Text: Galatians 5: 22-23
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
There are a couple of points I want to make about this particular text; each point carries with it a particular story. The first point is that often we find ourselves in situations where the practical application of this text becomes exceedingly difficult. In other words, it is a hard text to live up to. We don’t always show patience and kindness and self-control to the world. On certain occasions, we let other emotions out that get in the way of these items that are considered the fruit of the Spirit.
When we think about the fig tree, for example, that Jesus cursed because it yielded no fruit and then 24 hours later it had withered to the root, we begin to recognize that bearing good fruit is vital to our human existence. I am not suggesting that good fruit or bad fruit jeopardizes our relationship with God or in any way puts our salvation at risk. What I am suggesting is that bearing good fruit makes our own lives bountiful and abundant, and when we cease to bear good fruit, our lives wither away like the fig tree.
But I also recognize that this is not always easy.
A couple of months ago I attended a Spiritual Renewal workshop in Denver at the Iliff School of Theology where I received my Master’s Degree. It is a requirement of my continuing education that I attend a certain number of credit hours each year, and this workshop in Denver met that requirement plus it was convenient because it was Denver and we could visit our kids, etc.
So Heidi & I flew out of Lewiston this time on Alaska Airlines with a connecting flight on Delta to Denver. Well, to keep things brief we were a little late leaving, we were delayed getting to our gate for the connecting flight and we were changing airlines. By the time we got off the Alaska Airlines flight, we had about 15 minutes to get to a different terminal, find our gate and board the Delta flight to Denver.
As you might imagine, our luggage did not keep up with us. When we got to Denver, it was nowhere to be found. Our luggage claim tickets were through Delta, so that is where we started. They checked the computer and said our bags would be in later that night and they could deliver them to us in the morning. That would be great. Thank you.
The next morning we dressed again in our same clothes as the day before. I had to leave and go to my workshop, so Heidi stayed behind to wait for our bags. Noon arrived and there were no bags, no phone call, no information on-line, nothing. I went to my next session at the workshop which was one of two sessions after lunch and got out around 2:30 in the afternoon. Still no bags, still no phone call, still no information on-line, nothing.
About this time patience and joy and peace and kindness and self-control are not the first things that you think about. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact. Bottom line turned out that the missing bag was at the airport, as it had been since the night before, but for some reason it was stuck in a corner at the Alaska desk and never made it to the Delta desk. It would still be there if we had not driven ourselves back to the airport and physically conducted a search for our bag with the help of some very nice Delta agents.
I didn’t get crazy upset or make a scene or come unglued; but I didn’t exactly exhibit the fruits of the Spirit either. But this experience did remind me of how easily our emotions can overshadow who we are called to be and what our lives our supposed to produce. At this point it would be very easy to get discouraged and begin to think that the idealism of the fruits of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians is really a pipe dream. You will never get there. It is an impossible expectation. The bar is set too high. Life is just too hard sometimes to take this text very seriously.
Well, remember when I said I wanted to make two points about this text and each point had a story? You have heard the first story about how it can be hard to live into the fruits of the Spirit and always respond in ways that are appropriate and mindful of producing good fruit. Now I want to share a second story. This one I heard years ago and can only remember the high points, but essentially it goes like this:
This is an ancient Chinese Proverb about a rich landlord who wanted an orchard on his land, so he hired a gardener to create an orchard for him. The gardener went to work preparing the land and planning the orchard. There were rocks to move, soil to prepare and planning to determine the best location for the trees. At the end of the first year, the landlord called the gardener into the mansion and asked him how many apples the orchard had produced. The gardener answered zero and was fired immediately without having a chance to explain.
So the rich landlord hired a second gardener. This time the gardener received the notes from the first gardener and continued his work. He planted the apples trees in the location suggested by the first, he brought in bee hives to help with pollination, and after actually tasting the soil for nitrogen content and ph balance, he began to treat the soil around the trees to make it the best nutritionally balanced soil for the tree that he could. At the end of the second year, the rich landlord called the gardener into the mansion and asked him how many apples the orchard had produced. When he answered zero, he too was dismissed without having a chance to explain.
Now the rich landlord was getting a little frustrated, but he persisted and hired a third gardener. This gardener received all the notes and comments from the first two and he went to work. By now the newly planted trees had started to grow, but the growth was uneven and sprawling all over the place. So the third gardener spent much of his time pruning and shaping the trees. At the end of the season, the third gardener was called into the mansion and asked how many apples the orchard had produced. Only a half-bushel the third gardener said. Before he could explain about the pruning, he too was dismissed on the spot.
The rich landlord was about to give up, but decided one more time to try again; so he hired a fourth gardener. This gardener tended the bee hives for good pollination. He carried water from the stream that ran through the orchard to make certain the trees received the right amount of moisture. Since the trees had been pruned the year before, they began to produce apples at a great rate. The gardener propped up branches that were in danger of breaking under the weight of the apples. After the harvest the gardener was brought before the landlord in the mansion and asked how many apples the orchard had produced. The gardener told the landlord the apples were like the stars, and hundreds of bushels were in the storehouse.
The landlord was so pleased he said that he was going to throw a party in honor of the great gardener. To show his appreciation for the gardener’s fine work, he was also going to give the gardener a gift; it was to be one of the finest bulls from the landlord’s large cattle herd.
The gardener informed the landlord that he would attend the party and be honored to receive the gift, but he required three bulls and not just one. The landlord agreed and the party date was set.
When the day of the party arrived the gardener was there as were most of the other rich landlords and dignitaries from the town where they all lived. It was quite an event. When the time came for the ceremony of the giving of the bulls, the gardener was called to the middle of the courtyard and presented with three great bulls, just as he had asked for. Then from behind the bushes, the former three gardeners who had been fired emerged. “What are they doing here?” the landlord shouted. “I invited them to attend” the gardener answered. The gardener then proceeded to give each of the three former gardeners who had been fired one bull each, and kept nothing for himself.
The landlord was confused and angry. “Why are you doing this?” he said. The gardener told him that only a fool would judge the success of an orchard by only counting apples. Then he quit on the spot and the four gardeners left together with the three bulls.
When we feel like we have failed to produce the good fruit we are called to produce in Galatians, we need to remember that a lot of preparation takes place before good fruit is produced. When you fall short in life, don’t consider it a failure, consider it preparation. And that is fruit for thought. Amen.