A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on July 1, 2007.
Based on Galatians 5:1, 13-25 & Luke 9:51-62 (Proper 8, Year C).
I have a love/hate relationship with Fox in Socks. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a Dr. Seuss book chocked full of dastardly tongue twisters. The words and rhyming schemes are Seuss at his best and the boys love listening to me stumble through it. The problem is that it takes such concentration to read it that I’m ready for bed when I’m done. I could slow down, of course. There’s even a warning on the inside cover that says, “Take it slowly. This book is dangerous.” But it’s my own personal challenge to get through it as fast as possible without once being verbally tripped up. I always fail.
Things start out calmly enough. “Fox, socks, box, Knox. Knox in box. Fox in socks. Knox on fox in socks in box. Socks on Knox and Knox in box. Fox in socks on box on Knox.” That’s fine; I can handle that. But the section that gives me fits is this one; I never get through it unscathed. Here goes: “Luke Luck likes lakes. Luke’s duck likes lakes. Luke Luck licks lakes. Luck’s duck licks lakes. Duck takes licks in lakes Luke Luck likes. Luke Luck takes licks in lakes duck likes.” Oy. I’ll probably be tripping all over the prayers for the rest of the service.
But I bring this up this morning because Paul gives us a Biblical tongue twister of sorts in his letter to the Galatians. His list of “the works of the flesh” is a comprehensive mouthful of bad things. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious,” he writes, “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” Got it? We generally like to read this list as quickly as possible to get it over with. Then we can move on to a much more pleasant list, what Paul refers to as the “fruit of the Spirit.” This is the one to read slowly, savoring every word. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Ahhh. Those roll off the tongue rather than twist it. But, unfortunately, we can’t just skip over the first list and concentrate exclusively on the second. It doesn’t work that way; and we’d be left without the complete picture of grace. Because God forgives us of the ones on the first list even while offering us the ones on the subsequent list.
But nonetheless, we are right to dwell on the second list. They are what God so desires for us to experience in this life. This fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of our relationship with the risen Christ. And it is itself a reflection of the divine: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. This is the fruit of the Spirit because it is the very fruit of God.
While I’m not big into litmus tests, Paul offers us a remarkably clear one here. If something we do produces the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, etc – it’s probably “of God.” And if another of our actions produces strife, jealousy, anger etc., it’s probably not “of God.” This has all sorts of implications for our own lives because as we try things and test things we can constantly evaluate by looking over our actions to see whether or not they are producing fruit. If so? Great. If not, well, it’s time to change course and find something that is consistent with Christ’s gospel.
In the gospel passage from Luke we hear that Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In other words he is on his way to fulfill the divine call of the cross. As he begins his journey, he is rejected by a village in Samaria that refuses him and his disciples hospitality. James and John are indignant and ask Jesus if he’d like them to command fire to come down from heaven and consume the villagers. Jesus rebukes them. That’s just not his style and in the context of the letter to the Galatians, it certainly doesn’t meet the criteria of the fruit of the Spirit.
Now, I know you’re sitting here in church but be honest. How many of you have ever wanted to rain down fire on someone else? It’s a pretty human gut reaction when we’ve been wronged. Even the psalmist, that conduit of human emotions in relationship to God, had such thoughts. Like raining down hot coals upon the heads of his enemies so that they melt like wax. But of course you can’t do that. Vengeance is not a fruit of the Spirit. And what Jesus is saying to James and John is that vengeful violence is never justified. Not for a religious cause; not even for being, quite literally, on a mission from God. Jesus lives his life as a bearer of good fruit no matter the circumstances and he calls us to go and do likewise.
And so it is into this same Spirit that we will baptize Evelyn this morning. We will welcome her into the fold with a “fruit basket” of sorts, overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit. She will be indelibly marked as Christ’s own forever and will be offered continual access to the Spirit’s fruit through relationship with God. “With God’s help” she will live into this fruitful relationship throughout all her days. I may not know how many pickles are in the peck that Peter Piper picked, but I do know that living into fruitful relationship with Jesus Christ is God’s fervent hope Evelyn and for all of us as well.
So go; bear fruit. And know that Christ is near.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2007