Rev. Valerie's Reveries

This blog contains personal reflections from Unitarian Universalist minister Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

Monday, January 23, 2012

By their fruits you will know them

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. [Matthew 7:15-17]

Living Faith

It’s 2012 and the Mayans say we are all going to die! These are the last and final days for democracy as European countries fall into fiscal chasms. The US is being overrun by illegal terrorist kidnapping drug dealing atheists! Run for the hills! Protect the children and widows! Aaaargh!

Perhaps it is stirred by the silly season of the presidential primaries but don’t you see and hear false prophesy, false confession of faith, ugly condemnations of the “other”, well—everywhere-- these days?

I’ve lived through several decades now and notice that each era does seem to call us forth to make choices, to clarify our basic commitments and beliefs in light of present circumstances. Always there are professions of faith by politicians and televangelists aiming to guide the masses to a better time, a better world, a better credit rating?

Remember 1999 when we were told of potential disasters when the clocks flipped and the computers would not be ready? Some very serious people went stark raving nuts with worry, but many more charlatans and opportunists jumped into the gap to fill in the blanks for vulnerable souls. As a pastor in a small congregation near Chicago, I received a slick mailer exhorting me to bring my flock to a nearby mega-church for an important night of prophecy and preparation. Intrigued and delighted by the potential show, I convinced one parishioner to go with me. The stories I could tell of that night! I could regale you for 10,000 words. The hubris of the “prophets,” the avaricious passing of plastic buckets for the offering, the calls to kill our own parents if they refuse to believe the end times were near, the sale of long guns and pistols in the kiosk on the concourse, the gold bouillon for sale. By the end of January 2000 the mega church had changed its name and started over as though none of the insanity had transpired. Some parishioners were left wondering and wandering, as though awakened from a trance, needing a safe harbor. It was funny at first, but then so very sad.

Of all the admonishments attributed to Jesus in the book of Matthew, his call to beware of false prophets seems the most valuable today. Thousands of false prophets entice us into giving up family fortunes, beckon us into the deadly sweat lodge of their greed, pull at our heart strings to give more and more and more so that we will be rich, rich, rich! Pray for a RED Mercedes. Be specific in your prayers and they will be answered. Vote for me and I’ll set you free!

But what are the fruits of these sheepish wolves? They ask us to turn on our brothers and sisters, they tell us not to be chumps, don’t think about the common good, just get YOUR share of the pie and offer nothing but pity to anyone who has been left behind in the brutal scramble for acquisition of more stuff. What are the fruits of such an attitude? Empty “zen” homes of enormous coldness, lack of trust in others, plenty of toys, but no purpose. No connection to a larger world of beauty—and suffering—where our labors are needed.

A friend showed me a gift she was given: two small pendants meant to be worn together. One is brass melted, pounded and shaped into a little leaf with the word LIFE stamped on it. The other is the bottom of a bullet, left as it was found in the killing fields of Liberia. The leaf is also made from a bullet casing. Lovetta Conto, the young woman who designed this jewelry was helped to build a life outside of a refugee camp by a person who decided to create every opportunity she could for as many children as she could. The proceeds from the sales help the Strongheart Fellowship to help other children of war to rebuild their lives.

No one needs to ask Lovetta-- or Cori Stern who co-founded Strongheart-- about personal faith. By the fruits of their labors in the field of creating goodness and happiness from the worst circumstances imaginable you would know them….

Which brings me to the rest of that verse in Matthew:
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

I am not so sure that goodness cannot come from a bad start. We can re-shape and re-build. We can structure our faith in happiness and we can cultivate a living faith full of wonder and beautiful fruits. We can remake the world by turning away from feel-good charlatans and toward the prophecy of hope born from the hard work of living faith.