Sermon: Fruity

 

 

Fruity

A Sermon for First Church Somerville, UCC

June 30, 2019

Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash

 

Audio Recording, Including Liturgist’s Reading:

 

Text:

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (NRSV, alt.)

5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 

5:13 For you were called to freedom, siblings; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another.

 

5:14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

5:15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

 

5:16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.

 

5:17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

 

5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

 

5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,

 

5:20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,

 

5:21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 

5:22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,

 

5:23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

 

5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

 

5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

 

Prayer

 

Sermon

 

Strawberries.

Strawberries, this very week, let me talk to you about the strawberries – all 7 of them – that have ripened on my plants.  They are tiny, deeeeeep in color, intense in flavor, and I grew them my very own self. They are the tartest, sweetest, most lovely fruits.

The fruit of the spirit is joy.

 

They are joined this week in ripeness and loveliness by the several quarts of farmers market strawberries that I stocked up on because the farmstand manager, Jan, said the 90 degree weather on the way would take out the last of these beauties for the season.  It was a late spring and seems to have switched over to an early and hot summer, once again, thank you climate change and global weirding. But, Jan said, you come back next week and we’ll have the first raspberries.  She knows my boy can finish a box of raspberries before I manage to pay for them. There was one year we went up and picked a gallon ourselves. It was hot, out there on the farm that day, but my boy stayed hydrated with raspberry juice, dripping red down his chin and onto his shirt. 

The fruit of the spirit is patience.

 

Blackberries are not ready yet.  They come later in the summer, most years. Four summers in a row, the children at the day camp we co-led with the Brighton Allston UCC went on pilgrimage to the very back border of that church yard to look for blackberry vines falling down the wall, full and ripe. Some of these kids had no regular access to fresh fruit so one summer when our theme was, no kidding, Fruits of the Spirit, we took them across the street to Johnny’s Fruit Stand. Everyone had a basket to put their favorites into and then, it was like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the local beat cop walked in to say hello to Johnny and the neighborhood kids and on that day everyone was okay.

The fruit of the spirit is kindness.

 

Tomatoes.  Also a summer fruit. I don’t love them, myself. I have been told that for some folks there is nothing more delicious than a warm tomato, picked from the vine, luscious and juicy, maybe with a little salt sprinkled on, and eaten in the sunshine. Tomatoes, not my favorite, but in the summertime when I think of tomatoes I think of a hot day in Tampa, when I was one of hundreds of UCC folks who left General Synod for a little while to walk in with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in a strike for fair wages and conditions for tomato pickers in Florida. The UCC is still working with this coalition, even recognizing them at last week’s General Synod.  This coalition and their supporters have won agreements with 14 major foodsellers and restaurant chains. They have, in their own words, eliminated in this industry in Florida a state of modern day slavery. They have reduced sexual harassment and increased wages for workers and they created a Fair Food Program. Every tomato you eat that is picked by members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is sweeter.(1) Those tomatoes, I love.  

 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,

 

5:23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

 

The fruit of the spirit is justice.

The fruit of the spirit is liberation.

The fruit of the spirit is freedom.

 

Your preacher last week, Rachel Payne, didn’t she preach a word on Paul?  She spent some time talking about the dichotomy that Paul developed between Jewish law and Christian faith – as she pointed out, a false dichotomy that came perhaps out of Paul’s own anxiety about whether he was welcome and beloved.  Paul was an anxious sort, and had some social issues. When I spoke with you last time I preached from a section of Acts which chronicled a struggle between Peter and Paul and their followers over circumcision. Peter, in that passage from Acts, had a vision that moved him to support Christians who were from Gentile or Jewish backgrounds, and moved the church toward a new kind of inclusion. In Galatians, we find out two things.  According to Paul in Galatians, Peter succumbed to pressure and went back to expecting Gentile men to be circumcised to join the church. And, we learn, Paul just could not get over his conflict with Peter and his issues around what folks have to do to be Chrisian. When folks come to Galatia to preach circumcision, again – Galatians 2 – Paul gets anxious and angry, and as we do when we get that way, develops a stark contrast between his position and theirs.

 

Except that, in the end, Paul comes back to the law.

 

Freedom from the law, Paul winds up arguing, brings you back to the law.

 

“Ironically, Paul’s insistence on “Freedom from the Law” is supported by quoting from the Law: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”(2)   He is not quoting Jesus here, he is quoting Leviticus.  

 

And then, we get to the heart of this chapter of Galatians, in which Paul presents another moral dichotomy, and this one I think is more healthy, more useful. More fruitful, even.

 

Paul presents a dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit. But wait, you say, Reebee, separation of the body from the spirit is a terrible idea. Furthermore everyone in this room groans at the thought of what Paul or someone writing with his name had to say elsewhere in the Bible about bodies and flesh, words that have been used to oppress women and LGBT folks.

 

Well, I want to propose that flesh and spirit are not actually what Paul is contrasting here.  He is actually pointing to something even more abstract. He’s delineating between self-centeredness and neighborliness, individualism and interdependence.  Focus on flesh is self-absorption and self-promotion.  (Paraphrasing Rudolf Bultmann, David Bartlett, “Fruits of the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Galatians” in Journal for Preachers, Pentecost 2016.)

I can tell you I got this framing from a bunch of different commentators but I want to quote Out in Scripture, from the Human Rights Campaign in particular:

 

“Galatians 5:1, 13-25 brings memories of both treasures and traumas. Paul begins (and ends) with this wonderful proclamation of grace. Yet, as soon as many people hear the word “flesh” (verse 16), they default into a legalistic and punitive theology. We are reminded that “flesh” was Paul’s shorthand for the lower, carnal mind — a life driven by fear rather than love. Galatians 5:14 clearly reminds us that the fulfillment of the law is to love your neighbor as yourself. When all else is hung on this anchor, we hear it more responsibly both for ourselves and for others…Free, embodied people consult deeply with their bodies as they relate to other bodies, with the God who is embodied in Christ.”(3)   

 

Thinking about freedom in this way, I come to my own paraphrase of the beginning of this chapter of Galatians:

For freedom, Christ has set us free,

For the freedom of all, Christ has freed us.

To liberate others, Christ as liberated us.

 

And therefore, the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of this freedom to free others, is oriented to our community, our siblings in Christ, our neighbors. 

 

Here we are, preparing to celebrate freedom this week.

 

We talk a lot about freedom in the United States leading up to July 4, we talk a lot about the freedom of the individual.  But Paul’s description of freedom is freedom that liberates an entire community.  

 

In other words, when Paul says we are free in Christ, the freedom he promotes is freedom to act in love. And when we act in love, 

 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,

 

5:23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

The fruit of the spirit is neighborliness.

The fruit of the spirit is justice.

The fruit of the spirit is mutual liberation.

 

This July 4 many of us will be praying for, and advocating for, the freedom and liberation of folks who cross our borders yearning for freedom, remembering that until all of us are free, none of us are free.  Instead of waving a flag many of us will be staring at a picture of a father and daughter, face down in a river.

 

Emma Lazarus, whose words are on the Statue of Liberty, wrote: “Until all of us are free, none of us are free.”

 

I don’t know if next week you will have a third Sunday on Galatians, but here is a sneak preview of where Paul goes at the beginning of chapter 6:

 

6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 

 

This summer, 

Let us bear one another’s burdens,

Seek one another’s freedom,

Walk alongside our neighbors, 

And enjoy the sweet, ripe, luscious fruit of the Spirit.

 

Amen.

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