Thursday, June 30, 2016

Creator! Shall I Bloom?

Sermon preached June 26, 2016

Texts: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

            Jay and the Techniques, “Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie”            
Well, i tunes got some more of my business this week.  I was thinking about how to begin this sermon and this old song popped into my head.  I thought for sure I had it on my i pod, but alas, I did not.  But i tunes had it.  “Apple, peaches, pumpkin pie.”
Fruit – apples, peaches, pumpkin.  One of the things I really like about summertime is the fresh fruit you can buy and eat.  Cherries are out and delicious.  Berries are no longer $4 for a half-pint.  Traveling in parts of the U.S. you might find fruit stands – apples, peaches, plums.
Fruit is the focus of today’s sermon.  No, not the fruit that grows on trees or vines, but “fruit” that can grow in our lives – “spiritual fruit.”
Galatians 5:23-24 are some of my favorite verses in the Bible.  I have this list memorized: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  If I stumble it is because I first memorized the list of the fruits of the Spirit from the Revised Standard Version, and one word changed when the Revised Standard Version became the new Revised Standard Version in 1989.  In the RSV it was love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  In 1989, goodness became generosity.  Bible translation is not an exact science.  Language usage changes.  Our understanding of words morphs.
Anyway, I love this passage because I think it is helpful to think about where we are going, to consider what life under the influence of God’s Spirit looks like.  When trying to describe what being a follower of Jesus is like, what life deeply shaped by God’s Spirit is like, Paul reaches for an agricultural metaphor, “fruit.”  Disciples of Jesus, people on the Jesus Way, people shaped by God’s Spirit produce these kinds of things in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
That these are among my favorite verses in the Bible, and that I am passionate about thinking about what life in Jesus, in the Spirit, looks like is very Wesleyan, very United Methodist.  One Bible I own is the “Wesley Study Bible.”  It is a NRSV Bible but with footnotes provided by Wesleyan scholars and teachers.  Under Galatians 5, they identify “fruits of the Spirit” as a “Wesleyan core term.”  The text was often alluded to by Wesley.  Even if the text is not alluded to, the idea that we need to consider “fruit,” that we need to think about where we are going in this life with Jesus, is something Wesley emphasized over and over again.
In his sermon on “The Nature of Enthusiasm” which I cited a few weeks ago, Wesley discusses “the will of God” and believes there is a general rule about what God’s will for our lives is.  The will of God is our sanctification.  It is God’s will that we should be inwardly and outwardly holy; that we should be good, and do good, in every kind and in the highest degree whereof we are capable (Forty-Four Sermons, 423).
Wesley offered a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, and in thirteenth in the series, he shared that whatever creeds we may rehears, whatever professions of faith we make, whatever number of prayers we may repeat, whatever thanksgivings we read or say to God… the heart of the matter is to be a person who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and soul, and strength and who in this spirit, does good unto all (371, 374).  In the ninth sermon on The Sermon on the Mount, Wesley asserted that we love and serve God by imitating God.  Their soul is all love.  They are kind, benevolent, compassionate, tender-hearted; and that not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward [speaking of language changing, this is the opposite of “toward” and mean a contrary person] (326).
My favorite expressions of John Wesley’s view of where the Christian life is headed, what life with Jesus can be, what life profoundly influenced by God’s Spirit can be is his simple definition of “Christian perfection.”  Wesley wrote in 1767: By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbor, ruling our habits, attitudes, words, and actions.
I think it is helpful to think about where we are going, to consider what life under the influence of God’s Spirit looks like.  In that I am very Wesleyan, very United Methodist.  I have often used my own list of five to talk about what life on the journey with Jesus can be, what life in the Spirit can and should be: joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice.  What Paul’s list of fruits of the Spirit, what John Wesley’s words about perfection, what my list of five all seek is to give us some help along the spiritual journey.  They help us ask, “are we headed in the right direction?”  They remind us of what is most important in this life with the God of Jesus Christ.  They remind us of why we are here as a church, a community of Jesus.
We are here to connect our lives more deeply with God so that our lives are made different and through our transformed lives, the world is transformed.  Part of the transformation of our lives is to care about the transformation of the world.  Thinking about Paul’s list, or Wesley’s idea of growing in love, or my list of five, the question is, how are you doing?  Are you growing?  Are we as a community helping each other grow?
There is another dimension to this, another way to explore this idea of fruits and growth.  As mentioned in the children’s time, fruit grows from trees and trees grow from the seeds found in the fruit.  We need seeds.  We need seeds planted in our souls if we are to grow spiritual fruit.  The list Paul provides is also a spiritual seed catalogue.  You want to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – plant seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  You want to grow in the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbor, have it rule habits, attitudes, words, and actions?  Plant seeds of humble, gentle, patient love.  You want to grow in joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice?  Plant seeds of joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice.  Plant seeds in your own life.  Plant seeds in the lives of others.  Somehow these kind of seeds have a unique quality.  When you plant them in others they seem also to get planted in yourself.
And here’s the other part of such planting.  You have all you need to plant such seeds.  You need not be great, important, noteworthy in anyone else’s eyes.  You are special to God.  You matter to this Jesus community.  You can do what you can with the seeds that you have.  I came across this wonderful poem preparing for this morning called “Accepting This.”  It is about beginning to plant seeds of goodness where we are.  Here is one stanza of the poem.
We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
But we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

            Floods in West Virginia, a gunman taking hostages in a German movie theater, the Pulse Nightclub shooting – events can feel overwhelming.  There are times when we need look no further than our own front doors to feel overwhelmed – family illnesses or stresses.  Sometimes we need look no further than the mirror to feel overwhelmed – our own emotions and questions creating internal chaos.  Begin where you are.  Plant the seeds you can plant, and more seeds will come.
            This past week at the Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in St. Cloud we were invited to go into the community to bless others, simply to say hello and hear their story.  Julie, Laura, Dale and I went to eat at a small Greek restaurant near the convention center on our way to the park where we were all gathering Tuesday evening.  I asked the young man taking our order about himself.  Myron had worked there about five months.  He was from Sri Lanka and had attended school for a year in St. Cloud.  I told him that United Methodists were gathering in St. Cloud, and connecting with people and asked if I could take a picture with him.  He obliged.  I thanked him for his work and for his willingness to help me with my conference assignment.  Arriving at the park, Julie and I took a walk around the lake.  Nearing the end of the walk, I ran into a woman who was having a picnic with children and friends.  I told her about what was happening in the park, and she told me that her son was so excited, because they were there to celebrate his birthday, and there was music and games around.  We were making his birthday special.  I asked her if I could take a picture with she and her son and another child.  She obliged.  Later I saw her helping some of us United Methodists put together health kits.  Small acts, but some seeds planted – hopefully in the souls of those people I met, and certainly in my own soul.
            This list of fruits of the Spirit Paul provides is a check-up list.  Are you growing?  It is a seed catalogue for the soul.  Are you sowing?  Start from where you are, and here is another poem that reminds me of all this – Emily Dickinson.
God made a little Gentian—
It tried—to be a Rose—
And failed—and all the Summer laughed—
But just before the Snows

There rose a Purple Creature—
That ravished all the Hill—
And Summer hid her Forehead—
And Mockery—was still—

The Frosts were her condition—
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North—invoke it—
Creator—Shall I—bloom?

            Creator, shall I bloom?  Yes and yes and yes again.  Plant.  Bloom. Be beautiful fruit.  Amen.

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