By Bishop Brian Maas
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 2:22-23)
I have to confess that my day to day “laboring in the harvest,” as Jesus refers to the life of discipleship—especially as the current cultural climate of polarization, reactivity, and fear expresses itself as heightened anxiety and open conflict in congregations—too often has me paying attention to, and complaining about, the weeds and thorns that I encounter among the harvest. It’s so easy to be distracted by the minor annoyances and petty behavior (or to dwell too long on the question, “is this really how we treat each other for Jesus’ sake?”). I need regular reminders that no one is sent into the harvest to worry about the weeds.
That’s the point of daily spiritual practices—prayer, devotional reading, contemplation, even just taking a few moments of quiet to breathe and be mindful. That helps provide the mental and spiritual reset to get from stressed to blessed, as so many have put it. Because that’s the way it is. No matter how my day is going, no matter what’s happening around or within me, God is ultimately in control, and for reasons I cannot fathom, through what we simply call grace, God continues to bless me, us, the world. And in that simple recognition, we experience what Saint Paul called “the fruit of the Spirit.”
Those words often appear out of context (as they do above) on posters, framed prints, coffee mugs, and more. They seem so pious in isolation. We forget that Paul was dealing with a troubled congregation and troublemakers within it. He was contrasting very human behavior with which we’re all too familiar—"enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,” for example—with the behavior of those who willingly and selflessly surrender to the Spirit to guide their lives.
Paul is very Lutheran in this letter! He speaks of what Luther later called the “Theology of the Cross.” Paul (and Luther) remind us that Jesus calls us to follow him, even to the point of being crucified; crucified to self, to selfishness, to rigidity and judgmentalism, to having the last word or insisting on control. And once we’ve managed that literally excruciating change, the empty spot that our ego once took up can be filled by the presence and the power of the Spirit. Simply remembering that we are blessed always by God, we experience the fruit of the Spirit’s presence, and love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest somehow appear.
Years ago, someone suggested that a congregation’s centennial theme might be “Rooted and Fruited for 100 years.” Fortunately, something less goofy was chosen. But the notion has stuck with me. Rooted daily (at a minimum) in awareness of God’s presence and blessing, we will bear the fruit that cannot help but come from the Spirit’s work within us.
Easy? Of course not! It’s literally nothing but the daily willingness to be crucified. But discipleship isn’t about easy, it’s about faithful. And faithful is the path beyond crucifixion to resurrection. Faithful is the path to knowing fruit among the weeds, redemption beyond failure, life beyond death. Faithful is the Good News that changes things. Always.