Sometimes it’s said that the church doesn’t have to be successful, the church has to be faithful. Now there is some truth in that but there is also a danger that that kind of claim can be a cop out. I guess it depends on what you mean by success.
We certainly have to be faithful, but if we don’t have to be successful in worldly terms, we certainly are expected, and it would seem so by what the Lord Jesus says, to be a people who produce fruit. We heard it from his own lips: “The Kingdom of God will be taken from those to whom he speaks and will be given,” he says, “to a people who will produce its fruit.”
So the church is to bear fruit. In the prophet Isaiah we heard the same thing: “God has a vineyard, and we are that vineyard; the house of the new Israel.” And from this vineyard, the master of the vineyard, God, expects fruit. He expected justice but found bloodshed. He expected integrity but found only a cry of distress. In other words he looked for grapes and, as the prophet says, he found only sour grapes.
So we are not to be a church of sour grapes but a church that bears the rich fruit of good grapes. The grapes which will make the wine of the kingdom. Jesus talks of the fruit of the kingdom. So what is this fruit that we are to bear? We are to be a church that grows. And if we aren’t to grow as a church then we are dying. There are already some who think we are. Yet the church doesn’t have to grow just in terms of numbers. I don’t say that doesn’t matter, it does, but ultimately it’s not what matters. Nor do we have to grow in our assets or what’s on the bottom line. That’s not the kind of growth of which the Lord speaks. The church has to grow disciples! And if we’re not doing that then we’re on the way to death and we look more and more like a church that can only deliver sour grapes that are no good for making any wine, let alone the wine of the kingdom.
So the church in every time and place is to grow disciples. You and me included, and only then will we bear the fruit of which the Lord speaks. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says “I commission you”…”to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” And again what he means is I commission you to go out and grow disciples. So we’d better know what a disciple looks like.
Clues are given to us in what we have heard this morning. Certainly justice and integrity. If all we find is the bloodshed and the cry of distress then we are not dealing with the discipleship of Jesus Christ, so justice and integrity are absolutely required. And then St Paul, writing to Philippi, tells us more; a disciple is one who fills his or her mind with everything that is true, in the midst of all the lies; everything that is noble and good and pure; everything that we love and honour; everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. These are the things that fill the lives of the disciples of Jesus, who grow and grow and grow. There is no end of our growth into the mystery of discipleship.
But in the end it could be said that’s not quite enough. The question of what does it mean to be a disciple is not yet answered fully because if we were just and people of integrity, if we did fill our minds with everything that was true and noble, good and pure, would we be anything more than just an excellent person? Now it’s important that we be excellent persons but being a disciple of Jesus is not the same as being an excellent person.
There is one other crucial element. And it is what we hear from Christ when he quotes the scripture. He says “ the stone rejected by the builders has become the keystone.” Who is he talking about? Himself. When he is crucified he is most certainly the stone rejected, the son thrown out of the vineyard and killed. Yet when he is raised from the dead then he becomes the keystone, the cornerstone of absolutely everything – the church, your life, my life, the world, the whole of creation in all its unimaginable grandeur. He is the risen one, who happens to be the cornerstone. What an extraordinary truth! This is the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see, and we the disciples are those who see that truth. We are the ones who see it in the depth of our being; that the stone rejected, the crucified one, has been raised and he is the cornerstone. He is the key that unlocks every door. Once we see that we become disciples who are missionaries. And here is where our answer comes to its fullness.
You cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ, bearing the fruit of the kingdom, unless you go out and call others to him. That’s what it means to be missionary. So everyone who is baptised, all of us, are called in some way to be missionaries. We are called to go out and touch the millions who are looking for Jesus without even knowing it, to give to them in some way the gift that we have received ourselves. We have to help them to see with the eye that we have been given, the eye that sees that the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone. And then to share with them the truth that this is the Lord’s doing and that it is wonderful to see that this is the day, made by the Lord, and only by him, and therefore, with all of those whose lives we touch, we rejoice and are glad. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
October 5, 2014