In Step with the Spirit

Galatians 5:16-26           In Step with the Spirit           July 3, 2011

Who would like an apple?  Come on up front here if you’d like a fresh apple this morning.
I’d like 2 or 3 people who like apples to come up front.  All you have to do is tell me what you like about apples, and I’ll give you one out of my bag.  You don’t have to eat it now, you can take it with you as long as you promise not to throw it at me during the service.  🙂
What do you like about apples?  (have each of them answer)
(hand them each an apple).  Doesn’t that look good?
Are these the kind of apples you were expecting?  What’s wrong with them?
Dirty…Spotty…wormy…small…but if you can get past all that exterior stuff, how do you know it’s not the best apple you’ll ever taste?  Cut one up for them to taste.
What do you think?  How’s it taste?
They’re not ripe.
I don’t understand.  I just picked these apples yesterday, fresh off an apple tree that’s in our yard.
Are you saying you don’t like my apples?

*We’ve got an apple tree in our yard that hasn’t been pruned or sprayed or otherwise cultivated for probably 6 or 7 years.  We’ve lived there for 4 years, and we’ve never done anything with it, and the house sat empty for a couple of years before we moved in, so I’m doubting anything was done with it then.  It’s a little out of control.
This tree produces a whole bunch of apples every year…probably hundreds of apples form on this tree, but they get all wormy and spotty because we don’t spray, and they don’t get very big, maybe because it hasn’t been pruned in forever.

We don’t do anything with it, because to be honest, we don’t like the particular apples on that tree.
So every spring we enjoy the blossoms, and then every fall the wormy, spotty apples plump up and start to litter the yard under the tree where they rot and start to attract yellow jackets and an assortment of other wildlife that we’d rather not have around.
*Unwanted fruit attracts unwanted visitors.*
We intend to chop down that tree, we just haven’t done it yet.
As we heard this morning, Paul wrote to the Galatians about a different kind of fruit.
He starts by talking about the rotten stuff, the unwanted fruit that attracts the unwanted visitors.  He calls it the acts of the sinful nature, or “The Flesh”, and he says they are obvious.
Then he makes a laundry list of rotten fruit that he says is obvious, but I’m not so sure.
For example, sexual immorality, and impurity.
I mean, I know we don’t have to look far to find obvious examples of this in culture, in mainstream media, and even in the church; but I also know that the most dangerous forms of sexual immorality and impurity are those that aren’t so obvious, you know?
Cable TV, Internet access, or even just a cell phone or an ipod are all it takes anymore for sexual immorality and impurity to become less obvious than Paul had in mind.
He goes on to talk about idolatry and witchcraft; and at least there we know we’re safe since we all believe in the one God, and we don’t have the shiny statues that we all imagine when we hear about idols.
But as Thomas Dunn reminds us in the current issue of The Mennonite, the most dangerous idols are the good things that we put before God.  Things like success, or a career, or being right.  Things like family and friends can be idols.  Our own selves and the good things that we do for the world…the Bible itself or a specific interpretation of it; these things become idolatrous when we give them more attention; more worth…than the God who gave them to us!
Paul goes on and lists hatred, discord, and jealousy, as rotten fruit, and I fear that because he says they’re obvious, we take him to mean they show themselves in obvious ways.
Things like fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
But the truth is, many of these rotten fruits can be cleverly and easily hidden, especially in the hustle and the bustle of our technologically advanced, middle-class, more-or-less Christian culture.
But I warn you, as did Paul, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God!
When Paul says these things are obvious, he didn’t mean its easy to tell who’s being envious and who isn’t, or who struggles with hatred and who doesn’t, or who is being sexually immoral and who isn’t.
I think the kind of obvious Paul had in mind was inside, you know?
It’s obvious to me when my own flesh is struggling.  It’s obvious to me when I’m tempted to hate, to fly into a fit of rage at the end of a long day when someone disrespects me.
I know when I start to envy people.  For me it usually has to do with money or lifestyle issues.
It’s rotten fruit, but it tastes so good, you know?
That’s the tension between the flesh and the spirit that Paul is talking about in this passage.
The flesh is completely at odds with the Spirit.
And that’s why the fruit of the Spirit needs to be cultivated, and cared for all the way.
I don’t know a whole lot about my apple tree, but I do know that I’d have to spray it multiple times to make sure our apples would be healthy, pleasing fruit.
Apparently as an apple develops, there are plenty of chances for worms or disease or other bugs to get into the apple.  So you’ve got to spray for different things at different times, and pruning the tree probably wouldn’t hurt anything either (if you knew what you were doing).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Apples are one thing, but the fruit of the Spirit is something different.
It takes even more cultivation in order to ripen the way it was intended.
And if the acts of the flesh are obvious according to Paul, then the fruit of the Spirit is a little more ambiguous.  What’s “love” look like?  How about “Joy”?  Peace?  Patience?
These are empty concepts unless they show themselves in physical realities.
But I have another thing in my bag to try to help me illustrate what I mean.
I’ve got a basketball here.  I picked it up at Save N Serve on Friday for 50 cents.
I got it, because I wanted to check this morning and see if anyone would be willing to come up here and cut one big hole for your head and two little holes for your  eyes, to put this basketball on your head like a mask for the rest of the morning.
Anyone?
Raise your hand if you can give me a reason why you don’t want to come up here and cut this basketball so that it fits on your head and then wear it while I preach my sermon.
I have a hunch nobody wants to do this because there is no good reason to do it, unless you’re just so bored in church that it sounds like a fun distraction.
There’s absolutely no good reason to do it, right?
And we can all probably imagine that it wouldn’t be very comfortable or very fun to sit here for the next half hour with our head inside a stinky, old worn-out basketball.
Well, I once did exactly what I’m describing; by my own free will and without receiving any compensation.
The biggest difference is that I wasn’t in church; I was at a basketball game.
Basketball was taken pretty seriously where I grew up (kind of like around here!).

Our high school basketball team made it to the state championship in Iowa one year when I was a student, and so a friend and I decided to show our “school spirit” by wearing basketballs on our heads at the game in Des Moines.
The gym was hot and crowded, and we were already sweating by the time our team actually started to play, even without the basketballs on our heads.
But we were devoted fans, and so when our team took the court, we put our basketball-masks on our heads.
It was awful.
It smelled bad.
It restricted my vision, and of course, it didn’t breathe so I was probably twice as hot as I would have been otherwise.
I think we lasted a quarter before we took them off and watched the rest of the game like normal people.
I tell that story to show that when you’re caught up in the spirit of something, you often end up doing things that don’t make sense otherwise.
These words that Paul uses to talk about the fruit of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…they’re meaningless words unless they’re part of the Holy Story the Holy Spirit is telling through you!
Our actions in that gym made sense because we had school spirit, and we were caught up in the story of basketball.
The basketball on my head was like a ripened fruit of school spirit.
And it’s kind of a good metaphor for the fruit we can expect from any spirit other than the Holy Spirit.  That is, each one of us is like a fruit tree.
But if we’re not in step with the Holy Spirit, the fruit is going to smell bad, it’s going to restrict our vision, and it’s going to make us sweat!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit!
We are known by the fruit we bear!  In the same way that an apple tree produces apples; in the same way that School Spirit produces students who wear basketballs on their heads; so do our lives reflect the Spirit that guides us and forms us.
What fruit is your life bearing?
Is it ripe?  Is it Spotty?
There are a host of spirits at work in the world, aching to bear fruit through any life that will let them.  That’s why it’s so important to take time to tend to ourselves and others who share our faith.  Otherwise our fruit doesn’t stand a chance, like the apples on our tree.
Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Generosity.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  Self-control.
All this fruit from a common root; the Holy Spirit!!
May this Spirit guide us and bear its fruit in our lives.
Amen.

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