I’m not sure who told the story first, but it’s been around for a long time.
It’s about a person who wants to live the fruits of the Spirit. This person works hard at it but feels a failure. Again and again, this person seems to fall into temptation. Finally, after a particular day full of despair, the person falls into a deep sleep and dreams. In the dream, this person is taken into heaven where there are booths of all kinds. Everything is on offer and after wandering for a while, the person comes to a small booth tucked away that says,
“Fruits of the Spirit.” “Aha,” thinks the person, “this is where I want to be.”
The person goes up to the counter and sees that on offer are all of the fruits that Paul listed: “love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The person lists them off with glee and a sense of having arrived. However, what the person gets is a packet of seeds.
“What’s this?” demands the person. “Where’s the joy and self-control and all of the other fruits of the Spirit that you promised.”
The individual at the counter turned to the person and
said somewhat wistfully, “I’m sorry. There must be some mistake. We don’t sell the actual fruits. People have to grow them. You have the seeds and the ability; go and make it happen.”
I confess to being a bit like this dreamer. For example, I read about spirituality sometimes mistaking it for actually having a practice of spirituality. I read about prayer or yoga or meditation or the labyrinth and think to myself, “Aren’t I a spiritual person!?” I don’t want the seeds of the fruits of the Spirit; I want the actual fruits now: today would be good.
We think we live in an instant gratification society—and surely, we do—but in many ways, we aren’t so different from past generations. Yes, we have the ability with the internet and all our devices to get access to information, images, answers and all kinds of things quickly. But that desire isn’t so different from days gone by. The means are different.
James and John wanted to instantly punish the people who dared to not offer Jesus the kind of hospitality they thought he was due. Those who were part of the Galatian Church fought with those who said that freedom allowed all kinds of activities of gratification. As Carol mentioned last week in her sermon, many of the churches that Paul started were in port cities or cities on major trade routes. Galatia is a larger district in modern-day Turkey. But, as places where many cultures mixed and where many things were on offer, the desire for immediate gratification was great. These were cities in which there was a lot of what Paul referred to as “activities of the flesh.” In resisting the temptations of the flesh, people wanted the gifts of the Spirit immediately.
But, as Luke suggests in his gospel, following Jesus is a journey; I know that this is an image that is a bit overused, but it is still a good one. Or perhaps to refine it a bit, following Jesus is more of a dance. We step forward and back, off to the side, but there is movement and progression. While dancing, we sometimes step on toes; we sometimes get the steps wrong; we sometimes screw up the rhythm. And it sometimes feels like we aren’t getting anywhere. But participating in the dance is what is key.
Sydney Carter was the English composer of “Lord of the Dance,” “Said Judas to Mary,” “When I needed a Neighbour,” “One More Step Along the Way I Go,” and “Travel On.” He wrote songs about the journey of faith and dancing. He would hear tunes in his head and dance down the street. He tells a funny episode of walking down the street and dancing to a tune, stepping to the side, stepping backwards. He was stopped by a police officer who was absolutely convinced he was drunk and disorderly. He went through a sobriety test and passed with flying colours, but was warned against the drink all with a wagging finger.
Following Jesus on the journey or the dance is complex and simple at the same time. It is a non-violent journey of hope, peace and love that also requires strong language that speaks truth and hope. It requires an instant reaction that has long-term consequences. It requires an openness to others and neighbour, but a call to leave behind family and friends. It requires preparation for the journey but the call to take nothing with us. It calls us to hold onto the plough but don’t look back at the furrows. It requires us to awaken from death—both physical and spiritual. The paradox of following Jesus is that his yoke is easy, to quote Matthew, and the burden light, but the way is narrow and hard. The paradox is that it is the journey, the dance, the trying that is important. The fruits of the Spirit come from this intention.
As we celebrate Canada Day tomorrow, there are many things for which we are thankful. And there are many things to ponder about today’s political landscape. We are thankful and thoughtful at the same time. We are grateful for Canada’s openness and the freedoms we enjoy, but we are conscious also of gaps and learnings that need to take place.
There is a danger in thinking we’ve arrived and have all the answers. That’s partly why Luke quoted Jesus’ teaching about following and Paul talks of working at our freedom in Christ. We are always changing and growing as Christians and as Canadians. What language do we use about gender? How do we invite more refugees into our country and not make immigration based so much on what they can pay? How do we seek reconciliation with 1stNations? How do we continue to be open and hopeful and neighbourly in both our personal interactions and our international obligations as a nation? When do we make personal sacrifices to mitigate climate disaster?
This paradox is captured nicely in a saying that comes from the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity, who generally tend on the more mystical side: “Become who you already are!” We are set free in Christ and that is a given—to be one people. But we have to work at our freedom, too, and not rest on the laurels of the One who gives life. We have to work at the fruits of the Spirit and continue to fertilize, water, and nourish the seeds of the Spirit that are in all of us! It’s “both-and.” We dance and learn new steps and continue the journey of hope, love and compassion. We live the KinDom as if it has already come, but we continue the journey to grow and learn and bring in the KinDom. We use our language and our behaviour to include and proclaim our hope where we are all one until all actually are!