Summertime Fruit: The Whole Basket Full
Adapted from a previous sermon series at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas
and inspired and using ideas and content from the Rev. Chris B. Herring
preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Saint Louis. Original citation lost.
I returned back home after another work trip recently
and sat down to read this poem called Daybreak.
It nurtured my soul and re-oriented me back to life:
Early Morning. Early spring.
Light comes to the earth’s lip, a taste of day’s dawn.
Coffee comes to my lips, a sip of brewed awakening.
This time alone—the furnace still asleep at its nighttime setting,
the dog unmoving among the muddy boots
piled in the pantry—
I sit in a chair that sighs as I settle.
Outside, a few crows caw plots of thievery.
They are like noisy shadows,
dark harbingers of tomorrow’s troubles.
Outside, thawed soil has recently endured the overturning blades.
It curls back upon itself row upon row, open and receptive.
I drain the cup and pause, struck by the fullness of gratitude within me.
In spirit I am myself a lengthening day, a land furrowed and ready.
And there is work to be done.
Sometimes we know there is work to be done in our lives, I think
and we turn to God for help, for guidance,
for shaping what we are and what we can be.
One sort of place to look for inspiration
is the notion that God can work in us all sorts of wonderful things.
The Apostle Paul, when he sat down to do some work
and wrote the letter we now call Galatians
he thought about God’s working in us as a basket of fruit
succulent strawberries and melons and grapes
lemons for lemonade and limes for making your lips pucker
kiwis and mangos and bananas.
So so good.
Its meant to be inviting, this idea,
not just because we know it tastes so darn good
but because we know how good it is for us, right.
And so it is with these gifts of the spirit.
Now, we’ve covered a lot of ground since we started way back in May.
You’ve made it, hurrah,
all the way through Paul’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit
these qualities of human living made possible
not only because they are gifts from God
and also because we allow them to work in us and through us
as we aspire to be more deeply, more truly, more wholly God’s people.
Let us look at the fruit basket, and see what we’ve discovered:
The fruit of the Spirit is…
Love: Love–knowing ourselves as one loved by God, no matter what,
we return God’s love by seeing in ALL people
the face of our brother or our sister,
and by responding to their need with our acts of compassion;
The fruit of the spirit is Joy:
Joy—seeing something amazing, AMAZING, in this existence we’re part of
and, in response, celebrating a spark, a heart full of joy
so that we share it, and marvel in it, and thank God for it.
As Landon put it, this is seeing a cup of water, not as half empty
or as half full
but as: Oh my goodness, there’s water!
Its amazing, this water!
a heart full of joy…
The fruit of the spirit is Peace:
Peace, receiving the promises of Christ
and the legacy Christ has left for us,
we possess some antidote to the chaos of the world,
“the peace of mind
that inspires singleness of purpose;
–the peace of heart
that quiets all fears and uproots all panic,
–and the peace of spirit
that filters through all confusions
and robs them of their power.”
The fruit of the spirit is Patience:
Maybe by now, your idea of patience is listening to the pastor
repeat a long list, who knows…
No: Patience, desiring to become more like God
in how we deal with others,
we resolve not to let our FRUSTRATIONS in other aspects of life
to determine the quality of our response to those around us,
and we seek to enlarge the circle of people whom we accept and value
and thus to whom we display our long-temperedness,
The fruit of the spirit is Kindness:
Kindness: because we recognize God’s kind forgiveness of our sins,
we are compelled to explore and to offer our forgiveness of others,
fulfilling “humanity’s greatest need and highest achievement”.
The fruit of the spirit is Goodness:
Goodness– seeking to imitate the righteousness of God
and to follow the radical truth of Christ,
we seek to be not just good, but good-for-something
displaying a generosity of time, talent, treasure, compassion,
that few in our world may understand.
The fruit of the spirit is Faithfulness:
faithfulness, or reliability,
we remember the promises we have made to God and to others,
we recommit ourselves to keeping them,
we resolve not to allow the carelessness of the moment
or the rush of our days
to prevent us from being truly steadfast in our dedication to one another.
And the fruit of the spirit is Gentleness:
Gentleness: where, wanting to follow the example of Moses and of Jesus,
we come before God in humility and,
in our relationships with our brothers and sisters,
we hone an anger which is never exhibited at the wrong time
and always displayed at the right time,
and for the right purpose
that is, only and certainly for the sake of justice and mercy and peace.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it?
As we’ve considered the fruit one by one,
each of them have seemed challenging enough in their own right.
But when you put them all together, like this, and look at the whole basket full,
even if we note how tasty it looks, how good all these things are
the sight of it might give you pause.
One or two of them, yeah, maybe we can handle.
Some of us may already well on the way,
but when put together, this cornucopia is, well, rather daunting, perhaps.
At least it is to me.
And then there’s the final fruit of the spirit.
This last one, Self-Control, is obviously a bit different from the others.
All of those other fruit—peace, love, goodness, kindness, and so on…
well they mainly are about how we relate to other people or to this world we’re in.
They bloom in relationship.
They form the ethical framework within which
God helps us live in the world.
They help us promote and enhance the integrity of all life before God.
But Self-Control is a bit different.
It is harvested in the secret places of the soul,
in your soul and mine,
where our feelings, appetites, desires,
our prejudices, and our history combine to shape our actions.
Self-control allows us to evaluate responses,
to act on some impulses but to deny others.
Self-control isn’t autonomy, not really,
self-control is not simple self-rule: where I get to do whatever I want, I decide.
Instead: Self-control is to choose the more appropriate, the more fitting way,
and it may not always be the way that I want or desire.
Autonomy might mean: sure, Chad, go eat that entire sleeve
of Thin Mint girl-scout cookies, or two,
whereas self-control might have us, well, not…
In Paul’s terms, self-control is what
allows us to temper the desires of the flesh
so that we can welcome the whole basket of fruit.
Self-control is what enables us to be loving,
patient, kind, good,
faithful, and gentle,
RATHER than merely being hateful,
fickle, or a slave to pride-filled anger.
Self-control means mastery over one’s behavior, in the Greek,
a state where thoughts and emotions and desires
are brought together and used purposefully
that is, for God’s purposes.
Maybe its always been the case that self-control is a challenge to us.
That’s certainly what the ancient philosophers thought
and from our early days, with elaborate systems of law and faith
and punishment and guilt
human beings have wrestled with self-control.
It wouldn’t be necessary if this came easier to us.
And certainly our time, our culture is particularly good at
driving our internal forces out of whack
so that what I want to do I don’t really do
and what I don’t WANT to do, I go ahead and do anyway…
This past week, thinking about this,
there were SO many little examples of this in my life:
here are a few–
–that ‘small’ popcorn in the movie theatre,
way bigger than my head, that I really don’t need to finish
–or the steakhouse, where the smallest cut was 16 ounces,
that’s a pound, by the way…
–or there’s that time I saw someone asking for change
and I was so tempted to judge him for having the gall
rather than see him as my brother in Christ…
How about you?
What were your challenges to self-control this week?
The point isn’t that bigger is worse and smaller is better,
often that’s not the case at all…
instead, its that we’re almost always encouraged
to push and push and push
and almost never to restrain.
And my examples were those where yearnings of the emotions or the gut
out-maneuvered the rational side of me
right, but sometimes it works the other way
where my heart knows something is true, and good, and right
and my head tells me there’s no time
or no possible way
or don’t get involved, its too hard…
Our culture encourages,
above all else, self-fulfillment, self-indulgence,
but rarely self-sacrifice.
We KNOW how often, as much as we want to be, long to be, assert to be,
we really are NOT fully in control.
We KNOW how we do things that our better judgment would warn against,
sometimes hardly realizing it until “we’ve gone and done THAT again.”
My hunch is that each of us could name a particular vice or two
with which we have a running battle to see who will rule our behavior.
Maybe our demon is among those listed by Paul in Galatians,
or maybe it is something else not named:
or a LUST for power,
or a crippling discounting of our own abilities and self-worth,
or some other sin that we realize only too well
hinders us from living the abundant life
that we are offered through Christ.
That’s what makes this one tricky, at least for me.
Self-control, just like love, just like peace, just like all the rest,
is a FRUIT of the SPIRIT
not always an easy thing to accomplish
but a tangible good thing, for us, for our world.
Self-control is a part of this list, I think, precisely
because when we see it, when we seek after it,
we recognize it as a good gift from God
and we know that what we cannot do alone,
God can help us with
through possibilities for growth and practice
through example and habituation.
Many of these fruit of the spirit are both attributes we rely on God for
but also qualities we have to strive toward
that we have to seek out and practice
so that there’s work not just on God’s part,
but also on our part
for them to flourish.
It seems important to Paul that he concludes his list by focusing on the SELF,
on the our obligation to make choices that move
us towards the realm of God, and not away from it.
Another way to put all of this is that
these Fruit are gifts. They are not ours. We didn’t create them.
But even so,
We still have to find ways of learning them, accepting them, DOING them.
The Spirit wants to lead us, not to bind us.
The Christian faith isn’t some magical control of our actions.
God wants disciples who work on following Christ,
not pawns who have no free will at all.
As the cliché goes:
God opens the door, but wants us to walk through it on our own…
So the challenge, for all of us,
is cultivating a habit of thinking theologically, all of us
thinking about what it means for us to belong to God
and to be Children of God
doing God’s work, right here, right now
and because of that, deciding this, not that
doing these things, not those things
choosing this position, not that one
all for the sake of what God is trying to do
in making this world better.
And the challenge is emoting theologically, all of us,
so our heart breaks where God’s heart breaks
and our spirits yearn for that world that God yearns for.
In other words, the challenge is to have some self-control.
Now, its important to note that
contrary to almost every human systems that tries to instill this virtue
God does it somewhat differently.
All those structures, rules, laws, ordinances
all those ways of thinking about obedience
about obsequious deference to authority
that’s just not how God acts.
Not the God we find in scripture, not the God we know in Jesus the Christ.
And time and time again, we are tempted to fall into forms of faith
or structures of life that seek to temper our desires
or manipulate our thoughts
by forcing them into submission
rather than setting them free
towards a more faithful end.
I worry about that.
Even many forms of the Christian faith get this wrong.
Self-Control is indeed control of self
but not through force or guilt
but through love and invitation and inspiration and hope.
Monty Roberts made a name for himself
in advocating a new form of horse training.
You may know more about this than I do,
but it seems that the language around domesticating horses isn’t pretty.
They often use terms like “breaking” the horses,
which, while not literal, refers to a program of putting a horse
through a series of drills and exercises
six-months or so of often harsh treatment
to get an eighteen-month-old horse
to accept a saddle and bridle and rider.
The idea is that it takes breaking their spirit to make them useful to humans.
But Roberts argued that there is a better way to tame a proud young horse.
I saw this, one night long ago on CNN.
We watched several segments of a thirty minute tape in which Roberts,
through cautious approach, soft words,
little “horse” noises, gentle petting,
Roberts persuaded the horse that he could be TRUSTED
that the horse need NOT fear him.
His goal was to get the horse to come to him
for solace and comfort after the animal entered the ring,
and THEN after the saddle, and later the bridle, was introduced.
Each time he comforted the horse, the more the horse trusted him
and the more the animal was ready for whatever came next.
At the end of the thirty minute period,
a rider was able to mount and ride the horse around the ring,
NOT because the animal’s spirit had been BROKEN,
but because it had decided to trust Monty and his friends.
Now, I’m not a part of the equestrian world.
I’ve never trained a horse, and I suspect some here may have done so.
But I’m told that Robert’s novel method
is gaining some acceptance among horse trainers,
and he has written an autobiography entitled
The Man who Listens to Horses about his life and philosophy.
But I was struck about how Monty Roberts talked about his approach
about how his abusive father tried to rear him much like
other trainers tried to break their horses
but how his life now is dedicated to treating others gently
(that word struck me, it sounded familiar, this sermon series)
so that the horses may have a better life
and that his relationship with the horses may reflect a better way.
Thinking about Robert’s story, its not too much of a stretch, I think
to say that Monty has simply picked up with horse-training
how God has chosen to relate to human beings.
God acts to invite our trust and dispel our fear.
To comfort our afflictions, and to afflict us when too comfortable.
In Jesus, God decided to yoke us, to comfort us, to offer us solace,
all the while pointing us in the direction of God’s realm
and the challenge of living our life for God.
God’s goal isn’t to BREAK our spirits, but to set them free.
And Self-control isn’t a gift to be forced on us
but is a way for us to organize our hearts and our minds
in healthy ways, for our good, and for the good of the world.
Yes please. I’d like some of that.
How does this gift come to us?
Like all of the others.
This gift comes to us through an openness to listen to God
to find mentors that can help us cultivate self-control in our lives
mentors that model for us the other fruit of the spirit
joy, peace, love, gentleness, patience
and a faith that is rooted in these things too.
This gift comes to us when we make space for it.
That space is not likely to create itself.
A crucial part of being self-controlled is to say NO
to some of the unessential things in our lives,
so that we can make a space for the eternal ones.
To pause, maybe at daybreak with a cup of brewed awakening
to drink in the coming day with its gifts and possibility.
maybe at dayfall, to rest after a long day of labor
to settle down and meditate on what has come
and what might come tomorrow…
It will be a place of silence, away from noisy distractions
that sometimes threaten to engulf us.
It will be a place where we listen.
Where we contemplate God’s Word and work
in our lives and in our world.
Where we come to terms with our need.
Where we acknowledge occasions of our fear and our doubt.
But most of all, it’s a place where we will EXPERIENCE the love of God
who comes to offer us what we need to survive and thrive
in this journey between birth and God’s realm.
The fruit of the spirit is
Self-Control: having said YES to Christ’s invitation,
and putting our trust in him,
we develop a spiritual life that allows us to manage our impulses
in such a way that brings a smile to God
and an abiding sense of peace to us.
May all of the Spirit’s fruit, the whole basket full,
come more and more to bloom in you and in me,
as we develop an ever deepening relationship with our
creator, redeemer, and our sustainer…
May it be so.
 Glen E. Rainsley, Thanks Be to God: Prayers and Parables for Public Worship. (Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press, 2005), p. 148.
 Throughout this sermon, I’ve wrongly presented a confusion of sorts between Monty Roberts and Buck Brannaman. A shorter piece on Buck may be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLsqAG-L21w I regret the confusion. Both were proponents of the field of Natural Horsemanship, which is what I attempted to describe. For more on Natural Horsemanship, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_horsemanship