Fruit Salad (Message for June 26th, 2016)

Scripture:  Galatians 5:1;13-25

            As all of the great food that shows up for a church pitch in shows, it can be hard to eat healthy.   Healthy eating is problematic for a couple of reasons.  First, chocolate is amazing.  It seems kind of unfair that God would make something so incredible but then make it unhealthy.   Second, eating healthy is expensive.  Usually, a big bag of chips or a box of Twinkies is cheaper than a small package of blueberries.  One of the bonuses of summer is that in the warmer months fruit becomes more available and cheaper.   We are in the end of strawberry season, grapes are cheaper, watermelon is coming into season, and in a couple of months it will be prime apple picking time.   There is some fruit in the world though, where the prices never go down.   There is fruit that can cost hundreds of dollars because it is so rare.  For whatever reason, Japan is the place in the world that is home to the rarest varieties of fruit.    For example, in Japan there is a breed of Watermelon that is grown on only one island.  It grows up to 24 lbs. and has a black rind.   On average a single one of these Dansuke watermelons cost $250.    That is cheap though compared to the Ruby Roman grape.  This is a crossbred type of grape available only in Japan.   This grape variety is grown on only one Japanese farm in the world, and in order for the grapes to be sold in a bunch of 25 or so grapes, they must meet some very specific requirements.  These requirements of size, sugar composition, and color are so specific that some years there are not any available to purchase.   The last sell of Ruby Roman grapes was July of 2015, where a bunch of 26 grapes sold for around $8,400 or about $324 per grape.   I like grapes, but I am not sure any grape is worth that much!    These Japanese fruits are so expensive because they are so rare.   It takes a lot of effort to grow something as specific as a Ruby Roman grape.  All of that effort, time, and rarity gives the fruit value.    This scripture for this morning is also about rare fruit.    This scripture list several varieties of spiritual fruit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.   When it comes to talking about these qualities fruit is truly a fantastic metaphor.  Like fruit, these qualities need time to grow, they require tending and care to reach fruition, and the more effort we spend taking this care the better the crop will be.    By properly considering this scripture, we can come to a better understanding of what this spiritual fruit is and how our lives can be a proverbial fruit salad of these admirable qualities.  

            In understanding the fruit of the spirit there are two somewhat paradoxical truths about their nature.  First to cultivate the fruit of the spirit requires work and effort; yet second, the fruit cannot be forced.  On a couple of occasions my wife and I have failed miserably at trying to grow tomatoes.   We really did not know what we were doing.  However, I do now know that growing tomatoes requires more than just planting them in a pot and watering occasionally.  The last time we tried that, I think we got two tomatoes out of it.   Growing something requires continual effort, and the fruit of the spirit is the same way.  Perhaps the best well known part of this morning’s scripture is the list of the fruit of the spirit found in verses 23 and 24.   However, we do the scripture a great injustice to remove that list from its greater context.   This scripture begins by talking about the freedom that a believer has.   This is a key concept in this morning’s scripture as well as a major point found throughout the bible.   The idea is that before redemption and new life was offered by Jesus everyone was either under the law or under sin.   Those who followed the Jewish laws found in the first five books of the bible, were subject to those laws and broke them at their eternal peril.   Those who did not follow those laws were fully enslaved by their own sinful behavior.   Followers of Christ though were granted freedom.   Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers are now under grace not the law.  It is the free gift of God that re-connects us with our creator in God’s sight, not our actions.  We also believe that Jesus did not just defeat death, he defeated sin, so that when we accept the forgiveness offered on the cross we are free from the life of sin that we used to live.   The chains that we were in, the hold the world had on us is broken, and we are no longer a slave to our basest desires.  We no longer beholden to things we know are wrong, evil, and fruitless.   We are free to choose what we follow in our lives.    This freedom is all about what this morning’s scripture is about.   This is what is stated in verse 13 and 14:  You, my brothers and sisters were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love.   For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “         

            We have the freedom to choose to indulge ourselves in sinful impulses, or we can make the choice to love others the way that God loves us.  The scripture refers to this as walking by the Spirit.   When we walk by the spirit we avoid the acts of the flesh.   This morning’s scripture gives a laundry list of the actions that we feel drawn to in spite of ourselves.  Often when we look at this kind of list we see something like witchcraft, and think to ourselves I can avoid that one.  We single out the one that is easy for us to avoid while being guilty of things like hatred, discord, jealously, selfish ambition, and envy.    We have to confess to ourselves, that we do not always do a good job with the freedom we are granted in Christ.   We have to confess our sins, and admit that more often than we want to we choose to back to the very same sinful actions that used to enslave us.    This scripture encourages us to choose the better way, to stay in step with the Spirit, and say no to what we know God says no to.    Like a good gardener, spends a lot of time weeding their gardens, we have to weed out our lives.   In order for fruit to blossom, we have to pull out those things that can choke it out.   I really dislike weeding, because it is so tedious.   I know that no matter how much I pull and dig those weeds out, the next time it rains they are springing right back up.   However, if weeding is neglected then eventually the garden is lost to the weeds.    It is the same way with our lives.  Unfortunately, we are not one and done with our sinful behaviors, but to resist the acts of the flesh is a lifelong activity.  It is something we have to be mindful and tend to in our lives, because they will keep popping up.  We have to put the work in to tend to our lives and purposely choose not to give into the temptations to engage in the acts of the flesh.  

            In order to provide a life grounded in faith that allows spiritual fruit to flourish, we have to make the conscious choice to love others and do the work to walk by the spirit.   However, no amount of self-help books, meditation, or positive thanking is going to make us more kind, gentler, or a true presence of peace.   We cannot willfully create the fruit of the spirit in our lives.   The best gardener in the world cannot willfully create fruit.   They can provide the best environment possible, but in the end it is the plant that creates the fruit not the gardener.   In the same way, it is the Holy Spirit that brings about spiritual fruit in the life of the believer.   When we talk about the fruit of the Spirit we are talking about more than just positive qualities, rather these are qualities that can only come from the Spirit.   So the fruit of love, is the perfect love of God, the fruit of patience is a calmness in stress that goes far beyond what we can muster on our own, and the fruit of self-control has a resolve that is nigh unshakeable.   We can cultivate our lives by faithfully following the commands and example of Jesus, but we cannot force these fruit to grow in our lives.  If we are living by the spirit and staying in step with the spirit they just naturally happen.  

            The United Methodist articles of religion are the foundation of what our branch of Christianity believes.  They come from what John Wesley wrote in 1784, and he wrote about the spiritual fruit.   Article X states, “good works, which are the fruit of faith . . .spring out of a true and lively faith insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit.”    I realize that requires some rewording from 18th century English, but the point of the statement is that the fruit of the spirit is something that naturally occurs in the life of someone who lives a true and lively faith.    In fact, the way that one can tell if someone’s faith is vibrant, growing, and rooted in truth is if that fruit of the spirit are clearly manifest and displayed in how they live their life.   The fruit of the spirit should be present in some form of the lives of all who follow Jesus.  It is not like we specialize in one and not the others.   Being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ means that that to those we interact with our lives should seem like a spiritual fruit salad made up of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.     

            Again, these attributes manifest in our lives by the actions and workings of the Holy Spirit.   Last week I was powerfully reminded just how the Holy Spirit can work in a life to bring about these fruits in incredible ways.   There was a camper there, we will call him David, who came from a fairly rough home life.  His backstory involves spending time being homeless and having relatives in jail.   On the first several days of camp, the best word to describe him was feral.  He was loud, temperamental, impulsive, and prone to violence.   At the half way point of camp this hit a breaking point when he initiated and was the aggressor in a physical altercation with another kid at the camp.  Fortunately, the youth minister that brought David was one of the counselors, and she had a very, very long talk with him.   During this time, he stated that he wanted to do better, that he wanted to be better, and he wanted to act like a Christian.   That night at camp during the evening worship, we talked about the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  We ended each night with a response, and the response that night was for the campers to write down something they wanted the Holy Spirit to empower them to do.   If the camper then wanted, they were invited to come forward and kneel so that they could be prayed over with the laying on of hands.   David, was the last camper to come forward.  His handwriting was not the best, but he had scrawled on the paper that he wanted help to be nicer and be kind to others.    We laid hands on him, and I prayed that the Holy Spirit would empower him and that the spiritual fruit of kindness would be clearly evident in his life. 

            The moment of that night during that prayer was a powerful moment where the very spirit of God was almost tangible in the room.   David got up in tears, and God answered that prayer.   The rest of the week it was like David was a completely different child.   He went from being a constant headache for his counselors to a kid who went out of his way to help.  He still had some friction with the other campers and lost his temper, but he was not unkind to them in his words like had been and he regained his composure faster.   On the last night of camp, David went around to every single camper in his cabin, including ones that he fought with at the beginning.   He prayed for and prayed with each and every one of those campers.   I am so grateful that I got to see God so assuredly answer a prayer as the fruit of the spirit manifested itself in the life of a young man last week at camp.  

            It can be a dangerous prayer, but I believe praying that the Spirit would bring about the fruits of the spirit in our lives is a powerful prayer.  It is dangerous because God will answer it, and it is powerful because a follower who is truly loving, joyful, patient, kind, faithful and self-controlled will change the world.    May you choose to stay in step with the Spirit.  May you choose to use your freedom to follow God by loving others instead of indulging in the acts of the flesh.  In doing so may your heart and soul provide the type of good soil that the Holy Spirit can take root in and may your life be a spiritual fruit salad.