There is a Wisdom Story that tells of two brothers who worked together to run a family farm. These brothers were loving and kind, each one always looking out for the well-being of the other. They shared all the farm produce equally and they also shared the work fairly.
One of the brothers was a single man and the other was married with a family. The single brother thought about this fact and he came to the conclusion that their habit of equal sharing may not be fair to his brother.
“I am just one”, he thought to himself, “but my brother has to feed not just himself but his wife and children too.” So with this in mind, he decided that his brother should have a larger share of the produce than his own and in the middle of the night he got up and quietly took a sack of grain from his own store and placed it in his brother’s storehouse. This became a habit and he regularly took extra produce across to his brother’s storehouse.
Meanwhile, the married brother was also reflecting on their living and working arrangements. “I am married”, he thought to himself. “I have a wife who cares for me and I have strong children who help me with the farm labour. My brother has no one to support him. It isn’t fair that I should take as much as he does from the produce of the farm.” So he began to get up in the night and take some of his own share of the produce over to his brother’s storehouse.
This went on for several years and neither brother could understand why his own stock of produce never seemed to diminish even though each was regularly giving some of it to his brother.
Then it happened that one dark night, they both set off to visit their brother’s storehouse at exactly the same time. The brothers, each carrying his own sack of grain, met in the middle of the field between their two cottages. At first, they were both shocked by this unplanned encounter but they soon realized what was happening. At that moment, they dropped their sacks and embraced each other with all the power of the love they felt for each other and they knew, with certainty, they were truly blessed.
(Wisdom Stories, pgs. 139-140, by Margaret Silf, adapted)
This story illustrates the love of members of a family. This is the kind of love that inspires a person to put another person’s interests and welfare before their own. Early Christian communities were modelled on Jesus’ communitarian — all part of one family — approach to life and faith. The communities that Jesus mentored were open, caring, communities of faith where love and right relationship were paramount. Love was, and is, the foundational value of Christian community. Christians throughout time have remembered and enacted Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbour as yourself”. (Mark 12:33)
It is this kind of love that the apostle, Paul, is speaking about in his letter to the Early Christian Communities in Galatia. In the excerpt, from Galatians, that Myra read for us this morning, we hear Paul’s voice reminding Christian communities that to follow Jesus means to hold love as the highest value. Paul reminds them that it is not enough to speak of love they must also put love for others into action. They must also remember that it is the Holy Spirit that empowers them to bear what he calls the “fruit of the Spirit”. Paul outlines nine values that particularly reflect the fruit of the Spirit. The first is “love” and then, “joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. (Galatians 5:22) Christians are called to live in communities where these values are enacted. Paul calls this “living by the Spirit”. He also implores the Galatians to discern God’s presence and be guided in their actions by God’s Spirit.
Paul is consistent in his encouragement and teaching of the many Christian communities that he mentored. For example, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that, “faith, hope, and love abide…and the greatest of these is love”. (1 Cor.13:13) In his letter to communities of faith, in Rome, Paul notes that Christians have faith, peace, grace, hope and that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”. (Romans 5:5)
I believe that the work of the Church is, as it was in Paul’s day, to nurture loving relationships. By this I don’t just mean a warm fuzzy feeling that is instilled in our gatherings as a church family. Christ calls us to love our neighbours and he showed by his life and ministry how radical and inclusive love can be. It means not just loving other United Church people but people of other denominations, other faith traditions, other cultures. It means loving the world and working for peaceful and loving relationships in our local and global community. This kind of love for God’s world requires speaking out against injustice and acting with integrity in our own lives. This kind of love, reflects the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul is talking about and it is who Christ calls us to be as followers of his Way.
I’ve been thinking, this week, of the many ways in which I have seen the fruit of the Spirit embodied in our world. I have witnessed a generosity of spirit, and an outpouring of concern, in response to people affected by recent severe flooding. Concerned phone calls and email to those in our congregation who have family and friends in affected areas has provided a sense of community support. An ecumenical effort to collect emergency supplies also helped address some physical needs. And, we must never underestimate the power of prayer in providing spiritual nurture and support for those who are facing difficult challenges. Everyone can do something to help as was demonstrated clearly by the actions of two little girls in Calgary that set up a lemonade stand to raise money to help others who had been affected by the floods.
I’ve also been thinking about how churches in our community are beginning to foster closer relationships. Our common bond as Christian community transcends any differences in theological concepts and doctrine. We get to know each other better when we share a meal together as we did with members of the Anglican Church on Shrove Tuesday. We form closer bonds when we pray and grieve together as we did with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters during Theresa Cundiff’s illness and following her death. We celebrate our unity of faith when we worship together at the World Day of Prayer service and other ecumenical gatherings. And, interestingly, “Fruit of the Spirit” is the theme chosen by members of the Catholic Church for the Kimberley Church float planned for the July Fest parade this year. (Father John and I will be on the float along with other church members as a sign of Christian unity.)
With Christians, near and far away, we are called to participate in Christ’s ministry and respond to the situations and challenges of our world with unity and love. This can seem an onerous task, at times, but we need to remember that we are not alone in the endeavour. We are reminded of this every Sunday when we share in our commissioning. The commissioning encourages us to remember that we go forth into the world as members of the Body of Christ and that we share the responsibility for making our community, and our world, a more just and peaceful place for all to live. Each one of us has something to offer and no contribution is too small or insignificant when combined with the efforts of others.
Remembering Paul’s commendation that if we “live by the Spirit we should also be guided by the Spirit”, I’ll close with a favourite poem that is both an invitation and a blessing:
Come together, joining hands and hearts.
Let our hands be links of a chain
which hold our lives together —
not a chain of bondage but a silver cord of strength,
a ribbon of love and faith and community,
giving us slack to sail the wind,
yet holding us in a mystical embrace,
that we may be alone but never lonely,
that we may be together, but never lost in the crowd,
that we may be one without forfeiting uniqueness.
Come together, joining hands and hearts,
and let the spirit of God and the human spirit
flow in each one and through us all
as we gather here to share this time and space
and as we walk together on the journey.
(John W. Howell, quoted from The Godbearing Life, by Dean and Foster)
Thanks be to God for the gift of community
and the challenge of living faithfully in our world.