May 18, 2008
"Living By The Spirit"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
When I was a boy, back in the stone age when we rode dinosaurs to school, one of the things my brothers and I looked forward to was when my Mom bought fruit cocktail. That might seem odd for some of our young people because today, in our global economy, we can walk into the store and buy almost any fruit or vegetable any time we want. But back then, we were dependent upon fruit and vegetables being in season. Besides, fresh fruit (other than apples) was seen as a luxury of sorts.
That why having fruit cocktail was a such big deal. My brothers and I always looked forward to it because of the cherries. My mom would buy the big can to make sure we all had plenty but also so there would be enough cherries in the can for all three of us boys. We thought the cherries were the best part.
I think the Apostle Paul must have liked fruit cocktail as well. Because he talks about the fruit of the spirit and then lists about nine different Fruits of the Spirit. I think that's pretty cool because, we had a couple of apple trees in our yard and the only thing we ever got off of the apple trees was apples. And I think that pretty much holds true for nearly every kind of fruit tree, vine or bush there is.
But apparently, the Holy Spirit can produce an abundance of different kinds of fruit, all from the same vine. Of course if we remember what John had to say we realize that the vine we're talking about is Christ, the True Vine.
If the Fruit of the Spirit can be compared to Fruit Cocktail, then the Holy Spirit has to be the cherry. As boys we thought the cherry was the most delicious piece of fruit in all the cocktail. In one sense, at least, the Holy Spirit is the sweetest part of God's plan for us.
Last week we talked about the power of the Holy Spirit in shaping, molding and etching God's love and call in our lives. But what makes it the sweetest part of our faith is that the Holy Spirit is God in Christ breathed into us. And with the Holy Spirit in us, we are empowered to Live By The Spirit.
Let's look at what Paul has to say in Galatians 5:16-25
Galatians 5:16-25 (NRSV)
 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.
 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.
 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,
 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,
 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.
 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
The next few weeks we're going to be talking about Spiritual Fruit Cocktail or the Fruit of the Spirit and Paul's challenge and command to Live By The Spirit.
One of the things we learn both from Paul's teachings and Jesus teachings is that you and I aren't called upon to produce the Fruit of the Spirit. That's God's job. That's the job of Jesus. We're not called to produce the fruit we are simply called to bear The Fruit of the Spirit..
When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, the Holy Spirit begins the work of molding, shaping and etching. The Holy Spirit begins growing us into the vision God has for us. The roots of our faith begin to go deep. And as the roots grow deeper our faith starts to bud. And eventually those buds begin to produce fruit. But we didn't produce, we are the vine or the tree upon which the Fruit grows.
A fruit tree only has one purpose and that's to bear fruit. And it doesn't bear fruit for itself. It bears fruit so that others may benefit from it and be nurtured by its fruit. It bears that fruit so that the seeds of its fruit can be buried and more fruit trees can grow so more fruit can be shared and nurture even more people.
So, how do we become good and faithful fruit bearers? How do we Live By The Spirit so the Fruit of the Spirit is shared through us. John Wesley had a few simple rules. He fleshed them out with some specifics but there were really only three General Rules which he challenged all Methodists to live by. Bishop Rueben Job calls these the Wesleyan Way of Living. I like to think of them as a way to Live By The Spirit. Those rules are simple. Do No Harm! Do Good! Stay In Love With God! (1)
Wesley said these three were evidence of our desire for salvation and continuation of our growth in the Spirit. Let's take a look at those three rules because they help us Live By The Spirit.
A. First: Do No Harm. It's interesting that John Wesley begins by telling Not to do something. That seems pretty easy doesn't it. Unless you look at Wesley's list of what he considered harmful. He said we should avoid "evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced." And then he lists things like taking God's name in vain, drunkenness, fighting, quarreling, uncharitable conversation, needless self-indulgence. Basically, anything that can lead us or someone else away from God.
B. If we put it in modern day terms it might come out like one of Letterman's Top Ten Lists. The Ten Things People Won't Say When They See the Christian Bumper Sticker or More Subtle Fish Symbol On Your Car:
10. "Quick, honey, honk the horn or they won't know that we love Jesus!"
9. "Don't worry, kids, those people are Christians - they must have a very good reason for driving 90 miles an hour and weaving in and out of traffic like that."
8. "What a joy to be sharing the highway with another car of Spirit-filled brothers and sisters."
7. "Isn't it wonderful how God blessed that Christian leader with a brand-new BMW?"
6. "Dad, can we follow that car with the Christian bumper sticker so we can find out where they go to church.?"
5. "You better pull in the other lane and steer clear of those folks, if the rapture happens, that car's gonna be all over the road!"
4. "Oh, look! That Christian woman is getting a chance to share Jesus with a police officer."
3. "No, that's not garbage coming out of their windows, it's probably gospel tracts for the road workers."
2. "Oh, boy, we're in trouble now! We just rear-ended one of God's cars."
1. "Look! Let's stop that car and ask those folks how we can become Christians." (2)
I hope you don't think I'm belittling bumper stickers and such. The point I'm trying to make and the point Wesley made was that because we are professing Christians, what we do has an impact on the life and faith of others. Therefore we have to mindful of what we do so it does not become harmful to others and their relationship with God. Do No Harm.
A. Secondly: Do Good. Wesley said we are called to "Do Good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all.
There was a new family who had only lived in the neighborhood about 2 weeks. This homeowner was out mowing when his riding lawn mower broke down. He worked on the mower for about two hours trying to get it back together but it wasn't cooperating and he was starting to get a little frustrated. Suddenly, one of his neighbors appeared with a toolbox full of tools
"Can I give you a hand?" he asked. In twenty minutes the two of them had the mower running beautifully. "Thanks a million," the new homeowner said. And then he asked, "Say, what do you make with such fine tools?"
The neighbor smiled and said, "Mostly friends. "I'm available any time." (3)
B. You probably remember the movie Pay It Forward. In the movie Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) is an eleven-year-old who lives in Las Vegas with his working-class mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), who is a recovering alcoholic. She works hard at two jobs to support her son but feels that it is a losing battle. Trevor is a latch-key kid who often has to take care of himself.
This seventh-grader's spirits are lifted when on the first day of school Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey), his new social studies teacher, gives the class an extra credit assignment: "Think of an idea to change our world and put it into action." Whereas the rest of the class has trouble looking past the teacher's badly scarred face, Trevor realizes that he now has been given a moral adventure.
The energetic and idealistic boy decides he will do a good deed for three people, something they can't do for themselves, and then will ask each one of them to "pay it forward" by doing similarly difficult big favors for three others. Trevor begins by helping out a homeless man (James Caviezel), a heroin addict. He gives him lodging for a night, a chance to take a shower, and some money so the fellow can get it together and look for a job.
Mom is unaware of the arrangement until she awakens one evening to find the homeless man working on her broken down pickup truck. Holding the man at gunpoint she tells him to explain himself. To show he's telling the truth, he starts the truck and tells her about Trevor's kindness. He says, "Someone comes along like your son and gives me a leg up, I'll take it. I can't mess up again, or I'll be dead. I'm just paying it forward."
Quizzically, Trevor's mom asks, "What's paying it forward."
The next day Trevor explains to his class his amazing plan of paying it forward. His teacher and classmates are enthralled. To explain, he draws a circle and explains, "That's me." Underneath it he draws three other circles and explains, "That's three other people. I'm going to help them, but it has to be something really big, something they can't do for themselves. So I do it for them, and they do it for three people. That's nine people. And nine lives turn into 27."
As the movie continues, "Paying It Forward" changes the lives of the rich, the poor, the homeless and a prisoner. That's what Wesley meant when he said: Do Good.
Third: Stay In Love With God. Actually what he said was "attend upon all the ordinances of God," then he lists a bunch like Worship, Prayer, Study of Scripture, the Lord's Supper. All those things which help us stand in the presence and love of God, which keep us focused. And we have to maintain that focus. We have to take care of ourselves spiritually so that our faith stays fresh and our love of and for God stays fresh.
In Melbourne, Florida a couple of years ago, firefighters got so consumed with the emergency they responded to, they forgot to turn off the deep fat fryer in their kitchen and started a fire in their own station. A firefighter from a neighboring department saw smoke coming from the firehouse and called 911. The firefighters from Station 72 then returned to fight the fire at their own station.
There's a lesson in that story for all of us. While trying to minister to others, while trying to live as Christians, we need to make sure we keep our own spiritual houses in order. (4) Wesley said we did that by Staying In Love With God. And we do that by faithful participation in what Wesley called the Means of Grace. Those things which help us Stay In Love With God: Worship, Prayer, Christian Fellowship, Doing Good, Bible Study, the Lord's Supper and Stewardship.
Do No Harm! Do Good! Stay In Love With God! They seem simple enough don't they. When we live by these Three Simple Rules they help us to Live By The Spirit.
Have you ever noticed that every one of the pieces of fruit in fruit cocktail, whether it's canned or fresh, is tasty in and of itself. But when you put all those pieces together they create something new. Every bite is a little different but delicious. Every bite is a little surprise. And every bite makes you want to take another bite.
So, it is when we Live By The Spirit. Do No Harm! Do Good! Stay In Love With God!
1. Rueben P. Job, Three Simple Rules (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2007)
2. By Mike Higgs in Preaching Vol. 14, #2, adapted
3. The Autoillustrator, P.O. Box 336517, Greeley, CO 80633 1-877-970-AUTO (2886)
4. Preaching Magazine, May-June 2004, adapted
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