Sermon: "Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 11.1-10; Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19; Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3.1-12
Matthew portrays John the Baptist as the return of Elijah who also wore clothing made of camel hair and ate honey and locusts. John must have been a fiery preacher, for people journeyed into the wilderness to hear what he had to say. He did not mince words: When the Pharisees and the Sadducees came seeking baptism, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath which is to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3.7-8; NRSV). In calling them a brood of vipers, John recognized the Pharisees and the Sadducees as poisoning God’s community. John further warned they should not take assurance or find comfort in the fact they were descendants of Abraham, for God could raise up children of Abraham from the stones about them. John was harsh for they were not bearing fruit of repentance. What might John say to us?
Today’s Collect sets the stage for our study of these scriptures: “Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.” (Emphasis added.)
Paul acknowledges the role of the prophets in his letter to the Romans: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15.4; NRSV)(Emphasis added.) Steadfastness is a rigorous constancy which yields no quarter. As Paul tells us, steadfastness is part of the character of God: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15.5; NRSV). God grants us steadfastness and encouragement that we might bear the fruit worthy of repentance! In bearing such fruit, we glorify God.
Remember that the Church of Rome was predominantly a Gentile church. Paul continues his letter with this exhortation: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised [that is, the people of the covenant with Abraham] on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15.7-9; NRSV). Paul then cites no less than four Old Testament scriptures which refer to God’s promise of salvation extending to the Gentiles. Though the English translation may differ, the Hebrew and the Greek are closely aligned.
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name” comes from 2 Samuel 22.50.
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” comes from Deuteronomy 32.43.
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him” comes from Psalm 117.1.
“The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope” comes from the first of our lectionary readings, Isaiah 11.10
Christians now interpret Isaiah 11 and Psalm 72 in relation to Christ the Messiah, the King of Kings. These passages gave hope to the descendants of Abraham through whom the world was to be blessed. As Christ’s church, we are to convey a message of hope, but we can only do that as we bear fruit worthy of repentance. We can only bear the fruit worthy of repentance to the extent that we participate in God’s steadfastness and find our encouragement through the scriptures. May God give us grace to heed the warnings of the prophets and to forsake our sins that we may bear the fruit of righteousness and “greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our redeemer.” Let us celebrate a holy Advent.