St. James the Less Episcopal. Ashland, VA
“By Our Fruit”
Collect: O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
We begin looking through the focus of “Lead Holy Spirit Into the Depths of God”-- our new yearly theme. On Wednesdays, we have a little more time to play and unpack some things, to filter things through these ideas.
Jesus warns us that those who try to follow him will not be the crowd. We will have to get off the interstate and take the side route. We will need to avoid the main entrance and come in the service door. There will be large gatherings following false prophets. I saw an online satire article about a certain mega-church pastor who had started a new line of Pastor Suits under the title of “Sheep’s Clothing.” I snorted. Having heard some of this man’s talks, it is hard to call them sermons, I doubt he would catch the reference from today: false prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Then Jesus talks about us bearing fruit. It is how to know the good tree from the bad. What is its fruit? Bearing fruit is something we all do. But what kind of fruit do we bear?
Here is one of the key things about the life of following Jesus. For too long in my life and leadership in the Church, I have thought the fruit I was trying to bear was outcomes, product, stuff I could point to and say done. (Looking at through the Rohr book Falling Upward, this was not bad but more likely the first half of life.) But more and more I think that our fruit is far more intangible, and all the more necessary.
In Galatians, Paul unpacks the Fruit of the Spirit, and not a one of them is something we do, but rather it is who we are. It is the difference from being an apple farmer and being an apple tree. An apple farmer may produce apples. An apple tree cannot help but make apples. St. Paul gives us two lists in Galatians 5. The works of the flesh, and the fruit of the Spirit. The works of the flesh are things we do, or rather should not do. “Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” [Gal. 5:19b-21a] Notice how many of these are about being divisive. In these divisive times, think on that. If people are working toward Us v. Them, no matter how righteous the cause, be wary.
But when we are the apple tree, when our DNA is structured in such a way for us to bear fruit, what does that look like? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” It takes a long time and a lot of work to rewrite your DNA. Or as Jesus put it, “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
This year, I trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us together into some deep places. Deep can be scary. Deep can also be awe-inspiring. We drove by the Luck Stone Quarry out in Goochland the other day. I tried to describe it to my kids. I remember going out there on a field trip with my school. Looking into it from the top, HUGE earth-movers at the bottom looked smaller than Hot Wheels cars. It is scary on the rim. But from the bottom looking up, the amount of work to make this inverted mountain, this hole as big as a mountain, was inspiring. It is all about how we view things.
If we are led by the Spirit, the nature and tenor of what we do will be like these fruit of the Spirit. In the midst of what is setting up to be some dark days, (I pray that they will not be but we all can see the clouds forming) living lives led by the Spirit will be all the more required and all the more necessary. May we pray it together, “Lead Holy Spirit, into the Depths of God!” Amen