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The tree of faith produces abundant fruit

Sermon based on 2 Corinthians 9:10-15

Do you know what this is? It is the seed of the Prunus americana, the wild plum. A couple of weeks ago my family came across a wild plum tree loaded with red and purple golf-ball sized fruit. I grabbed a hat and filled it with a mound of plums and then we started popping them into our mouths. They were perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy. We liked them so much that we started saving the pits. Yes, I’m holding a seed of an American plum, but I could also say I’m holding a future tree that will, Lord willing, produce many more hat-fulls of delicious, little plums.

But what if I said, “This is my only seed. If I put it in the soil I’ll lose it. Maybe I’ll just hang on to it”? Yes, I would keep my seed but I will also keep it from producing a harvest. Putting a seed in the soil is an act of faith. I trust that by giving it up, I will end up with more.

God is also in the business of planting seeds in hopes of a harvest. You might think of Jesus’ parable about the farmer who went out to scatter seed. Jesus said that the seed is God’s Word that goes out and takes root in the hearts of people. When that faith is nurtured and matures, it produces a harvest of good works. This is to say, faith does something. Faith can’t help but produce fruits of that faith.

It’s good for us to think of God holding a seed that he plants in you. What are some of those fruits he is hoping will be harvested from you? Fruits of patience and kindness? The fruit of joy? The fruit of self-control? Fruits of generosity and helpfulness? Today we’ll be talking about one specific fruit of faith that produces many more fruits. That is the fruit of gratitude.

We have already heard a couple of examples of gratitude in our Bible readings. Noah came off the ark after a year of being cooped up and he offered a sacrifice of thanks to God. The 10 lepers had to live socially distanced from everyone until Jesus healed them. Yet only one returned to Jesus with praise on his lips and thanksgiving in his heart to God.

I want to spend the majority of our time today looking at our second lesson from the book of 2 Corinthians. You probably know that the book of the Bible we call 2 Corinthians is a letter that the apostle Paul sent to a Christian congregation in the ancient Greek city of Corinth. Years prior, Jesus had turned Paul from a man who hated and tried to kill Christians into a man who was called to bring the name of Christ to places that had never heard of Jesus. Corinth was one of those places that Paul visited as he traveled around the Mediterranean world proclaiming that Jesus was the Savior. He spent a year and a half in Corinth, planting a church and instructing the people. Paul’s letters give us a view into what was happening in this congregation.

One of the things we find out about this congregation is that they were working on a humanitarian aid project. Paul had encouraged them to gather an offering that would be sent to Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering because of a famine. I suppose it would be like efforts our own synod makes to gather offerings that go to help our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need after natural disasters like Hurricane Ian down in Florida.

You could say that the fruit Paul was hoping this congregation would produce was the fruit of generosity. Notice how this works. It all starts with God. And he who provides seed to the sower and bread for food (that’s God) will provide and multiply your seed for sowing, and will increase the harvest of your righteousness.

God provides. God multiplies. God increases the harvest. This is absolutely true in nature too. If I were to hold onto this seed and keep it on my shelf because I didn’t want to give it up, it would never produce another plum. It’s only when I give this seed to the soil that one seed produces many more.

God had already planted faith in the believers in Corinth. That faith was nurtured by God as the people were baptized and instructed in God’s Word and as they received the Lord’s Supper. The sap that ran through them was thanksgiving for all that God had done for them. It came up from the roots, ran up the trunk to the branches and it nurtured the fruits of their faith. One of those fruits was the generous offering they collected for the sake of their less fortunate brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

But their offering did so much more than provide calories for people suffering without food. If you have ever been on the receiving end of a gift in a time of need, I think you know what I mean. It could have been as simple as a meal when you were recovering from a surgery or an offer of a ride when you had an appointment or it could have been thousands of dollars at a time of real crisis. It could have come from a neighbor or someone at church or a parent. Through that person God was not just providing food for your stomach or money to pay a bill, he was also encouraging you in your faith. He was giving you a reason to glorify him and to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

This is what God was doing through this act of generosity by the Corinthian Christians. Their faith had produced fruit and when the people in Jerusalem received this gift from Gentile Christians whom they had never even met they would themselves give thanks to God. Their thanksgiving would, in turn, produce fruit in their lives and in this way, God would multiply the harvest of fruits of faith among his people.

Now back to my original question. If you look at your own life, which fruits God is cultivating in you right now? Is he hoping for a harvest of peace or joy or generosity or thanksgiving? This is exciting to think about: that God has a purpose for me. It is also a bit depressing if you compare the picture on the seed packet with the reality of the harvest at times. Our fruit is imperfect. At times we don’t let it come to full maturity. Even when it looks good on the outside it may show signs of rot on the inside. “I want to be generous, but I find myself thinking, ‘I could have used that money to get a new trolling motor for my fishing boat. I want to be thankful, but I find myself envious of what God has given to others.’”

I could tell you that you just need to try harder, which could work for a while, but it’s like pulling off the tops of the weeds and leaving the roots. The answer is to pull out these weeds of selfishness of sin and to go back to the seed of God’s goodness to you in Jesus and the sap of thankfulness that flows from that seed. That’s why Paul ends this section where he is encouraging Christians in their giving by focusing on God’s gift: Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! If that is not what our hearts are crying out, then there is no point in talking about fruits of faith. If we don’t see that the riches of Christ’s love for us in rescuing us from all sins and winning for us the eternal treasures of heaven, then how can we ever begin to talk about fruits of generosity and being willing to part with our own earthly riches for the sake of others? If we don’t see that the gift Jesus came to bring us is the kind of peace that knows in the bottom of our souls that everything is going to be OK, how could we begin to live with that peace dominating our lives right now? We have received from God the greatest gift in our Lord Jesus. If you believe that, you will be thankful and out of your thankfulness will come beautiful fruits of faith that give glory to God’s goodness to you.

When we lived in California we saw two different kinds of orchards. There were some that were lush and green and productive. There were others where, during a time of drought, the water had been turned off and now the trees stood dead and brown and good for nothing but to be burned in a campfire. Our God has not planted in us the seed of his word and grown in us faith so that we would die off and never produce a harvest, but so that we would be living and fruitful. His goal is that anyone who would come across us would be like my family eating those plums; giving thanks for the sweet fruits God, in his goodness, has produced in us. Yes, Lord, fill us with gratitude so that we produce an abundant harvest. Amen

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