Resurrection Lutheran Church, St Catharines
A Fruitful Tree that Does not Wither
Rev. Kurt Lantz Ash Wednesday 2 Peter 1:2-11
February 22, 2023 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people who have obtained faith by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1),
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2).
The neighbour’s apple trees did not produce any apples this year. That is not entirely surprising to me. It has happened before. But a new family moved in last May. They have two trees in their backyard that didn’t produce apples. Do the little children even know that they are apple trees? And if they do, what must they think about the apple trees with no apples? What might you think about yourself if you were an apple tree that had no apples?
At the beginning of the season of Lent we always seem to hear, if not participate in, debates about whether or not to use ashes on Ash Wednesday; whether we should tell other people what we have given up for Lent; whether or not Lutherans fast at all; which churches are having midweek services; should we increase our weekly offerings or take extra opportunities for charity, prayer, and fasting throughout the season? Does it matter if a Christian does or does not produce these or other fruits of faith? Does it matter if an apple tree produces apples?
Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
By saying “when you fast”, Jesus lets you know that he expects you will be doing this. But He tells you not to do it to be seen by others. Of course, your Father in heaven will see you since He sees everything, but you will also see yourself fasting, as will those in your household. Jesus spoke the same way about acts of charity and about prayer. You will see yourself doing those things as well. And although we ought not do these things to be seen by others, we ought not refrain from doing them because we might be seen by others. An apple tree should produce apples because it is an apple tree, not because the children are watching; and yet, what will happen if they never see it producing its fruit?
Part of the debate, even if it is only what we say to ourselves, makes for good Lutheran argumentation: None of this stuff saves us, or earns us forgiveness. We are not saved by fasting. God does not forgive us because we increase our offerings. We are saved by God’s grace through faith and not by any good works. We are Christians because He has called and chosen us to be Christians. We are apple trees, so what does it matter if there are any apples to see?
St. Peter, in our Epistle reading tells us this is exactly the point. The apples matter a great deal, even though they don’t make the tree an apple tree. It is an apple tree by God’s making. But if there is to be no doubt, there must be apples. If we are to be sure, the fruit must appear.
You are a Christian by God’s making. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). He has made you a Christian by your baptism into Christ. It was done by His power, not your own. You couldn’t accomplish anything like that. But the one who creates apple trees by His creative word, also creates Christians by the power of His Gospel Word in the water. He has called you to share in His own glory and excellence by bearing His name on your person.
He has granted to you precious promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He has brought you into His family. He has united you to the death and resurrection of His Son. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Through the precious promises given to you in Baptism, you become partakers of the divine nature. You participate in the divine life of Jesus Christ, a resurrected life, an eternal life, a life of holiness and righteousness. You continue to partake of His divine nature through the Word and Sacrament that you receive as you gather together in this congregation. His Spirit is alive and working powerfully in you as you hear His word. You eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus, the almighty and immortal, and His life fills you.
This is the only way of escape from this world of corruption in which you live. It is because you feel locked into this world that you forsake the precious promises of your baptismal life and accede to acedia. You give in to not caring if there are apples or not. This is the way of a fallen world, not the new life that you have been granted in Christ Jesus. In order to give you a way out of this corrupted world headed for destruction, God has gifted you His own life in Christ Jesus, bestowed upon you in Holy Baptism.
Just because this divine life has been freely granted to you, is no reason to be devoid of apples. Rather, St. Peter tells us to make this great and precious gift to you sure and certain by adding fruit to the divine gift of faith. Natural fallen man doesn’t care about producing fruit. That is why we need reminders of who we are. That is why we need ashes, and water in a big baptismal font, and the sign of the cross and the words “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is why we need a season of the year to remind us to be diligent in charity, prayer, and fasting.
And for all times of the year we have St. Peter’s exhortation: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
How does this happen? How can all of those qualities blossom in your life and produce abundant fruit? It will take more than your own willpower, for your natural sinful willpower is to do these things only for some kind of recognition from those around you. You want them to be telling you how good a job you are doing; and if they don’t you won’t do it. You want to know that you are doing so much better than that other Christian; and if no one else knows it then it doesn’t seem worth doing. This is why Jesus tells you to do these things in secret, yet He still needs to tell you to do them.
Don’t forget that you are united to Jesus through your baptism. You participate in the divine life through the gifts that God gives to you in Word and Sacrament. You produce the fruits of faith when you yourself recognize that you are a fruit of Jesus’ work of redemption. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection He has purified you from all former sins. In Holy Baptism He has washed you clean.
Don’t forget it. Be sure of it by letting godly virtues break forth like apples on a tree, so there will be no doubt in your mind in time of trial or testing. The good fruits that blossom in your life remind you that the apple does not fall far from the tree. In your selfless acts of charity and love, you are reminded of the one who was charitable to you on the tree of the cross; who gave His body into death for you and poured out His holy, precious blood for you.
Not being far from the tree of the cross, a fruitful Christian life stands in stark contrast to this world of corruption. And in such contrast, it testifies that although in the world, you are not of the world. The entrance to the eternal kingdom is yours in Christ Jesus. He has given His life for you so that you might partake of it now and for eternity.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).