Over the past couple years it has become a tradition for a friend and I to go apple picking in the fall. After which we go to our respective homes and bake with the fresh apples. Full of freshly picked food, Autumn is well known for being the season of last harvests before winter. Whether it's corn from the field, pumpkins from the vine, apples from trees, or the last of the kale from the garden, our stores, pantries, and tables are evidence of the bounty of God’s good creation and the hard work and ingenuity of human hands. Because of this bounty fall has become a season of gratitude and feasting, exemplified by the Thanksgiving holiday.
As Christians we are called not only to harvest and celebrate the fruits of vine and tree, but also the fruits of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians Paul recalls these fruit for us:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. -Galatians 5:22-23
Harvesting the fruits of the Spirit is not limited to any one season of the year or life, but is a harvest for any and all seasons, indeed a harvest for every day.
The fruits of the Spirit have often been used as a way of measuring the truth and faithfulness of a theology or teaching in the life of a person or church. In his book ‘The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage’ Prof. Mark Achtemier talks about how it was the fruit of the Spirit or rather their absence in the lives of people that helped him come to a position where he can affirm LGBTQ+ people fully in the life of the church. The LGBTQ+ individuals Mark knew were following all the teachings of their churches, including teachings that said all LGBTQ+ individuals should live lives of lifelong celibacy. He observed that despite a genuine relationship with Christ and faithfully living the teachings and theology they had been given these LGBTQ+ individuals lives only gave evidence of the fruits of the Spirit once they came to the knowledge that their lives and relationships are just as blessed and beloved in the eyes of God as those of heterosexual people.
Mark’s observations invite us to view faithfulness not by how much theology we know or by the rules we follow, but by fruits of the Spirit evidenced in our lives and the lives of others. What this does for us is it gives us a way to view our lives, not as something we build on our own, but as a cooperative effort between God and us. That as we grow in our faith and relationship with Christ a harvest of the fruits of the Spirit will grow in us. What this does not do for us is make a new tool for creating barriers between people, saying some are in and some are out. The fruit of the Spirit are not to become a new litmus test for faithfulness of people, as rule following and Biblical/theological knowledge has become in too many instances. Rather Mark shows us how the fruit can reveal the ways in which our theology and practices enable (or don’t) us to live into the fullness of life and faith God wills for us.
The fruits of the Spirit are a harvest of God’s activity in our lives and our cooperation with God. May we all learn to till the soil of our souls, abandoning those practices and theologies that hold back the harvest. May we learn to cultivate in ourselves and others the faith, hope, and love which increase in us the bounty of God’s love.