Tag Archives: Fruit of the Spirit

A sermon for Pentecost Sunday – 8 June 2014


SCRIPTURE:    Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19–23

In I Corinthians 12, Paul writes about the various gifts of the Spirit. And out of this chapter and similar passages in Romans and elsewhere, a large industry has developed to help us discover our gifts. Fill out this form; take this quiz; answer these questions, and you will discover the gifts the Spirit has given you.

Assessment industry
Of course it is all part of the massive assessment industry. We have interest tests to determine what career we should pursue, aptitude tests to determine cognitive abilities, psychometric tests to check all sorts of things from IQ and EQ to management potential and job fit.

Now these are very useful tools in the business world. But the problem is that they all work on the basis of averages. The majority of sales people fit into this pattern. The majority of great managers fit this profile. Your profile suggests that you will have trouble in this area.

Such assessments are very helpful. But if you want your business, your NGO, your school, to be better than ordinary, then you want your employees to be better than ‘normal’. You don’t want ordinary employees that fit the ordinary profile; you want to find some extraordinary ones.

An apprentice
Let me give you a couple of examples from different ends of the employment spectrum. We were employing apprentices, and we settled on one particular person who simply didn’t fit the normal boxes for selection as an apprentice. She was a woman (a first in that position), ‘old’ for an apprentice and married. However she flew through every interview we had and impressed all the males who were interviewing her.

Trial period
We took her on for a trial period of three months to assess her before spending money sending her to college. During that time I sent her for formal assessments including numeracy and technical ability tests. The main test used by the industry has five areas of assessment, and she failed. I said to the managers that the test strongly suggested that she would fail her college exams. If we took her on and sent her to college, we would be wasting a huge amount of money, and a lot of our time, as well as about a year of her life.

The overwhelming response from the factory floor, from supervisors to senior management was, ‘We want her.’ She had made such an impression in the couple of months she had been with us, that they were all rooting for her. We decided to take the chance.

College
She went to college, struggled a bit, did a bit better and then sat her first exams. Her mother died the day before she wrote her first paper. And I thought, well that’s that. She might have pulled through by some miracle, but that chance has gone. However, the family held back the funeral; she continued to write that week, and passed comfortably. When I left the organisation, she was still flying and she was an asset to the company.  She didn’t fit the norm, but if you want your business to fly, employ someone better than normal.

A general manager
In an NGO I’m involved with we were looking for a General Manager to run the show. It’s an educational NGO so educational boxes had to be ticked; but it’s an NGO, so fundraising is critical. The person we liked didn’t have fundraising experience. We decided to take the risk. And you know what we have discovered over the past ten years? If your organisation is flying, if your organisation is doing extraordinary things, people want to be part of it. Through her passion for the children and her passion for education she has been able to draw an extraordinary team around her creating extraordinary results that (so far) donors have not been able to resist.

Better than normal
Our very normal concern for the very normal area of fundraising could not foresee that her extraordinary mix of passion and abilities, which wouldn’t fit onto a nice normal graph, would enable her to be better than normal and to achieve extraordinary results.

Paul says something similar in his message to the Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit. And he says the same thing to the Romans and the Ephesians and anyone else he writes to about the gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Focus on the Spirit
The confusion over the gifts and the work of the Spirit that has led to so much anger and bitterness in the Church doesn’t come from Paul. Paul is very clear when he writes about the Spirit. We are the ones who have confused matters. Paul, you see, doesn’t focus on the gifts. Paul focusses on the Spirit who gives the gifts; the Spirit who equips the people of God.

We focus on the gifts
We, on the other hand, focus on the gifts. We think it’s the gifts that are important. (It’s certainly the more spectacular thing; and we love the spectacular.) So we look at what everyone else has got and what everyone else is doing, and we assess ourselves against we think is the ‘norm’; what we think we ought to look like if we have the Spirit. Do we fit the pattern? Do we fit the graph? Are we ‘normal’?

But the work of the Spirit is not normal; it doesn’t fit into a pattern that can be measured and sorted and bottled and charted on a graph.

God is doing extraordinary things through his extraordinary Spirit working through ordinary people. In Acts 2, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel:

‘(17) I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams. (18) Yes, even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will proclaim my message. (19) I will perform miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood, fire, and thick smoke; (20) the sun will be darkened, and the moon will turn red as blood, before the great and glorious Day of the Lord comes.  (21) And then, whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.’

John van de Laar writes about a new understanding of the book of Acts. He says: ‘(Re-reading Acts) has convinced me that the essence of Pentecost is not the outpouring of the Spirit – as if the Spirit was somehow absent before this day – but the simple, profound changes in the lives of ordinary people whose ordinary lives changed their cities and their world.’

Make us better than normal
You see, it’s not about how many prophets there are or preachers or tongues or this gift or that. But will we welcome the Spirit of God to do whatever he wants to do in us and through us? Not give us this gift or that, but to make us better than normal in our everyday lives, and to do his extraordinary work in us and through us, day after day after day.

Measure
And we can actually measure this extraordinary work of God in our lives. Oh no, not on a graph based on the gifts we have or the power of our preaching or how often we speak in tongues. Not even by the number of people we have converted or how long we spend on our knees.

Paul made it clear in Galatians 5: the measure of the Spirit’s work in our lives and in the life of our community is how much the fruit of the Spirit can be seen in us and experienced in our life together. Is love what we experience here? Is there joy and peace? Are we more patient with each other (and with taxi drivers)? Is there kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness? Is there less anger and more self-control?

1 Corinthians 14:12, ‘Since you are eager to have the gifts of the Spirit, you must try above everything else to make greater use of those which help to build up the church.’

And again, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul says the Lord gives these gifts ‘to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ.’

Love one another
You see, Jesus told us how the world would be saved, but we tend to ignore him, or not to take him too seriously. Jesus said that the way Christians relate to each other will determine the way the world reacts to our Saviour. (‘By your love for one another ….’  ‘Father, make them one ….’)

It is when the people of God hate each other and fight each other and deride each other, that the world turns its back on the church and on the God we supposedly serve. And it is when the people of God love one another, care for one another and do extraordinary things together that the world looks on in wonder and says, ‘See how they love one another.’

‘What does it mean?’
And then they will go on to ask the question they asked the disciples on the first Christian Pentecost: ‘What does it mean?’

Of course, they might go on to ask, ‘Are they drunk?’ But that’s okay. They are just trying to fit us into the patterns they know and recognise.

In fact, I would rather they asked us if we were drunk. Because I’m very much afraid that the communities around the church today are more likely to ask, ‘Are they alive?’

What do you do?
My friends, let me ask you. What is it that you do that supports the people of God, that encourages individuals, that helps someone who is struggling to take one more step? I encourage you to pray tonight for God to give you an opportunity this week to do just that – whatever it is that you do so well for him already.

What gets in the way?
And then a second prayer: what is it that you do that gets in the way of God’s love in your life and in your community? Are you prone to criticise people? Is there irritation and anger in you? Do you put people down, gossip or fail to notice people. Normal human reactions, I know. But I encourage you to pray with me tonight for God to give us strength this week to say no to whatever it is that divides or hurts or destroys. Just this week, for God to help you and me to be better than normal in the service of the Kingdom.

[Prayer to follow]

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Choices: a sermon (Pentecost 6, Year C)


A sermon preached at Prestbury Methodist Church, Sunday, 30 June 2013.

Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

The Jordan River

The Jordan River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Choices
We are confronted by choices every day. What to wear? What to eat? Well, at least I’ve sorted lunch. Peanut butter sandwiches almost every working day for 50 years. That’s one decision I don’t have to worry about. Some choices are, of course, trivial. What does it really matter what we eat? But others are life changing.

Nelson Mandela chose to run off to Johannesburg rather than be forced into an arranged marriage. It was in Johannesburg that he met Walter Sisulu and studied law. Those choices were among many significant decisions Madiba made that have brought us to this point, where his health is not just of passing interest to a few family members, but of deep personal interest to the whole world.

Think for a moment about some of the life changing choices you have made? Whether they were entirely your choice, or forced on you, what were they?

Elijah and Elisha
Our 2 Kings reading, Elijah passing on his charge to Elisha, is a difficult one. I don’t know what to make of the magical elements of the story. Of course, we often just call them miracles and ignore them. But trying to understand what they meant and mean will have to be for another time.

Continue reading

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Deb Moore: A Friend


We lost a dear friend last week.  We joined the family and other friends on Friday to share our tears and to celebrate her life.  Debs was a private person, and I can’t claim to have known her well, but she always made you feel special, as if your joys and concerns were all that mattered.  Her faithfulness in prayer, and her courage in the terrible suffering she endured, were a gift and an encouragement to all.

The tributes paid by her family and friends echoed the love and the loss of all our hearts.  Her daughter said she loved coming home—how many teenagers would admit to that?  And not many students, except for the laundry benefits.  She loved coming home because her mother was so positive.  “She believed in me.  She made me feel that everything was possible.”

That’s not easy for a parent to convey.  There are so many pitfalls, so much for us to worry about.  How many of us manage to set our children free, to give them the gift of believing in them instead of restricting them with the impossibilities of our own fears?  Of course they are legitimate fears, we fear for their safety, for their future, but they restrict nonetheless. 

As Deb’s daughter spoke we could nod in appreciation.   This was indeed the Debs we knew and loved.

Debs pointed her family to Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope; be patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”  It is a verse that sums up how we experienced Debs.  Joy was a constant companion, and hope her driving force.  Her patience in the terrible suffering she endured was heroic (not that she would ever have considered herself a hero).  I often thought that Debs wanted to be free of it all, not for her sake but so that her family and friends would not have to endure it all.  And Debs was a prayer warrior.  She was one of those who left you feeling a little more secure, a little more confident, because Debs was praying.  But her prayers were not intellectual exercises; they led her to action.  Debs was one of those who would pray as if God was our only hope, and act as if God had left it all up to her.

One of her friends said that she (the friend) had only been a Christian for ten years, a spiritual youngster in the prayer group she belonged to with Debs.  But she always knew that, when she grew up, she wanted to be like Debs.

I echo that, but such love and faithfulness, such joy and peace, do not come overnight.  Paul rightly calls these fruit of the Spirit.  Fruit grows and develops through a long process of watering and nurturing; it isn’t stuck on at the last minute.  The fruit of the Spirit grows within us as we offer ourselves to God every day; it develops little by little through random acts of kindness; it ripens as we make small decisions to be positive, to put aside our critical inclinations, and to offer encouragement and hope to a daughter, a friend, a stranger.

It starts, perhaps, through being faithful in prayer as we ask God every day for opportunities to live out our prayers, and courage to take the opportunities presented to reach out to others.

Thank you Debs for the gifts you gave us.  Thank you for encouraging us to live as Jesus in the world, and for demonstrating that it is indeed possible to do so.

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