Felicity O’Brien St Chad’s Linwood Wednesday 28 June 2017
In my garden there are some dead-looking twigs, with no leaves, and knobbly little bits on the end. They don’t look like much, but one of them is called a cherry and another one a pear. Why are these twigs, these dead-looking branches called by the name of juicy succulent fruit? It’s because the experience people have of these particular trees is that in the right season they will bear the fruit they are named after. Not every tree is named after its fruit. Some are named for other attributes, such as their wood, or their leaves. Our proverb about good fruit tells us that a tree is known by its fruit, and the extension is that people are known by their fruit. We can see an example of this in such things as the Queen’s Birthday honours list, where people are known for what they have done. Their fruit is what matters, not what family they come from, what race or religion or gender they are, but rather by what they do. So we too as Christians are known for our fruit. And just as one bad apple can spoil a whole barrel, so one Christian who behaves in a way that is not fitting can spoil the reputation of many. We can look at televangelists, for example, and see if they care more about wearing Armani suits and owning boats than about preaching message of love and forgiveness, and humility.
We can take the metaphor of a fruit tree further too. Every tree needs to be nurtured where it is planted, given compost and water, and enough sunlight to thrive. So too the young Christian needs good sound teaching, a loving community and examples of how to walk in the Way Jesus has shown us.
Today we celebrate the life and teaching of Irenaeus, a very early Bishop of Lyons, who wrestled with the conflicting teaching that was springing up in the church. He was taught by Bishop Polycarp, who learnt from the Apostles, so he was only two steps removed from people who had actually been in the presence of Jesus. He died in about AD 200. Irenaeus sorted out the teachings, helping define the official line in theology, and dispelling ideas that were not what Jesus had taught. He was also instrumental in mediating between groups who disagreed about faith. His name comes from the Greek word irene, which means peace. He was a peacemaker in his words and in his deeds. He was known by his fruits, the agreement and peace he brought, and by his clarifying of the apostolic tradition.
Are Christians today known for peace? There have been many times in the past when wars were fought in the name of religion, and violence carried out in he name of faith. No, I’m not talking about Islamist terrorists, I’m talking about people who have called themselves Christians. If their fruits are not good, maybe the tree needs to be pruned.
When we look at our trees in winter, there is very little to see. But day by day, little by little, the buds are starting to swell, the twigs to elongate, until in spring there will be hint of green. In our lives as Christians there may be times when we are growing our buds, gradually coming into more productive seasons, but it can take a long time. We need the sun, just as the tree does. To grow our fruits, we need Scripture, fellowship, prayer, all those things which will help us bring forth good fruit, that will be sweet and bring life to those around us.
Even in the midst of winter, may we allow God to work his nurturing magic within us.