Fruits of the Spirit
Sermon for St. Dunstan's October 28, 2018
by Sue Carroll
Collect: O God, you have given us gifts of faith, hope and charity. Help us to use those gifts as you intended: to love all your world. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Galatians 5: 13-14; 22.
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.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. …. [T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
John 15: 1-8
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
In this reading from the Gospel According to John, Jesus says he is the vine, and we are the branches. If we stay connected to him we will bear much fruit. In the letter to the Galations, we learn that this “fruit” is of course, not literal. [Does anyone remember the children's sermon a couple of years ago when Jeff tried to talk to the kids about the fruits of the spirit and they couldn't get past the literal bananas? It was a disaster! ...and one of the reasons I don't do children's sermons!] Anyway, in the letter to the Galatians we are taught that “fruit” means loving our neighbors as ourselves. “fruit” means love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
Now I do love me a good metaphor, The thing is, once you give me a metaphor, I have trouble letting go. So my question is If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and the fruit is love joy peace... What is the church?
I have a theory. Does anybody know what this is? [picture of tomato cage] My theory is that the church is a tomato cage. Work with me What does a tomato cage do? It lifts up the plant, gives it a structure to lean on to climb on It gives air and space to the blossoms It keeps the fruit up off the ground, so it can fully develop. Have you ever seen tomato plants without stakes or tomato cages? The plants will still grow, and you'll still get tomatos, but it can be a mess. The vines get all tangled, and fallen over the fruit can rot on the ground. But look at that! With a tomato cage, it is so much more... fruitful. Isn't that pretty?
There can be all kinds of tomato cages. I did some reading about tomato cages. Apparently, people have strong feelings about which kind is best. Some get really excited about THEIR kind of tomato cage. Which I think confirms that it's a good metaphor for the church.
However, it's a mistake to get too caught up in the tomato cage itself. The point is the fruit (of the spirit) The cage is a helpful structure, but not the goal in itself It is possible to pay too much attention to the tomato cage. If you were to build a totally jewel-encrusted tomato cage it would block the light and not yield as healthy fruit it could even become so heavy it could keel over, and kill the plant altogether. So, to me, the measure of success in a tomato cage is the fruit yielded by the plant that it supports. A good, sturdy, serviceable tomato cage will support a vine that yields good fruit. And I think that's what we have here at St. Dunstan's. What is the “fruit” here? We told each other a lot of stories during our recent Parish Self-Assessment round-table discussions And also at an exercise the Vestry did earlier this year A lot of these were stories about fruit.
The first fruit listed in the letter to the Galatians is Love. Many people, in talking about successful ministries here first thing they thought of was sandwich-making. What a great act of love this is! We are literally feeding hundreds of hungry people every month And it is more than just the sandwiches themselves.
How meaningful it is, you said, to see children working side-by-side with the grownups all of us in really ugly hairnets working to make a difference, together. This is what Christian formation is all about we are setting an example demonstrating to these children what love looks like and helping them form their perception of the world in such a way that they can take it with them through their whole lives.
Another thing that was mentioned in several of our round-table discussions was the small groups we have here. A way to get to know each other better, One man said that the men's group had brought him to what he called a new level of vulnerability & engagement a “connectedness” to God's community.
I believe everything that has come out of our Social Justice small group has been love put in action. The forum where fair wages were discussed & successfully negotiated Other meetings where we heard about the plights of refugees and then we took the steps to help furnishing apartments teaching English language skills, Practicing love.
Also, experiencing the love of God happens here. One person spoke about the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday how poignant that was. Or the washing of each others' feet. There were more than one stories about how singing together lifting our voices in songs of praise or hearing our choir sing in their wonderful harmonies can bring a sense of connection to God's love Then we have joy. And oh my goodness, do we have joy.
We have our Christmas pageant, the Oktoberfest, the Easter Egg Hunt We have a disco ball, for crying out loud And we invite the whole neighborhood. “Friend-raising” Peace? Oh yes. Our “passing of the peace” at every service is like a square dance with no caller all the do-see-dos, hands outstretched, high-fives with certain young people I probably could have listed this with “joy”
In a more serious vein, we've had speakers here from the Islamic community to educate us and help us understand some of the tensions around and within that faith tradition. And in the Christian Formation for Adults session next Tuesday evening the discussion will be on the “Moral Teachings of Jesus” regarding whether violence is ever acceptable.
I had to look this one up. Biblically, it originally meant to withhold judgement, cut somebody some slack, allow them time to repent, and right themselves. I think Mimi Betz showed great forbearance for Bob when he got that big snake tattoo drawn on his face at the Oktoberfest. But another definition of forbearance is showing fortitude, determination, Fred Smoak's bicycling across country to support the Fuller Center is a great example of that. We have another kind of forbearance, and that is the ability to sustain relationships even when we disagree.
For instance, remember when a few months ago we had the discussion about whether to continue with one combined service or resume our former practice of having two services? We clearly have people here with different opinions, some who want a very traditional, more formal service and others who want something more contemporary in language and style and less formal. But you all have shown great forbearance of each other and you continue to worship together That is some good fruit.
There are so many ways the people of St. Dunstan's demonstrate kindness. We give backpacks and school supplies so that children will be fully equipped for school We give Thanksgiving Baskets, and blankets for orphan pets We take “Ashes to Go” to the Bethesda Metro station, so that people who could not otherwise partake of this tradition have an opportunity for a holy moment in the middle of their commute.
One of the parents – actually, more than one – have talked about the community at St. Dunstan's helping so much in the formation of their children as good Christians. It is a job for more than just Mom and Dad because after a point, kids will if not turn away from Mom and Dad at least start looking past them.
Involvement in service projects, mission experiences, the discussion groups that Sue von leads for young people and just being an extended faithful family helps to shape future good grownups. It is good. And it is creating goodness for the future.
St. Dunstan's is rich ground for growing faithfulness. We worship together, we take the Eucharist together. We have some beautiful, special services at Holy Week and Christmas We listen to sermons that are based in Scripture and also address issues in our everyday lives. We are faithful.
At one of the round-table discussions I was both happy and sad to hear one Mom talk about how grateful she is that St. Dunstan's is a safe place for children. Sad, because it is heartbreaking to think that there are churches where children are not safe. But I'm really happy, that at St. Dunstan's Jeff and Sue von have gone out of their way to find and practice methods for making children and families feel comfortable and welcome and safe physically and emotionally.
This was a hard one. How have we shown self-control? Well, the best I could come up with is we have left over cookies. But then I also thought: we have no debt at St. Dunstan's and we have a healthy endowment. We live within our means and that is a sign of self-control. We have so much to be grateful for, here at St. Dunstan's. There is so much fruit yielded by this place. And we can be proud of maintaining a healthy tomato cage.
We can't take credit for the vine, itself. We are part of it We are connected to it. But the source of life within the vine the source of life within us is God. Every breath we take is a gift from God. Every bit of fruit we have to offer is only because of God.
When I went to seminary, I had left my full-time job working in the fundraising department at the American Red Cross. And for one of my classes, I did an analysis of the difference between raising money for a nonprofit human-service organization and raising money for the church. A lot of the steps were the same. You make a clear case explaining what the need is and how the money will be used to fill that need. You ask your current donors to give again, and maybe give a little more You look for people with similar interests, and try to get them to become new donors.
But there was one big difference. In the secular fund-raising world, if people don't give you drop them. If they are not interested in you, you are not interested in them. That is not true in the church, or it shouldn't be If people aren't giving anything, financially to their church something is broken. Now, it may be that they can't afford enough food for their children and of course that explains it but the priest doesn't drop them, or loose interest in them far from it!
If someone of considerable means isn't giving that is an indicator that something in their faith life is awry. Maybe they are disenchanted with the church. Maybe they are disenchanted with God. The priest needs to know that, too, and try to heal what has become broken. Or maybe they do not recognize that that everything we have is from God the air in our lungs the blood in our veins
The leaf on a tomato plant does not keep the energy from the sunlight that it collects on its surface just for itself. It shares it back with the whole plant, which puts it into the fruit. The leaf on a tomato plant does not suck up all the nourishment sent from the roots of the plant into its own tiny veins That nourishment is sent on into the fruit. The leaf on a tomato plant is part of a larger whole with a larger purpose.
We here are part of a larger whole. Part of the vine. We have a sturdy, even beautiful tomato cage that has the potential to help yield wonderful fruit. May we all give back may we all tend the garden and tend the tomato cage and tend the plant. So that there may be fruit.