Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25)
June 30, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite features of the iPhone is the Maps app, where you simply type in an address, any address, and within seconds you can choose from different routes that will lead you to your desired destination. The technology still boggles my mind. And yet, even with that Maps app, I still make the wrong turn sometimes. I thought I was supposed to turn then but it was a tenth of a mile later, or I thought I was supposed to take Exit 53A but it said Exit 53B. Has that ever happened to you? How sad and embarrassing it is that even with the Maps app we still get off track, still get turned around. But what does the Maps app do when that happens? Does it go blank to teach us a lesson? Does it self-destruct? No, it simply reroutes us to put us back in the right direction to our desired destination—an amazing feature with which I hate to admit I have become way too familiar.
Sometimes we think we know the right direction to go only find out later we were completely wrong. Many years ago when Steph and I were in college in Tulsa, Oklahoma we was driving us back east for fall break to visit family in North Carolina and Virginia. We headed east on Interstate 44 and I thought we were well on our way. But after a while I started getting nervous because I thought we should have crossed into Arkansas already. I felt relieved when I saw a green sign that read “State Line 10 miles”, but that relief turned to panic when ten miles later instead of a sign reading “Welcome to Arkansas” it read “Welcome to Missouri.” We pulled over at the first exit and I scrambled into the gas station to look at an atlas and only then realized I had confused Interstate 44 with Interstate 40. It took several hours winding through the Ozark Mountains in the middle of the night to get to Interstate 40 and heading back in the right direction.
Taking a wrong turn on a highway is inconvenient but in the larger scheme of things not that big a deal. However, taking a wrong turn in your life, or thinking you already know your desired destination as well as the right direction to go, only to learn later you were wrong the whole time—well, that is a much bigger deal.
Many people have experienced this—the realization that in a major part of their life—perhaps their career, or marriage, or finances, or health—they not only had what they thought was their desired destination wrong, they were on the wrong road the whole time as well. Some people feel like they are making excellent time but have no idea where they are going. Others are so busy that they never stop and think about it, only to wonder one day how they ended up where they are. One of the most creative bands ever, the Talking Heads, had a hit in the early 80’s called “Once in a Lifetime” in which lead singer David Byrne described it this way:
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
The Talking Heads are not the only ones asking, “Well, how did I get here?” Over the years many people have sat in my office and told me things along the lines of “I never thought my life would turn out this way” or “I never saw that coming and it broke my heart” or “I have no idea how my life became such a train wreck.”
Metaphorically God has provided various Map apps for us: scripture, reason, conscience. But we may read the scripture and its clear guidance for our life and yet we forget it or disobey it. Or we may understand from the reason God has given us what we need to do or not do, and yet we do the most unreasonable thing possible. Or we may feel convicted in our conscience about something and ignore it and persist in that thing until our conscience becomes numb and feels nothing.
So when it comes to guidance for our life, direction for our life, we need more than scripture, reason and conscience. And thankfully God has provided much more, the Holy Spirit, so we can “live by the Spirit” and “be guided by the Spirit.” In today’s lesson from his Letter to the Galatians Paul wrote:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).
When it comes to your life, God has provided much more than an app for your iPhone, God has provided the Holy Spirit to personally guide you in your life and personally lead you to the right destination. The Holy Spirit assures you in your heart that you are a beloved child of God. The Holy Spirit reminds you that you are not alone. The Holy Spirit speaks to your heart and as the great Old Testament prophet Isaiah put it, “When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21). The Holy Spirit will never ever lead you the wrong way.
How can you tell you are being guided by the Holy Spirit? Well, as Jesus put it in his Sermon on the Mount, you will know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:20). And again, in today’s passage Paul clearly identified the “fruit of the Spirit”, what it looks like to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Paul begins, “the fruit of the Spirit is love…” The Holy Spirit will never guide you to hate someone, ever. Scripture tells us “God is love” (1 John 4:8), not “God is hate.” This may sound trite but if you hate someone or hate yourself, you are not being guided by the Holy Spirit.
The “fruit of the Spirit is…joy.” Every Christmas Eve we conclude our service by singing, “Joy to the world”, not “Despair to the world” or “Misery to the world.” There is already plenty of despair and misery in the world. The Holy Spirit brings joy. It is the joy of the Lord that is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
The “fruit of the Spirit is…peace.” Scripture tells us that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have “peace with God” (Romans 5:1). You might not have peace in your family or peace at work or even peace in your heart but you have peace with God, the God who freely gives peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). One of the litmus tests of being guided by the Holy Spirit is peace. God may be calling you to do something that does not make any sense, or you may be in the middle of one of the most stressful seasons of your life and yet you sense peace from God, you sense assurance from the Holy Spirit.
The “fruit of the Spirit is…patience.” As you know we live in an impatient world. Nothing is ever fast enough for us. We cannot wait for anything. If we get in the express lane at the store and the person in front of us has more than the specified number of items in their cart, they have committed a mortal sin and are worthy of our wrath. If we order something online we need it immediately, not next week.
In our dealings with other people we want what we want, and we want it now. I struggle with impatience as much as anyone, but impatience leads not only to strained relationships but also high blood pressure. When you are impatient, it is exhausting to you and those around you. When you are guided by the Holy Spirit there is a sense of “that’s okay, I can wait”, a reminder that those who wait on the Lord “shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). It also helps your blood pressure.
The “fruit of the Spirit is…kindness.” The Lord is kind, not mean. Some of you have been worn down by mean people, mean people at home, or work, or in your neighborhood, or yes, maybe even at church. But again, the Lord is kind, not mean. It is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The Holy Spirit will never lead you to be mean to someone, but always to be kind.
The “fruit of the Spirit is…generosity.” God is not a stingy God, not a miserly God, oh no, not at all. God is a generous God—generous in love, generous in mercy, generous in grace, generous in provision. God keeps on giving you more than you need whether or not you acknowledge it, whether or not you are aware of it. God always gives more than enough. God even gave his only Son to die on the cross for you. Can anyone be more generous than that? A church guided by the Holy Spirit will always be a generous church, which I am grateful to say you are.
The “fruit of the Spirit is…faithfulness.” The older I get the more aware I become of how fickle we human beings can be and yet how faithful God is. Each one of you knows how it feels when someone you trusted is duplicitous, two-faced, and speaks badly of you behind your back. Each of you knows how much human unfaithfulness hurts. But God is always faithful. Scripture tells us that even “if we are faithless, (God) remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Human fickleness hurts, but God’s faithfulness heals.
The “fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness.” Gentle people are vulnerable to being bullied, being taken advantage of. Gentleness is not highly valued in our culture, not at all—you need to be more assertive, you need to be first, you need to do whatever it takes to win, you need to get what you deserve, you need to have everything you want—again, an exhausting way to live. But while gentleness is not valued by the world, it is highly valued by Jesus, who said, “Learn from me; for I am gentle” (Matthew 11:29). Gentle people are Spirit led people.
Finally, Paul writes, the “fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.” So here are a couple uncomfortable questions for you…where in your life are you completely lacking in self-control? Where are you completely out of control? Is it in your finances, or your temper, or that addiction that you refuse to admit you have, or that thing in your life that controls you instead of the other way around? The lack of self-control wreaks havoc, and has nothing to do with being guided by the Holy Spirit.
You may think I am going to encourage you to step it up in these areas, to work harder at being “guided by the Spirit” and bearing more “fruit of the Spirit” in your life, but I’m not, because Jesus already stepped up for you. Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was guided by the Holy Spirit, and filled with the fruit of the Spirit.
When the world hated Jesus, he still loved in return. To a world full of despair and misery Jesus brought joy. When Jesus the Prince of Peace offered peace, the world responded with violence. When Jesus was patient the world demanded more and more, faster and faster. The more kindly Jesus treated people, the more meanly the world responded. When Jesus was generous the world still took everything away from him. When Jesus was faithful the world was fickle—shouting “Hosanna to the highest” on Palm Sunday and only five days later shouting, “Crucify him!” When Jesus gently spoke to the outcast, gently healed the sick, gently preached words of life to those who were dead inside, the world responded by killing him in the most ungentle way imaginable. To a world completely out of control, Jesus still expressed self-control, never defending himself when falsely accused, never striking back when struck on his face again and again.
And on the cross Jesus died for a world guided by its own disastrous desires, a world that in time will indeed know that tree by its fruit of everlasting life.
The gospel is good news for those who have been going the wrong direction, good news for those asking, “Well, how did I get here?” “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit”—the same Holy Spirit who guided Jesus will guide you to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and lead you to the right destination.
Every time you make the wrong turn, the Holy Spirit will reroute you to a sign that says “Welcome back” and continue to guide you to everlasting life.