Jonagold.  But whatever they were, I ate a lot of applesauce, and pies, and other desserts made from them.  And they weren't too bad just to grab one and eat it.

            The second, and most notable thing about this apple tree was its appearance.  This had to be one of the weirdest looking apple trees I had ever seen, and I knew what apple trees usually looked like.  It had this gnarled and twisted appearance, and branches were just sticking out of various places sort of at random. 

            So one time, curiosity got the better of me, and I asked about it.  Why did it look so odd?  Then the lady told me the story behind the tree.

            The tree had been around for a good many years, and it always produced a good crop of apples.  Nothing spectacular mind you, just what a person would expect from this particular sort of apple tree. 

            But then late one year, a severe storm came through, and about half of the tree split, and fell to the ground.  The farmer took his chainsaw, and cut the fallen part of the tree the rest of the way off.  Then he dragged it away and put it on his woodpile so it could be burnt.  He decided to leave the part of the tree that was standing until spring, and then complete cutting it down when he had time.  It wasn't really very high on his priority list.

            Next spring however, what was left of the tree hadn't died.  In fact, it was loaded with apple blossoms.  And when the apples started to appear, the tree produced just about as many apples as it always had.  And for several years after that, the yield kept increasing.  Ultimately, the tree produced about twice the number of apples that it had produced before.  And it just kept on going.

            The farmer couldn't believe it.  How could that scrawny scrap of an apple tree produce that much fruit?  Of course he didn't cut it down.  Instead, he just left it grow as it wanted to.  Oh sure, he'd get rid of the dead branches and take care of it to a certain degree, but for the most part, he just left it alone.  This old, battered, and scarred tree produced some of the finest fruit that you could ever imagine.

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about producing fruit.  We can see right away that Jesus doesn't really care about what the tree looks like; it's the fruit that is the important thing.  That's what Jesus wants from his Church too; he wants to see the fruits of faith.

            If we search through the Scriptures, we find numerous references to people producing fruit.  This is a metaphor that people can readily understand.  Let's take a look at a few of those references:

            John chapter 15, verses 1-5 are most familiar.  Jesus says:  1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."    

            Then Jesus tells the following parable in Luke chapter 13, verses 6-9: 6..."A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7And he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' 8And he answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

            Then there's Matthew chapter 7, verses 15-19 where Jesus says: 15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheepís clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."

            And the last one I'll share right now comes from Matthew chapter 3, verses 7, 8, &10.  This is when Jesus was with John the Baptist. "7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit in keeping with repentance....10Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.'" 

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is talking once again to the Pharisees and other church leaders.  This discourse parallels the one I just read from Matthew chapter 3 quite well.  They were a lot of talk, but no action.  They knew all the right words, but that's about where it stopped.  So when Jesus talks to them this time, they got his message, loud and clear.  They knew that he was talking about them.

            I mentioned last week that this whole section in Matthew chapter 21 is the account of the events following Palm Sunday, just prior to Jesus' crucifixion.  It starts with the moneychangers and merchants in the temple, engaging in dishonest business practices.  The Pharisees loved this, because they got a cut of the action.  And Jesus turns over their tables, and chases them away.

            And it continues with the parable of the fig tree.  Look at what Jesus does in verses 18-19: "18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again!'  And the fig tree withered at once." Jesus doesn't fool around when he expects to find fruit, and finds none!

            Then it continues with Jesus talking about the parable of the two sons that we examined last week, and now the parable of the landowner that we're looking at this morning.  On two occasions, Jesus talks about the fruit of the believer.

            In our Old Testament Lesson for this morning, Isaiah records God's disappointment with the Israelites.  Instead of producing the fruits of faith God expects of them, they produce the exact opposite of what he wants!  Instead of the good grapes, they are producing the wild and sour grapes that aren't good for anything.  And God is anything but pleased about this situation.

            Our readings for today are difficult ones for God's Church to hear.  They are difficult, because God expects something from his children, and what he expects is positive.  He wants good fruits, especially fruits of the Spirit.  If we look at Galatians chapter 5, verses 22-26, we find this exhortation from the Apostle Paul: "22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another."

            The way we bear good fruits is to first of all tap into the source, which is Jesus Christ himself.  The first section of our Gospel lesson for this morning describes a landowner who sends his son to deal with those who are tending the land for him.  They get greedy, and kill him so they can lay claim to the land for themselves.

            This is an illustration Jesus uses to describe the way the world is in relationship to God.  God is the landowner.  Verses 1 & 2 of Psalm 24 describe it like this: "1 The earth is the LORDís and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers."

            We as human beings are the ones entrusted with this gift.  We are the ones who are to tend it for God so it produces fruit for him.  But when God sends Jesus his Son to be amongst us, what happens?  He is put to death, just so that the "church people" can get rid of him, and get back to doing the stuff they always did.  And the fruits being produced are little more than sour grapes, if anything at all.

            But remember, we have a Saviour.  That son is our Saviour.  He doesn't want us to die, but to live.  He wants to be the one to produce those good fruits in our lives.  God the Holy Spirit is the one who has made this possible.  In Philippians chapter 1, verse 6 Paul writes: "6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  That's how sure Paul is that God will continue to work in and through us, as long as we don't shut him out of our lives.

            Our fruit trees can look pretty barren at times.  Sin is the thing that either sours the fruit we have, or strips our branches completely bare.  On our own, we have nothing.  It's like Jesus tells us in John chapter 15, verse 5: "5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."  

            So we come to our Saviour for forgiveness, comfort, hope, and sustenance.  We come to him so that we have hope in the promise of heaven.  We come to him in faith, so that we can bear fruit--not only to demonstrate that hope to others, but to actually live that hope every moment of our earthly lives.  That's the kind of fruit God wants to see in us.  He wants us to live as his children.

            As I think about that old apple tree I talked about in the beginning, I got to wondering if it was still around.  So I went to Google Earth to see if I could tell if it was still there.  The farm is still there, and so is the house.  I can see a tree in that corner of the meadow.  Now I can't be sure if it's the same tree or not, but considering the life span of apple trees and the size of the tree I saw, it might very well be.  That tree could still be bearing fruit to this day.

             Here was a tree, ravaged and damaged from a severe storm.  Just a splintered fragment remained standing.  It took a horrible beating, and yet it continued to bear fruit, even more than it had before.  It stood twisted and contorted and showing the signs of a very difficult existence, and yet the fruit was not only plentiful, but sweet and good.

            Here we are, members of Christ's Church.  Things have happened in our lives too.  Things have happened that have threatened our existence.  What we are left with is a mere remnant.  But that remnant is planted firmly in solid ground.

            We are Christ's Church, planted in this earth.  We are rooted in God's inspired and inerrant Word.  We are nourished through the Means of Grace.  We are sustained by Christ, our living Lord and Saviour.  And now it's time to bear fruit, even more than before. 

            The Apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians chapter 4, verse 13: "13I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me."  This applies to you, to me, and to all of God's people. 

            This is something that we will always need to remember.  Jesus Christ, who loves us and gave his life for us will most certainly continue to enrich us and bless us as we bear fruits for him throughout our earthly lives.