Here we read Jesus’, “beware the false prophets, who come in sheep clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” How do you know a false prophet from a true one? No doubt it is easier to forgive the mistakes of another person when they are likeable, polite and communicative, but we know whether a nice person is a good prophet by the quality of the work they produce.
By their fruit you shall know them. I think these are some of the most challenging words that Jesus offers us as individuals and as a church. By their fruit you shall know them. It doesn’t matter what we think about ourselves, it doesn’t matter what presentation we make of ourselves to the world, it is by our fruit that people shall know us.
I was having a very lively discussion with our neighbour and his father the other day, and this couple were walking by. In an attempt to connect with them, I invited them to join in our argument. She immediately told me that her brother-in-law was a uniting church minister and he was the biggest hypocrite she had ever met, so she was not interested. (That was the polite way of putting it) I simply responded, “We can all be like that.” Lets accept, as Paul reminds us this morning, that we are never going to be able to live up to the expectations that others have of us, nor even those we hope for ourselves, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Sometimes the charge of hypocrisy comes because of failure when the expectations are higher than is humanly or reasonably possible. Sometimes the expectations are created out of a desire for the other to fail. The challenge, however, is to discern what our fruit is telling us about ourselves, what we believe, what our expectations are.
I find myself thinking about events that are taking place in society – that people can die in their homes and no one notices until months after the event. More recently, a public drive to “adopt a pensioner.” What does this say about the fruit of our society? I think it says something about our loss of community. I think it also says something about what we are meant to be about, as church, and that we are failing to produce.
The picture of the early church in the New Testament is clearly one that is community based, community focussed and concerned about the marginalised of a community. God charged his people to care about the orphans and widows, the church was conscious that widows were being left out of the distribution of bread, and the widows were so important, they were also given a quasi-ordained status.
This is not just about widows, but it is a clear picture of a church that was ensuring it was a community that looked after those who were a part of it and those who were a part of the greater community. How does our fruit express that? If one of our congregation fell on hard times, how would we know, what would be our response and what would be the mechanisms of responding.
I have heard of one church that, when it was time for the offertory, invited the congregation to give generously, but if they were a little short this week, to feel free to take some out of the plate as it passed by. Interestingly enough the offerings increased, because people knew that if they fell short, they would have the support of their Christian community.
The picture we have in the Acts of the Apostles is of small groups of people meeting in homes and, in the intimacy of their relationship to one another, they knew when someone was having difficulty and they shared their common wealth as anyone had need.
I think that house groups are fundamental to our life as Christians. Two spheres of doing church, one in the larger context of worship services, the other in being a church in smaller house groups. The function of the house churches is to care for its members in all ways, spiritual, emotion and material, but it is also to provide a means of caring for those in the community around them, ensuring that no one ever finds himself or herself in spiritual, emotional and material need.
We know we can pick some pretty amazing fruit from the ugliest or thorniest trees or bushes. I love blackberries, and I intend to plant a variety of berry vines on our block, but the blackberry is a horrible looking, thorny vine of a thing considered a noxious weed in some parts of the country. It is not how attractive we are that will draw people to be a part of our life; it is the fruit we bear. If we are growing a Christian community for all, house groups are fundamental to creating fruitful community.