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Fruit for Life
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are false teachers who are obviously false. They teach that all religions are the same, that all roads lead to heaven. They teach that Jesus is only a prophet, a misguided rabbi, merely a good example for us to imitate. These obvious false prophets—the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Muslims, the Jews, Buddhists, the various cults—these are not the people our Lord warns us about in today’s Gospel, though of course you should avoid them. But when Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets,” He is urging you to watch out for preachers who claim to be part of our fellowship. They urge unity at the expense of integrity. They let false teaching and worship live alongside the truth. They are more impressed with the world’s standard of success than with the kingdom of God. They quickly assign tradition to the trash heap and favor only newer, more modern ways. And they not only allow but encourage and even insist on innovations which sweep away what we have received from the Word of God. “Beware of them,” Jesus says. They are not obvious. They claim to seek fellowship, yet with their words they destroy it. They urge you not to get so riled, yet they rile you up. They speak of peace, but they persecute the peace-makers. You have known some of them all your life. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Beware of them.
Jesus goes on to say, “You will know them by their fruits.” You will know them by the false doctrine they cling to, by their desire to be popular with the world, by their insistence that the Word of God has mistakes or means something other than what the Church has always taught. You will know them because they welcome those who don’t believe what the Word teaches to their altars and pulpits. You will know them because they rejoice in the death of the unborn. They rejoice in those things our Lord calls sin.
How do you recognize a true teacher? Ask yourself this: Did they lead you to the Christ? Did they encourage you in what Scripture teaches instead of urging you to do your own thing? Did they provide you with true and lasting comfort in your hour of need? And did all their sermons, all their liturgies, all their ministry speak of the hope and salvation that is given only through Jesus Christ? What God used these preachers to produce in your heart—namely, a lively faith and godliness: these are good fruits, together with their bold confession of the faith and their willingness to suffer all, even death, rather than depart from the Church’s Faith. If these are the fruits, then these pastors and preachers are good trees, united to the Tree of Life.
But bad trees are like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, a tree that offers no life and no hope, housing the devil and his lies. Evil trees cannot bring forth good fruit. In the same way, false preachers and prophets cannot produce the good fruit of faith in their parishioners. Our Lord’s warning must be repeated frequently, lest we begin to desire bad fruit.
But do not let this warning trouble you. Our Lord does not say, “Beware” to frighten or scare you, but to comfort and strengthen you. When you know that there are false preachers and evil prophets; when you know that there are pastors who speak of their own dreams rather than of the Lord’s heavenly vision; when you know that there are preachers whom Our Lord never sent—then you are more intent to search diligently for the true bishops, the godly priests, the faithful pastors who will shield you and soothe you with the Lord’s undying mercy. You cry out for the Word of Absolution. You return to your Baptism daily. You beg for the Lord to feed you with His body and blood. You recognize the Lord through His fruits to you, and you rejoice to receive them. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.