“What happens when we live God’s way? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.”
I have two fruit trees in my backyard – a Montmorency cherry tree and a northern variety of peach. I planted each from a sapling and for the first time this year I harvested a respectable crop from both. It will be hard to leave them behind when the house sells and I move away. Not because I can’t get cherries and peaches elsewhere – of course I can. For me, at least, there is something remarkable about seeing the transition from flower to fruit in my very own yard.
There are things I do to help the process along – not least of which (having learned from hard experience last year!) was the rather arduous process of covering each in a bird and animal-proof mesh. But I can only take a little bit of credit. For all my fertilizing and watering and animal-proofing, each tree finally did what it was genetically programmed – I might say divinely programmed – to do. The cherry tree produced cherries and the peach tree grew peaches. The cherries made a couple fabulous pies and a few batches of Door County cherry stuffed French toast. The peaches were eaten out of hand, made into peach/raspberry freezer jam and frozen for other use later this winter. The peaches were small and juicy and full of flavor. Almost to die for!
Ages ago the Apostle Paul wrote about the natural produce of a life oriented to and by the Spirit of God. In the traditional translations that fruit is characterized as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I love that list, but I also love the way Eugene Peterson has paraphrased and unpacked that list of nine characteristics (above).
We live in a so-called “Christian nation.” One of the dangers of that notion is the temptation to believe that one is Christian by virtue of the passport she holds. Ultimately, it is for God to “KNOW” whether I or anyone else is a Christian, but God has not left us without powerful hints. Just as a cherry tree proves its identity by producing cherries and peach trees by producing peaches, so Christians give evidence of their identity by Spirit-fruit. Conversely, without spirit-fruit, there can be confident assertion of connection with Christ.
Much has been written in recent years about the increasingly “post-Christian” state of North American culture. I see no reason to quibble with that assessment. But neither do I see reason to despair over it. However, I do think it’s important – very important! – to draw a distinction between behaviors and attitudes and practices and policies that are Spirit-ish and those that are not. Because many people still imagine this to be a Christian nation, it’s likely that some people imagine that the behaviors and attitudes and practices and policies that we are seeing every day in the news are “Christian.” But let us be clear, there is nothing Christian about hate, and fear and warmongering and violence threatening and meanness and chaos and bullying and unfettered capitulation to the impulse of the moment.
Followers of Jesus bear witness to the love and justice and kindness of God not because doing so is either “nice” or “obligatory” but because it’s fundamentally who we are. Just like cherry trees grow cherries and peach trees grow peaches, so those born of Spirit produce the fruit of the Spirit.
We live in odd and challenging times, but we are far from the first to live in such times. Perhaps, like Esther of the eponymous Old Testament book, we are called to bear Spirit-ish fruit precisely for such a day as this.
As Jesus himself admonished his followers, “Let your light shine so that folk will know who you are.” That’s important in easy times…. it’s even more important in hard times.
Let your light shine!!
With great hope!
UCC in Iowa