The first part of our second lesson sounds like a summary of the nightly news or a typical day on Capitol Hill: “Lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, hostility, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy.” [Inclusive Bible]
Yep, that pretty much sums it up. It sums up the general tone of dialogue and debate. It sums up the not-so hidden motives of power-hungry politicians and corrupt corporate culture. It sums up the message of those who troll the internet and comment on public social media sites. It even sums up the words and actions of some who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus.
I don’t know how all of this makes you feel, but it makes me weary. It zaps me of my creativity and vitality. It makes me a less than hopeful person about the future of our nation and the environmental stability of our planet.
But I also need to confess that I’m guilty of doing some of these things myself. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. Sometimes, my sinful self gets the best of me. I have “outbursts of anger” when I hear the crazy justifications some of our leaders have for keeping immigrant children in cages, and treating them harshly. I am “envious” of those who lived in a world when global climate change was not even a small blip on their radar screen. I am guilty of contributing to the “factions” that exist in America. And confess that I have little love or patience for those who have ultra-conservative religious viewpoints.
I confess all of these things. I’m sure if you carefully went over this list, you would have something to confess, too. So, I’m not riding my high horse this morning. I’m down in the trenches with all of those who admit we are less than perfect, and desire to do better.
St. Paul says that those of us who exhibit these behaviors “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a sobering statement, indeed. It reminds me that these destructive values, are not God’s values. These characteristics are anathema to the kind of world Jesus is trying to build among us. So, what’s a poor sinner to do? What’s a hostile, argumentative, jealous, angry, fractured world to do?
Thankfully, St.Paul does not leave us hanging. He gives us a list of fruits, of qualities those who wish to be citizens of the kingdom of God, ought to possess. This is one of the most beautiful lists in all of scripture. It’s right up there with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthains 13. It’s right up there with Jesus’ dual commands to love God, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. If we wish to be citizens of the kingdom that Jesus is building, these are the CliffsNotes we need to study.
First of all, if we’re going to contribute to the healing of the world instead of it’s destruction, LOVE is at the top of the list. But this kind of LOVE is not mushy or sentimental. It is not camouflage for lustful intentions. This kind of LOVE is described in 1 Corinthians 13 as “patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist its own way. (Yeah, that’s in the Bible!) It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.” This kind of love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It never ends!”
Well, sign me up for that. I want to embody this kind of love. I believe Jesus wants us to embody this kind of love as a citizen of his kingdom. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work to rise to these lofty expectations. But I’m willing to give it a try.
Next on the list is JOY which begs us to answer the question: “When was the last time you truly felt JOY in your life?” Some of us might find it hard to recall a time when we felt pure joy. And this is a sad state of affairs. JOY is an essential part of life. If we have no joy, it’s easy to slip into all the awful behaviors I read to you at the beginning of the sermon.
Psalm 30 reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.” In other words, sorrow should not last forever, Just in case we think this notion is an isolated incident in Scripture, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” [Ecc 3:4]
JOY is a quality we should possess as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. But this does NOT mean we need to be “Disney happy” all the time. In fact, that kind of happy is nauseating.
We have JOY in our lives because Jesus calls us to move from death to new life, from weeping and mourning, to laughing and dancing. Even when the world around us causes us to be anxious and afraid, we still have JOY because God walks with us. We still have JOY because there is always something in our lives that is going right, that is a blessing to us and to others. When we focus on this blessing, instead of all the negativity, we will be people of joy, in spite of the horrors which surround us.
Third on the list is PEACE. People pay good money to have PEACE in their lives. They take classes on meditation, yoga, and how to live a healthier lifestyle. They go on retreats in nature, to escape the stresses of day to day living.
PEACE is a precious commodity that, to be honest, is hard to obtain if you’re poor, if you’re trangendered, if you’re hungry and homeless. Peace is hard to obtain if you live in a place where war and violence are an every day occurrence.
Martin Luther King Jr reminds us that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Therefore there cannot be peace on earth for me, if there is not peace on earth for you, too. It is a shared experience. If we really want to get there, if we want to grow this fruit of the Spirit in our lives and in our world, the wisdom of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix comes to mind “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Preach it, Jimi!
But that”s only three fruits of the Spirit down and six to go. At this rate, we will be here for a very long time if I don’t pick up the pace. My observation about the these fruits is that love, joy and peace are the fertile soil from which the other fruits grow. If we have the first three present in our lives it’s easier to exhibit the rest.
Starting with PATIENT ENDURANCE, which the NRSV translates as simply “patience.” However, I think PATIENT ENDURANCE is closer to the truth. Patience is a lot tougher than some of us think. I scream inside when the person in front of me is driving too slow, or is ringing up 20 items in a “10 items or less line” at the grocery store. I would not consider myself to be a patient person. It is an endurance test for me because my natural instinct is to be less than patient. That being said, if I have enough love, joy and peace in my life, it makes it a lot easier to keep the screaming inside of my head instead of letting it spill out all over the place. This is the fruit I think I need to work on the most! I suspect some of you feel the same way as I do!
Then there’s KINDNESS which is something that takes little effort on our part. Yet, it’s something that in danger of becoming instinct in a world where mortal outrage is the default button when it comes to speaking with other people. Perhaps, we can set a goal of doing one kind thing for someone every day. Surely, we can pull this off.
GENEROSITY is next on the list. I believe we are generous when we are thankful for the blessings we already have in life. We are generous when we see that there are those around us who have far, far less than we do. We are generous when we are content with who we are and where we are in life.
FAITHFULNESS is a beautiful fruit of the Spirit. I don’t know if its the Ares in me or not, but I’m faithful to those who are faithful to me. It is a sacred, protective instinct. Perhaps you possess this fruit of the Spirit as well.
That being said, the good news is that God is more faithful to us, than we are to God. The aspect of FAITHFULNESS we all need to work on is when people disappoint or betray us. When they ask us for forgiveness, can we be faithful enough to them to accept it?
GENTLENESS goes hand in hand with kindness. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. If we are kind to others, we do so with gentleness. If we are gentle with others, we are being kind to them.
Then, the list comes to a screeching halt when we arrive at SELF-CONTROL. It’s not as glamorous as love, peace and joy, but we cannot grow any of these fruits in our lives if we do not possess a certain amount of self-control. Self-control keeps us from doing all the things I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. Self-control is that little voice inside our head that quietly tell us, “You know, I don’t think you should be doing that. I don’t think you should be saying that.”
Perhaps Paul got the order wrong because if we exercise self-control we are more likely to grow love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness in our lives. We are more likely to avoid some of the negative behaviors I mentioned such as hostility, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy.
My dear friends, the challenge is set before us. Paul has given us a noble list of qualities and characteristics we should try to grow in our lives. If we want our world to be a better place. If we want our nation to heal its divides, these nine fruits of the Spirit seem like a fine place to start. AMEN.
Copyright ©2019 by David Eck