Off the Rails?

A couple of weeks ago Fr. Brian mentioned in his sermon that over the course of the summer we were going off the rails of the Lectionary track for a few weeks. The rubrics (instructions) in the Book of Common Prayer allow for this, and although I rarely do it, I chose to focus our attention over the summer on the Fruit of the Spirit. I did this for two reasons.
 
First, since the beginning of 2019 we’ve been on a Journey with Jesus, walking with him from his Baptism to the Resurrection. Then, walking with the early Christians on their journey from Easter and the promise of the Holy Spirit to Pentecost. Because the Holy Spirit fills us with the Spirit of Jesus, what does it actually mean in very practical terms to be a follower of Jesus filled with his Spirit? What difference does it make in our lives? How do we live and grow deeper in that reality?
 
The second reason has to do with our national conversation and, in particular, the co-opting of the Christian faith for political purposes. When one claims to be a follower of Christ, what does that actually mean? Does it mean simply that Jesus saves us from our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, but we can do pretty much whatever we please in the meantime? Does it mean that we can recite the Creed and with the same mouth vilify people who are different or disagree?
 
This is why I believe we as Episcopalians have a clear message to share with our friends and neighbors. To be a Christian is to pattern our lives after Jesus of Nazareth–to talk about and treat others with the respect we ourselves would expect were we the subject. I believe St. Paul wrote his description of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians with Jesus as his example. If we are followers of Christ and his Spirit lives in us, then we take on the characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. To be a Christian—a Christ follower—means that we are seeking, with God’s and each other’s help, to form our character after the character of Jesus.
 
Now, I want to be quick to say that none of us perfectly manifests all of the Fruit of the Spirit. We are on a Journey, as our mission statement suggests. Sometimes we are very patient, and then we blow our cool in traffic! We seek to be more loving, then we listen to the news or something happens that makes it hard for us to respond with love and grace. So, we take two steps forward, and when we take one or two steps back, we lean into God’s mercy and ask forgiveness from those we’ve offended. Then, we continue to move forward, asking for God’s help to open our lives to grace, so that we actually reflect the character of Christ more and more. This is not an option for Christians. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and, yes, to love our enemies. Jesus was clear that how we treat the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the marginalized is how we treat our Lord himself.
 
The good news is that God, by the Spirit, will help us bear all the Fruit of the Spirit. We have God’s help, and the help of fellow Christians. That’s why worshiping and learning together as a Christian community is not just important, it’s absolutely critical if we want to live a Jesus kind of life. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to live a life overflowing with joy, love, peace, patience, and generosity? And the really great news is that this kind of life is possible.
 
So, I hope you’ll be in church as often as you can this summer as we “go off the rails” of what we normally would do in preaching to drill down on what life in the Spirit is all about. God knows I need to hear it, and so does our hurting, broken world.
 
On the Journey,
Fr. Steve+