Eighth Sunday after Trinity.
Jesus spoke this parable. "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." Luke 13: 6-9.
The Saviour brought forth this parable to those unbelieving Jews, to whom the Saviour had preached the gospel for three years, but with whom there did not appear to come forth any fruit from His preaching. No visible awakening appeared among the people, although He had preached the gospel of God's kingdom already for three years. In this parable God the Father is the Master of the vineyard but the Dresser of the vineyard is the Saviour. The Master of the vineyard said to the Dresser of the vineyard: "Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" But the merciful Dresser of the vineyard began to pray the Master of the vineyard, that he would spare this unfruitful fig tree yet one year, till he digged a ditch around it and dunged its roots, if it would even then bear fruit. But who knows if this unfruitful fig tree even then will become fruitful, although a ditch has been dug around it. Already now the Master of the vineyard has done work upon it, that this unfruitful fig tree would become fruitful. For three years the Master of the vineyard has traveled in the vineyard and sought fruit from this tree but has found none. How long do you suppose, unfruitful fig tree, that the Lord will allow you to stand unfruitful in the Lord's vineyard and cumber the ground? Do you not hear, what the Master of the vineyard says to the Dresser of the vineyard, "Cut it down! Why cumbereth it the ground?" Perhaps you think, you unfruitful fig tree, that the Dresser of the vineyard will always pray for you, that you will not yet be cut down so soon. But do not think, you unfruitful fig tree, that you can stand unfruitful in the vineyard forever. You cumber the ground, and if you do not become fruitful when the Dresser of the vineyard digs ditches around you and dungs your roots, then you will be cut down without mercy and cast into the fire. For thus the words read in today's gospel: "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire;" Now you hear, unfruitful tree, what judgement awaits you if you do not soon become fruitful. You believe, no doubt, that it is sufficient that you remain green, that there are some leaves on you, that you have not become entirely a dry tree. But you now hear from the Master of the vineyard's own mouth, that you shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, if you do not become fruitful soon. For so says the Master of the vineyard to the Dresser of the vineyard: "Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down' why cumbereth it the ground?" An unfruitful tree cumbers the ground no matter how green it might remain, and even though it bears leaves every year and even flowers. As long as this fig tree remains unfruitful, it cumbers the ground, sucks moisture and strength from the ground, but does not become fruitful. The Master of the vineyard can not taste any fruit from such a tree although he has sought fruit already for three years. Beware, you unfruitful tree, that it will not go with you as it went with the fig tree, from which the Saviour sought fruit and found none. Then He cursed that unfruitful fig tree and said, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever." Woe unto you, you unfruitful fig tree, if you are still unfruitful when Jesus comes to you seeking fruit from you. Now Jesus is hungry, now He desires to taste the fig tree's fruit. Is there even one tree here from which He could taste sweet fruit? There would probably not be many trees with whose fruit He could quench His hunger. But there are many dry trees which are suitable to the devil for firewood; and rotten trees, which grow wicked fruit, whose berries are sweet in the devil's mouth because they are very bitter and sour. What distress does the devil have now when he "walks through dry places, seeking rest and finding none?" If he stays overnight in the woods ox the wilderness, where a crying voice cries: "You unfruitful tree, bring forth fruit worthy of repentance," then the old man devil finds in that wilderness not only firewood from which he can build quite a bonfire, in front of which he can roast his butt, but in this wilderness the devil also finds many rotten trees which bear wicked fruit and they are so bitter and sour, that the Master of the vineyard cannot take them into his mouth, as He laments through the prophet Isaiah (5:2-7): "My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" But these evil berries, they taste sweet in the enemy's mouth. These he eats willingly so that the teeth chatter and devil's dung comes from them when they fall from the devil'S butt. We should now notice what difference there is between the dry tree and the green tree and the rotten tree, and also between the high tree and the low tree, the fruitful and the unfruitful tree, which are all mentioned in the Scriptures. But not all are examiners of trees. However the Saviour says in today's gospel that the tree is known by the fruit. Namely, here is a question of such trees which are planted in a vineyard or orchard, as a grapevine, fig tree and apple tree. But may the great Dresser of the vineyard, who knows best those rotten trees, separate them from the fruitful trees. And the unfruitful trees from which fruit has not yet come, but only leaves and flowers, may the great and merciful Dresser of the vineyard pray for them, that the Master of the vineyard would spare these unfruitful trees for one year yet until he digs ditches around them and dungs their roots, and that he would protect the green trees, upon which there are yet leaves and flowers, from frost, snowstorms and tempests, so that the frost would not destroy those small berries winch are not yet ripe. And you cursed tree, who has never become fruitful, may no fruit ever grow on you everlastingly. And you worthless tree, who is rotten inside, no acceptable fruit will ever come from you. And you high tree, beware that the wind of the world does not bend you, and remember what the Lord has said: "I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the Lord have spoken and have done it." (Ezekiel 17:24.) But you merciful Dresser of the vineyard, who has labored so much upon this unthankful ground and has planted so many trees in your vineyard, of which few trees are likely to become so fruitful that you would be able to taste fruit of the tree which is grown in the north country: do not yet become tired of praying for the unfruitful tree which remains green and bears leaves. Always dig ditches around it and dung its roots, that perhaps it finally will become fruitful through great tribulation. You have trodden the winepress alone. Hear therefore, you great and powerful Dresser of the vineyard, the sigh of the sorrowful and down-pressed ones: Our Father and so forth.
The Gospel: Matthew: 7:15-21.
In today's gospel the Saviour speaks of the good trees and the rotten trees, for which reason we, through God's grace, shall consider: Which are the good trees and which are the rotten trees? And if we, in our examination of them, should notice some green tree, some high and low tree, then we shall also consider them. But may the Dresser of the vineyard who best knows the trees by the fruit, give us the right enlightenment, that we may be able to rightly discern the rotten trees and the good trees. For the tree is known by its fruit, but on the other hand, the fruits are known best by the taste.
First Consideration: What kind are the rotten trees? Everyone who is not entirely blind can surely discern the dry trees from green trees, for a green tree does not burn as well as a dry tree, for a dry tree ignites into flame immediately if someone puts it into the fire. And as you know, around this church the devil will not come into distress for firewood. As often as he passes by, he surely finds enough firewood that he can roast his butt. And if someone would say to him: "Do not burn those yet", then the old man devil answers, "It warms the butt." But the green trees do not burn so well and the old man devil would hardly bother to chop those down if they were not in the way when he must drag out the dry branches. However the Saviour has said, "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire." Be it then a green tree which bears only leaves but does not bear fruit, or a rotten tree which bears evil fruit, namely such bitter and sour berries which the Master of the vineyard cannot put into his mouth no matter how hungry and thirsty he might be. But the old man devil really likes these berries which are so bitter and sour. He eats them so greedily that his teeth rattle. The devil's teeth have not therefore become loosened, although he has eaten and continues to eat those bitter berries. But in Israel such a proverb was made which the Lord did not like at all, namely this kind of a proverb: "The fathers have eaten sour berries and from that the children's teeth have become loose." Now therefore all such trees which do not bear good fruit are hewn down, and cast into the fire. For when the green trees do not become fruitful, and bear only leaves and flowers, then they cumber the ground. They take much room in the vineyard or orchard, but the Master of the vineyard has profited nothing from these unfruitful trees. Think now, you unfruitful trees, when guests come from heaven, what will the Master of the vineyard set before them for sweet food when he does not find grapes from his vineyard, nor figs from the fig tree? He cannot, however, put the bitter berries on the table when guests come from Heaven. He must then begin to lament: What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why therefore does it bear only corrupt berries?" I believe that the rotten tree is such a tree which is rotten on the inside, so that it cannot become fruitful, or it has fruit bat they are corrupt fruit. These, therefore, may be those false prophets which come in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves. Who, therefore, are these false prophets? All sorrowless and grace thieves cry out that the Christians are false prophets and wild spirits who do not give honorable people peace of conscience. But I think that the sorrowless are false prophets and wild spirits. For in that crowd anyway there was not a single Christian who then began to prophesy when the Jews made an uprising against the government. Then there were many of those who preached to the blind nation: Now the Messiah cometh, now cometh Christ to help us from under the power of the heathenish government. And the blind nation believed what these false prophets and wild spirits preached, but in that crowd there were no Christians. The characteristic of false prophets is this, that they truly preach of the kingdom of the Messiah, but with the wrong purpose. They preach so, that God's people do not need to be obedient to the heathenish government. They do not need to pay taxes to the heathenish government. The false prophets then incited the Jewish nation to rebel against, the government. It was for the misfortune and destruction of the nation that they began to believe such ones who encouraged the nation against the government. But the Christians have never so preached as the false prophets have then preached. And what do the false prophets of this time now preach? Yes, they preach that the former old ungodly life is a right life. And the false prophets of this time preach that whiskey is permissible, that one small drink does not do anything, that stealing of tax money is permissible and cursing is also permissible. Are they then false prophets who preach that penitence and repentance must take place; drunkenness, cursing, fighting, and adultery must be cast away with worldly joy? They who preach so are, in the mind of the world, false prophets. But they who preach thus: a little whiskey is permis-sible, cursing is permissible, adultery is permissible, stealing of tax money is permissible, dancing and card-playing are permissible, they who so preach and live, are the true prophets. Just believe what such prophets preach and you will become saved. But here in these times such prophets have appeared, who from Luther's writings think that they have found proof that this Christianity is false. Such ones now come in sheep's clothing, for they come under the guise of the Lutheran faith. They want to defend the old Lutheran faith which these awakened ones supposedly wish to overthrow. So also came those who argued with Stephen; they came with God's word and wanted to protect the old Mosaic religion which the sect of Christianity supposedly wanted to destroy. And so they who argued with Stephen testified: "For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us." However Jesus of Nazareth has not come to change the statutes and laws which Moses has given. But the devil has gotten them to believe that Stephen had so spoken. And the same schoolmaster has, no doubt, gotten some so-called Lutheran believers to believe that these awakened ones want to destroy the Lutheran faith. No doubt the devil has given them such enlightenment, that these awakened ones want to destroy the Lutheran faith. But as the old man devil reads the Scriptures in a perverse manner, so can he also read Luther perversely. If Luther speaks against the Catholics, then the sorrowless apply it to these awakened ones and say, "Thus Luther preaches." But if such a place comes which completely overturns the faith of the sorrowless and portrays their life such as it is, then they say: "That does not fit, we do not want to be in the Lutheran faith." They who, in this way, want to protect their old dead faith with Luther, they no doubt come in sheep's clothing or in the guise of an old Christian and with Luther's words want to protect those places of old adam which otherwise would become sore if there would not be the protection of Luther. They are, no doubt, one part of those false prophets of whom the Saviour says: "...they come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ravening wolves." And why do they come in sheep's clothing, or in the guise of an old Christian, to defend the old Lutheran faith which they imagine that these awakened ones are changing? Yes, because they have one sore spot in the heart, which they want to heal with the Lutheran faith. It is one wretched little old adam who from Luther's seed, receives spirit and through the Lutheran faith comes to life, namely a secret spiritual hatred for the Christians, which makes such honorable Lutheran believers curse the Christians and avoid the Christians meetings, so that that place of old adam which is very sensitive would not sometime be pricked. But what does this avoiding help? If they are Christians, no doubt they have courage to come into the light and to reveal their heart, which is decaying. The dog of hades gnaws their conscience and the seeds of the serpent eat at the bottom of the heart. Because of this, such Lutheran believers avoid the Christian's meetings and live as other grace thieves in the darkness. They do not want to come into the light for their deeds are evil.
Second Consideration: What is the good tree which bears good fruit? Although good trees are not found in many places, it is, nevertheless, our hope that such trees can be found which bring forth good fruit. But how are they recognized? The Saviour says that by the fruit the tree is known, and the fruit is known best by the taste. If the tree's fruit tastes sweet in the mouth then it is a good tree. But if it is bitter, then the tree is rotten. Without a doubt the Saviour speaks in this gospel of the fruit of living faith, which does not stand only in movements and high feelings of grace, but also in watchfulness, in confessing the truth, and in a Christian life. If a Christian, who has once received the assurance of God's grace and the forgiveness of sins, is sometimes serious and sorrowful and sometimes light-minded, then we can doubt of his Christianity, because he is not truly watchful over his heart and his thoughts. If he sometimes has a burning love and sometimes has love for the world, then we can doubt of his Christianity. If he sometimes is in burning love and takes the Christians around the neck, and sometimes again is so fastened to the world that he does not have the means to help the needy, then we can say that such a person does not have the right fruits of faith. What does it help you if today you are a Christian and tomorrow a heathen? If you are today in burning love and tomorrow fastened to the world? I think that the right fruits of faith should not be white today and black tomorrow, but the right fruits of faith must be as the Saviour has brought forth in the fourth chapter of Mark, 28th verse: "For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." This full corn in the ear is not changeable, is not white today and black tomorrow, but it is one kind. And when this fruit has ripened and grown to its fullness then it no longer becomes greater or lesser. I believe that the Saviour, in this place, portrays such a fruit of faith which reveals itself in such a love which sacrifices itself not only for the Christians, but also for the sorrowless. For Christ has sacrificed himself not only for believing ones but also for sinners. That that the Christians want to take each other around the neck, is surely of itself a sign of burning love, but in there is also self-love which owns pleasure for itself from this. But if they must hastily depart and go to the heathens and sacrifice the strength of soul and body for the edification of the heathens, there self-love wants to oppose, the Son of God left the blessedness he had with the Father in eternity and came into this thankless world, where sinners tormented and tortured him, and this was the love which sacrificed itself for sinners. This self-forgetting love now appears to be still distant! If the Christians should leave their blessed fellowship with the other Christians and go far away to heathen lands, where no Christian would speak to them anymore, they would not be able to even hear news of other Christians, then would they be sad, especially in such a place where no one would hold them to be Christians, but false prophets and wild spirits. Just there that love would be tried which sacrifices himself and gives himself for sinners and suffers want for the sake of those who hate him. This kind of love the Son of God has shown to you. He has given up the blessed fellowship with God and the holy angels. He has come unto thieves and murderers. He has sacrificed himself for those who hated and persecuted him. And such love He demands of the Christians, which sacrifices itself for the heathens. But this self-sacrificing love is not yet found in many places.
Now the trees have been observed in the orchard. There is the green tree and the dry tree, there is the fruitful tree and the unfruitful tree, there is the good tree and the rotten tree, there is the blessed tree and the cursed tree, there is the high tree and the low tree, there is the fig tree and the grapevine. And in this consideration is also heard a crying voice which says: "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." Are there now such fruit in the Lord's vineyard, which are suitable to eat when guests come from heaven? We think that there should be found some red grapes which will be acceptable to the Lord. But the Lord probably will not find many such fruitful trees, in which there is sweet and ripe fruit although the Lord, with reason, can ask: "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore brought it forth wild grapes?" Surely the Lord has labored much in this vineyard. He has dug ditches. "And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes." (Isaiah 5:2.) In this vineyard are still found such trees from which the Lord has sought fruit for three years and found none. Here are also found such trees which are surely green, they have leaves and flowers but no fruit. Here also are found rotten trees in which are only bitter and sour berries, which the Lord or the Master of the vineyard cannot take into His mouth. But the old man devil likes them very much, he eats those bitter berries so that the teeth chatter. There are yet in this vineyard also some cursed trees which the Lord has had to curse when he came seeking fruit from them but found none. And, who knows, upon how many trees he now will find the right fruit, when he comes hungering and thirsting to seek such berries which will quench the hunger and thirst? And what shall the Dresser of the vineyard now put on the table when guests come from heaven? He cannot put horse berries as food for these guests, but he seeks for figs and red grapes, and these he puts on the table when guests come from heaven. But there are not many which have ripened, for some branches of the vine have not become fruitful. The frost has killed some berries. From some the leaves and flowers have already dropped off, and these trees will probably soon become dry. But those few trees, which are still fruitful, stand in God's vineyard by the edge of the flowing stream. If the Lord gives more moisture from heaven and would allow his gracious Sun to shine upon those who are bringing forth fruit, then it is our hope that they will ripen for that time when the Lord needs them, when he sends his angels to cut off with a sickle the fruitful branches which have been grafted into the true and living Vine, in which there are white and red grapes which he can put on the table when guests come from heaven. Therefore ripen, you red grapes, before the frost comes, grow and ripen. Who knows, the angel of death will soon come to cut you off. Soon the guests will come from heaven, who need to taste those grapes of the vine which have grown in the north country. Grow and ripen, so that the Master of the vineyard might receive something for his trouble, which he has had to suffer when he tread the winepress alone. Amen.