I read recently about an elderly Anglican woman whose hairdresser told her that religion was irrelevant, and that “there is no evidence for God”. The woman was upset at what her hairdresser had said. But she was particularly frustrated that she hadn’t known how to respond – she’d ended up saying nothing. She’d been unable to “give a reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15).
The woman was a lifelong faithful member of her church. But she was concerned that on this occasion, she hadn’t been fruitful. She knew that it wasn’t enough to be faithful – that God’s people are called to be faithful and fruitful.
If a Christian or a Christian community is not being fruitful, then there must be a reason – or a story – that explains why not. In Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed, only some of the seed produced fruit. But the parable tells the story of why the other seed didn’t produce fruit. In the same way, if we aren’t being fruitful, then we need to tell the story of why not.
What we must not do is rationalise, or explain away, or ignore, the story of why we weren’t fruitful.
Jesus’ parable explains what went wrong – the birds ate the seed, the ground was too hard, the weeds grew too quickly. And all those reasons are fixable. But if we never tell the stories of what went wrong, then we will never fix the problems.
The elderly Anglican woman was telling the story of what went wrong – of why she wasn’t fruitful. But at least she knew what went wrong, and now she can get some advice or support from other people at her church, so that next time she’ll be more fruitful. As she does that, she’ll be growing in her faith, and she’ll be fruitful as well as faithful. And if we follow her example, we’ll be fruitful, as well as faithful.