Sermon - 30th June 2013
You will know them by their fruits
Scripture - Galatians 5:13-18, 22-23
[An audio version of this sermon is available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
Fruit is something most of us enjoy eating, and references to fruit fill our language: we talk about “the apple of my eye”, “sour grapes”, “the cherry on the cake”, “to go bananas”, “a plum job” etc. One definition of a fruit is the edible part of a plant, usually containing the seeds for that plant. Many of us will have planted apple cores, peach stones or similar as children to see what – if anything - would grow. Fruit is something we cultivate: we give the plant nourishment, light and water. Sometimes, we yield a bumper crop, and in other years, we get nothing.
Today’s reading is from St Paul’s letter to the young church in Galatia, in the middle of what is modern day Turkey. The letter is said to have been written around 20 years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection. The context of the letter is that those in the Galatian churches had turned away from the teaching that belief in Jesus is all that is required for Salvation, and they were being led down the path of following certain Jewish traditions, and that adherence to the Law as set down by Moses was necessary.
The ideas contained within the Letter to the Galatians were also central in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, in that humankind is saved through faith alone, and not by works or through the Law.
Today’s reading can be divided into three sections. Firstly in verses 13 to 16, we have the instructions to the farmer in how to grow the spiritual fruit. Then, in verses 17 and 18, we have an explanation as to what can happen while the fruit grows; and finally, in verses 22 to 23, we learn how to recognise Godly fruit in ourselves and in each other.
Looking more closely at the first verse from our reading, verse 13, ”As for you, my friends, you were called to be free. But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your desires control you.” St Paul here is reminding us of how Jesus sets us free from our past. The problem with freedoms is that very often they are abused… the teenager who is allowed to stay out until 10pm, but arrives home at 11; the driver who always drives 5 to 10 mph over the speed limit.
When I was at university over 20 years ago, there was a man called John who lived in the same hall of residence as I. John was very much a pleasure-seeker and sincerely held the view that he could do anything he wanted and it didn’t matter, because he always went to Confession every Saturday. To me that sounded like he was cheapening Grace. The Greek word used for “desires” here is ‘sarx’ and refers to a person’s sinful, corrupt nature, in other words, the darker, unpleasant side which is in all of us.
In verse 14, St Paul points us in the right direction. In our farming metaphor, he is planting us in good, nutritious, well-watered and well-lit soil. For the Galatian Christians, St Paul’s central message was that all they need do is to believe in Jesus, and the list of Jewish Laws and Rules which they need not follow can be summed up in one commandment: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Indeed, this very commandment can be found in every major world religion:
- “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Buddhist)
- “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them.” (Prophet Mohammed, Islam)
- “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self.” (Hinduism)
- “Love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Judaism)
- “I am a stranger to no one, and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.” (Sikhism)
Moving on in our reading now to Verse 17: ”For what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants.” Time and time again in our lives, we find ourselves at crossroads. Sometimes, the decision is easy; at other times, we are wrenched apart in anguish not knowing which way to turn.
I am sure we’ve all seen pictures and scenes in films like this one… the angel on one shoulder encouraging us to take the better path, and the demon on the other shoulder tempting us to give in to that which we know will ultimately bring us down, even if there is short-term pleasure or gain.
To continue our fruit-farming metaphor, the decisions we encounter are like the experiences for the fruit-tree: for example, if we encounter a dry-spell, wise watering will ensure our fruit-tree will continue to thrive. So in all that we do, and in all the decisions, we should be aiming to yield good fruit when the harvest comes and so take appropriate decisions.
Let us look at the fruit. In our farming metaphor, we know that fruit is something which bruises easily, it doesn’t stay fresh for too long – once it is ripe, it is already beginning to decay. Fruit is a food-stuff which is constantly renewed in our homes. We can preserve fruit: we can dry it (raisins, currants, sultanas); we can preserve it as jam or marmalade; we can freeze it or put it in tins, but the truth is that none of these methods restore to us the experience of eating the fruit like when it is freshly picked.
In the Christian life, St Paul tells us in verses 22 and 23 that there are 9 fruits of the Spirit, that is nine ways in which God’s outworking of the Holy Spirit can be seen in us. We cannot preserve these spiritual fruits to a time when we might need them; instead, we are to yield a daily crop of each of these. Jesus said in St Matthew’s Gospel (7:16), “You will recognise them by their fruit.” When people look at us, what fruit do they see?
- Love – “to love” is a transitive verb: it requires an object for our affections. Whom do we love? We can love in many different ways.
- Joy – How joyful are we? Do we demonstrate the joy that as Christians, we are forgiven our wrong-doing, our sins?
- Peace – As Christians, we have been reconciled to God, our Creator. The disquiet inside of us is calmed in the assurance that God will ultimately take us home. We have peace when the spiritual longing within us is satisfied.
- Patience, or in some translations of the Bible this is “long suffering” – Patience is about being open, not expecting events or others to run to our timetable. In waiting for answers, it’s about being open to both yes and no, and also accepting that in God there is mystery.
- Kindness or gentleness – this comes down to the Golden Rule in do we treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.
- Goodness – this is essentially our predisposition to do the right thing, even in the face of circumstance.
- Faithfulness – to God first, then to ourselves, to our family, friends or partner. Can others depend on us? The male disciples fled or denied Jesus upon His arrest – where do we stand when the time comes to speak up for our Faith?
- Humility – looking back at the sermon I preached last month, humility is very much about accepting our place in the Created Order. God is above and beyond us. Each year in Lent, as ashes are marked on our foreheads, we recall that we are but dust and unto dust we shall return.
- Self-Control – accepting that we are responsible for our own actions and thoughts. Fruit is good for us, but eating too much would upset our stomachs, and the same could be said of anything we do. Doing things in moderation is perhaps the best advice to being self-controlled.
Having examined fruit in the life of us as individuals, let us finish by looking at fruit in the corporate context of the church. After our service today, in our congregational meeting, we will be reflecting on our church’s future path. Personally, I have found it helpful to consider the fruit and the health of the fruit in the various options set before us. May God grant us the wisdom to determine the most fruitful path.