Galatians 5:1,13-16, 22-23, 25; John 15:1-8
It is summer! What a perfect time to talk about fruit. Having grown up on a fruit farm, earning my education by working in the fruit – from planting to hoeing to packing to pruning to picking to canning, freezing and pickling. I did it all! I must tell you honestly, though, that my favorite part was eating! Fruit is not a regular item on every dinner table, but just ask my children – it was on ours! Fresh, frozen, canned – there was always fruit on our dinner table! I had a meeting in Newberg about a month ago, so I took the opportunity to drive around and see what had changed since I moved from there 12 years ago. You know what I found I missed the most? The fruit stand! I went there every week to get wonderful local fruits and vegetables for our table.
Now my bedroom window looks out over my neighbor’s garden. They have a large yard and the man of the house seems to love to garden. He is a good farmer, moving his planting plots to different parts of the yard every year or two. He understands crop rotation. This year the corn tassels add a couple of feet to the height of the fence dividing our yards. He likes big plants – corn and sunflowers are always there.
Every morning I look out and am amazed at how fast things grow! I put a few tomato plants in my raised bed and pretty soon they are draping over the fence into my other neighbor’s yard. I hope they like tomatoes! Such abundance. And in only one season!
But something I notice – I don’t have to plead with my tomato plants to produce tomatoes. They never try to sneak in an eggplant or a zucchini. Just give the plants a little water, and they take care of their fruit. Each plant produces its own kind of fruit, and they don’t have to think about it at all. They are just doing what comes naturally.
Jesus talks about us, his followers, as his branches which bear fruit. It is a simple farming metaphor – stay connected to the vine, and the fruit will come. You don’t have to work at it, sweat and toil. It will happen. It is the way plants work. Connected to the vine, the most natural thing in the world we can do is to bear fruit. It is what we are made for.
So what does it take to stay connected, you ask? Just breathe. Yup! Breathe in and out. As you recognize that it is the Holy Spirit oxygenating your body and brain, you are staying connected.
Reading is also good. We have a Bible in every home – most have more than one. Simple. Pick it up and read it. Like St. Augustine’s conversion: He was sitting in his garden one day when outside the garden wall he heard the voice of a child singing a song, the words of which were, “Pick it up and read it. Pick it up and read it.” He thought at first that the song was related to some kind of children’s game, but could not remember ever having heard such a song before. Then he wondered if this might be the Spirit speaking, a command from God to open and read the Scriptures. So he located a Bible, picked it up, opened it and began to read. His life was changed forever by simply letting a child’s song give him instruction.
And to stay connected, do not forget to gather with other followers of the Way of Jesus. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” How do we encourage each other to stay connected to the vine, to produce fruit? By being together. Engaging with a church community is not just tradition, it is life-shaping. I keeps us connected, which is some of the most important work we can do in order to let our lives naturally bear fruit.
What kind of fruit are we designed to produce? Good question! Paul, in his letter to the Galatians describes the kind of fruit we bear: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. None of these are shocking, surprising, or even outside the human realm of understanding. You might say these fruits are “ordinary.”
I was inspired by Joanne Nave’s memorial service on Friday. Each of her children got up and talked about what their mother was like. The grandchildren, too. Each story confirmed what I knew about her – times ten! Here was a woman known for her joy and her love. Let’s look at the fruit of the Spirit checklist – numbers one and two – joy and love! I did not know Joanne as well as some of you, but I will always think of her with a big glowing smile on her face. That woman could smile! Oh my! And that smile made the world a better place. It was a miracle.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry tells about the miracle of a smile in his book, Letter to a Hostage. In these paragraphs the hostage speaks of his attempt to communicate with his captors.
In order to load myself with the weight of real presence, I felt a strange need to cry out something about myself, which would impose upon them the truth of my existence…. Then the miracle happened. Oh! a very discreet miracle. I had no cigarette. As one of my guards was smoking, I asked him, by gesture, showing the vestige of a smile, if he would give me one. The man first stretched himself, slowly passed his hand across his brow, raised his eyes…to my face, and, to my great astonishment, he also attempted a smile. It was like the dawning of the day…. This miracle altered nothing visible. The feeble oil lamp, the table scattered with papers, the men propped against the wall, the colors, the smell, everything remained unchanged. Yet everything was transformed in its very substance. That smile saved me…. Nothing had changed, everything was changed. The table scattered with papers became alive. The oil lamp became alive. The walls were alive. The boredom dripping from every lifeless thing in that cellar grew lighter as if by magic. It seemed that an invisible stream of blood had started flowing again, connecting all things in the same body, and restoring to them their significance…. I had an extraordinary feeling of presence. That is it: of presence. And I was aware of a connection… Nothing had yet been said. Yet everything was resolved…. Care granted to the sick, welcome offered to the banished, forgiveness itself are worth nothing without a smile enlightening the deed….
Sometimes all it takes is a smile to bear the fruit of the Spirit. It is no small thing! Filled with the Spirit, we bear the fruit of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control. This kind of character is newly possible, no matter what the cynics, doomsday predictors and fear mongers have to say. This is the character of the kingdom of God, and as Jesus said, it is among us! The kingdom is here! This kind of life is our new normal as followers of the Way.
This is the season of Pentecost, a time when we explore the Holy Spirit. So often we think about gifts, miracles, power, fire. We think of the Spirit as something ephemeral, mysterious, beyond understanding. I grew up as the new charismatic movement was racing through the church. Dangerous. That’s what we pronounced. All the Christian expressions which included emotional or miraculous displays, were thought of as suspect, dangerous, and to be avoided. Sadly, such pronouncements led to divisions in our community.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about the Holy Spirit is that it is not subject to science or training or human control. The key tool needed to produce the fruit of the Spirit is humility – letting go of having all the answers – and just letting love flow.
I believe that God still works miracles, and moves in mysterious ways, as has always been true. And yet, there is a more natural way to understand these miracles. Just as God took on body in Jesus, so the Holy Spirit takes on body in us. The Spirit pulses through us like that “invisible stream of blood” Saint-Exupéry described.
As I looked out my window this week and saw the garden lushing out I realized that this Spirit stuff does not have to be so much work, so mysterious. Because God also moves in the most ordinary of ways through us. Like a pumpkin vine bears pumpkins, so we who share Jesus’ Spirit, bear fruit of the Spirit. It is really not so complicated.
From whence flows character? Steven Covey in his business leadership classes teaches that leaders who are trusted have character. But where does character come from, you ask? Covey doesn’t answer that. But Paul does in his letter to Galatians – it comes from the Holy Spirit. That list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – I doubt you can find a better description of good “character” anywhere. And this is what flows through us as we keep ourselves connected to the vine, planted by streams of water. The author of Hebrews exhorts: “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews12:1-2).
So let’s not make living in the Spirit too complicated. As we look to Jesus and breathe the wind of the Spirit, read the Scripture and gather with those who also follow Jesus, we stay connected to the vine. The fruit of the Spirit will flow through us as naturally as a grape vine produces grapes. And a smile might be all it takes to let the Spirit’s healing light flow through us to exactly where it is needed. That is something you can take home and practice! Try it now. Give us a good Joanne Nave smile!
See, the world is changed!