Each tree, Jesus says in our Gospel passage this morning, is known by its fruit. The good trees produce good fruit, like a perfectly sweet and juicy apple picked from a tree. The bad trees produce bad fruit, rotten and good for nothing except to be thrown out as soon as it is plucked. In the same way, we as individuals and as a community are known by the fruit that we produce; the good person produces good out of the abundance of their heart, while the evil person produces evil.
Over the past few days, I have been grappling with the fruits that we as a society and as a church have been bearing. And we as a nation have had to confront what it is that we have been producing within this past week.
We’ve produced generations of families torn apart in the name of security and prosperity; indigenous families since the time of European colonization; the families of slaves; and most recently, the families of immigrants and asylum seekers at our borders.
We’ve produced the killing of countless men, women, and gender non-conforming black Americans throughout our short time as a nation, much like the death of 17 year-old Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh, who was killed this week by a police officer.
We’ve produced a reality in which millions struggle simply to pay their healthcare bills, in which far too many cannot afford to even eat or live, and in which women daily are assaulted with sexual violence and harassment.
As despicable as this sounds, this is some of our fruit as a nation. What we are seeing come to fruition is the natural growth of the seeds of racism, misogyny, and greed that were planted at the very beginning, even as we might note those good things that the nation has produced as well.
But let us be clear: we the Church have our fruit that we must recognize and own.
Today is a day that we lift up our own failings to our LGBTQIA+ friends and family. We the Church that has barred individuals from our community and from our communion table because of who they love and because of how they express their individuality. We the Church that has sat quietly in the face of cruel conversion therapy and as youth are thrown out onto the street by their families. We the Church that has given these families the theology they need to do such harm; that has called our own aberrations, abominations, and incompatible with the Christian faith.
Each tree is known by its fruit, and this is the fruit that we bear. This is what we have produced, no matter how good or noble our original intentions may have been. This is the fruit that we have produced even as we say that we are “speaking the truth in love,” or as we are simply following our (admittedly misguided) readings of the Bible. For Jesus does not say that a tree is known by its nurturing of its planter but by its fruit; so too do we hear that we are not known by our intent but rather by our impact.
For those who have been the victims of our fruit, I am sorry. I am so sorry. In those times that the church did and spoke harm, and in the times that the Church has neglected its responsibility to do good and speak life, we have failed.
And for those of us who have been the gardeners of this fruit, we have some work to do. We have the work of confession. To recognize what it is that we have done and not done, what we have said and not said. We have the work of owning what impact our faith and action has had on the world and on our community, on those that we claim to love so dearly. To say who it is that we have barred from this table and from our communal life, and to name the hateful acts that have been done in our name.
But I think our work is also to sit with our fruit for a bit. It did not grow overnight, and it surely is not going to disappear overnight. And so we must figure out what seeds we have planted; to discover just how deep these roots have grown. It’s a painful process, of course. It’s a process of long and challenging conversations, and even in losing some relationships that we thought were solid. In our own United Methodist Church, we know that it may even mean a split, as Pastor Cathy talked about last week. But we have an obligation to sit to hear the stories of those who have been excluded and derided; to witness what we have inflicted, even when our intent was good.
And all along this journey, may we be open to the calling of the Spirit. That sweet, sweet Spirit that is always pulling us further into love, pushing us outwards into the world. For we know the fruits that come when we follow that Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As the Apostle Paul writes, there is no law against those things.
Friends, as we gather on this Pride Sunday, I must ask: what is the fruit that we want to bear? Do we truly want to be the people of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors”? Because bearing good fruit like that takes work. May we open ourselves this day to the work before us.