Weekly Sermon Illustration: The Fruit of the Spirit

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

On June 30, 2013 we will celebrate the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the book of Galatians:

Galatians 5:18-23

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 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. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.


The following excerpt comes from The Faces of Jesus:


You did not have to make yourself righteous first in order to qualify for admission - in fact by their very effort to fulfill the letter of the Law, the Pharisees were continually missing its spirit - but if you would only accept the gift of God's love in humility and faith, God himself would make you loving which was, Jesus said, the fulfillment of all the Law and the prophets.

Thus it was not by being good that man was to be saved, because by himself that was just what man could not be. And when the rich young ruler called Jesus "good teacher," Jesus himself bridled under the epithet saying, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." It was not by good works that man had to win his way into the Kingdom, but like the Prodigal Son all he had to do was set his face for home and God would be there to welcome him with open arms before he even had a chance to ask forgiveness for all the years of his prodigality.

But if good works are not the cause of salvation, they are nonetheless the mark and effect of it. If the forgiven man does not become forgiving, the loved man loving, then he is only deceiving himself. "You shall know them by their fruits," Jesus says, and here Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild becomes Christ the Tiger, becomes both at once, this stern and loving man. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire," he says, and Saint Paul is only echoing him when he writes to the Galatians, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law."

This then is the gospel that Jesus seems both to have proclaimed with his lips and lived with his life, not just preaching to the dispossessed of his day from a high pulpit, but coming down and acting it out by giving himself to them body and soul as if he actually enjoyed it - horrifying all Jericho by spending the night there not with the local rabbi, say, or some prominent Pharisee but with Zaccheus of all people, the crooked tax collector. When Simon the Pharisee laid into him for letting a streetwalker dry his feet with her hair, Jesus said, "I tell you her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much." It is no wonder that from the very start of his ministry the forces of Jewish morality and of Roman law were both out to get him because to him the only morality that mattered was the one that sprang from the forgiven heart like fruit from the well-watered tree, and the only law he acknowledged as ultimate was the law of love.