13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Today, Pentecost, is considered to be the birthday of the Christian Church. After Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension, his disciples—the twelve and all the rest who followed him—were in limbo. They could not go back to their former lives—their lives had been forever changed by Jesus. As Jesus had ascended into heaven, two angels had appeared and instructed the discioples to wait for Jesus to return. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
So, they stayed together, waiting for Jesus. Imagine the anticipation, the hope that bound them together, waiting for Jesus. But ten days later, the return of Jesus was in a very different form. God appeared again, but not in the form of God’s son. This time, God appeared in the form of the Holy Spirit. That changed everything.
If I had been one of the disciples, I would have expected Jesus to return in person, and I would have expected that we would all get back to listening to Jesus preach and teach. Back to what was familiar. Back to what we had enjoyed and valued so much—the physical presence of Jesus. That’s what I would have expected.
In fact, the return of Jesus was not a return to the good ol’ days. Instead, the return of God in the form of the Holy Spirit turned the world of the disciples upside down. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, they became the preachers and teachers. They became the leaders. The Holy Spirit blew through that room, lifted them beyond their own limitations and carried them out into the world. And here we are, still being blown by that same Holy Spirit.
Where has the Holy Spirit blown you? What flames have appeared on your head that changed your life? How have you been transformed and inspired to leave the safety of your surroundings to be a disciple, a leader who leads others to Jesus?
Pentecost is a good time for us to consider what the Holy Spirit calls us to do. I have been fortunate enough to be called to serve as your pastor. I cannot emphasize enough how marvelous this calling is. But we cannot all be pastors. How does the Holy Spirit push you out into the world? How has the Holy Spirit empowered you?
Today’s text tells us what we have to enable us to be witness to the world.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.
This is a nice list, isn’t it. And how often we give ourselves credit for loving, for being patient, for being kind or generous. How often we pride ourselves on our self-control. But Paul lists them after he lists their opposites, which, when faced with adversity or contradiction, we often revert to:
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
Fornication—that is sexual sins
disregard for the law
love of money, love of power
trusting in good luck or our own judgement
holding on to feelings of hate or jealousy
holding on to grudges and quarrels and biases
wanting more than we need
partying to escape
Paul holds up the fruits as the opposite of these tendencies, these temptations. Because of our sinful nature, because it is often so much easier to sin than to resist, accepting the fruits of the Spirit takes effort.
To seek love over desire takes effort.
To seek the deepness of joy over whatever amuses us takes effort.
To seek peace over convenience takes effort.
To offer kindness instead of judgement takes effort.
To offer generosity over jealousy takes effort.
To remain faithful takes continuous practice and attention.
To be gentle requires seeing each person as a child of God.
To have self-control—to think about the consequences of our actions—takes effort.
Wouldn’t it be nice to automatically feel love for each Child of God?
Wouldn’t it be nice to automatically experience deep joy, the contentment that comes from recognizing God’s gifts to us?
Would’t it be nice to feel peace instead of anxiety every time we are challenged with change?
But we are not robots. We have feelings and emotions. We are able to, we are wired to make decisions. The fruit of the Holy Spirit are the tools we have to be the people God created. God loves us. God finds joy in us. God brings peace. God is kind and generous and gentle. Why else would God send the Son he loved as much as any parent loves a child to save us—each of us a mere blip in the population of humanity. God makes manifest in us those fruit, if we are willing to use them.
My father chose, in the last years of his life, to focus on one fruit each year. He practiced, in consecutive years, love, generosity, patience. He was at a time in his life when he could devote himself more intentionally to his faith and to Scripture. The last year of his life was marked by patience and he taught us how to be patient, too.
I have always admired that practice of his. There are many ways for us to practice our faith. Some choose to read the Bible straight through from beginning to end. Some choose to worship at church every Sunday. Some choose to pray before every meal. Some choose to witness to their friends and neighbors. I would like us, as a congregation to choose a focus for a period of time. I thought about each of us choosing our own fruit, but I think the power of the Holy Spirit would be more evident if we share the same goal, the same fruit, the same practice. For seven years—or even seven weeks—we could put our energy into love or joy or patience, as a group. This will take some planning on my part and some engagement on your part.
We are not helpless; we have the strength of the Holy Spirit to carry us forward. We don’t have to invent love or joy or patience. God has provided these fruits, these tools, these realities to us.
On this day a couple thousand years ago, God appeared in a form that has carried the church forward and has made the love of God the strongest force in the world. We see much evidence of sin in the world and we sometimes wonder why God doesn’t step in and abolish sin. God has defeated sin in its most ugly and terrifying manifestation. God has defeated death. In the meantime, we, individually and together, defeat sin one person, one thought, one word, one act at a time, when we share the love of God with those who are missing God’s love. Sometimes it is we ourselves, the people in the pews, who lose sight of God. That is why God gives us community—to always be strengthening each other.
In this space, we know that we can find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and, yes, even self-control. Let us each be carried away by the power of the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in the world, ugly and frightening as it may be. May we be the ones to bring beauty to the earth. Amen.