August 9, 2020 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Sermon by The Rt. Rev. Donald Phillips

   by Yanna Courtney

Let us pray.  Gracious God, we thank you for your presence in this time and place, and within each one of us.  Help us now to open our minds, our hearts, our whole lives, to receive the gift of your living word for us this day.  And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.  Amen

So as we move into the month of August, farmers begin to anticipate the harvest, the yellow fields of canola are transformed into the mature, oil-bearing grain.  Vegetable gardeners delight in the sight of green and yellow beans, and the first signs of ripening tomatoes.  We gardeners delight to see the product of our labours and nature’s gifts of sunlight, water and soil – all beginning to bear the fruit.

In today’s Collect Prayer, we acknowledged that the Holy Spirit was sent by God “to be the life and light of God’s Church.”  And we prayed, “Open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love, joy and peace.”  (A quick aside – in Paul’s letters, in Galatians 5: 22 & 23, we get a nice list of the fruit of the Spirit – and that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.)

It’s important to realize that the fruit of the Spirit is much more than just “trying to be nice.”  It is something that God brings about as you and I actively follow Christ and yield to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Just as you and I don’t till and rake our gardens, sow seeds, dig out weeds, water carefully and provide whatever else our plants need – just for the fun of it – we expect fruit – that is our intention.  And so it is with God for us.  Now, of course, the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is meant to bless those around us and ourselves, but God’s intention and expectation is no different than my intention toward our vegetable garden.  It is to bear fruit.

Today’s 2nd reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans sheds some light on this.  Again, we need to look deeper into what God is doing – into the work of the Spirit in our lives, and not see that as just a kind of “nice extra” – a little something to help us cope with life.  The Holy Spirit within us is key to the continuing salvation of the world brought about Jesus Christ.  Let me repeat that.  The presence of the Holy Spirit working within each one of us is key to the continuing salvation of the world brought about Jesus Christ.

Paul shines a light on this in the las two verses of today’s reading.  He says, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”  When we speak of “proclaim him” it’s not just preachers and evangelists.  It’s people – like you and me – actively putting God’s fruit of the Spirit into action in our lives.  You and I are sent. We may not think that our feet are that beautiful but if they bring the reality of God’s love and truth to another, they will indeed be seen as beautiful. 

In this passage, Paul lays down two fundamental truths to our being “good soil” in which the Spirit can grow this life-changing fruit.  First he says, “believe in your heart that God raised Christ Jesus from the dead.” This is not merely an intellectual assent.  It is not merely as saying, “I believe that Covid-19 is a serious health threat.  It is true, but then if it is held deeply it will shape the attitudes and actions in my life. So if I do believe it is a serious health threat then I will physically distance myself from others; I will wear a mask when this is not possible; and I will maintain good hand hygiene.  This is believing in my life that Covid-19 is a health threat.  So when we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we are orienting our lives around huge existential truths: that God exists, that God is loving, that God is deeply involved in creation, that God has come to us as a human being – Jesus, and loves us enough to die and overcome death for all of us, to bring in a new creation in harmony with God and itself.  That’s what we mean when we say that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The other fundamental truth of our being “good soil” is confessing with our mouths that “Jesus is Lord.”  It is not just a religious phrase.  It is affirming that Christ is the final and ultimate authority and power – not human governments, not oppressive and abusive people, not illnesses, even Covid-19, not addictions, not even our self-doubts and failures.  Saying that “Jesus is Lord” with conviction is like saying “I love you.” (and meaning it) to your partner.  It immediately releases power, strength, joy and peace into your relationship. 

And in this context, today’s Gospel reading gives us a living example of what this life in the Spirit looks like.  This story of the disciples in the boat and Jesus walking to them on the water follows immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 that we read last week.  And Jesus uses this opportunity with his disciples, with their being on a boat in rough seas.  He comes to them walking on the water.  When the disciples react in fear he reassures them.  He says, “It is I.”  But in the biblical languages it’s really translated “I am!”, which is always the way that God refers to God’s self.

Then, Peter steps out in faith.  He wants to come into this reality that Jesus is in.  And Jesus says, “Sure – come!”  Peter makes some headway but then doubts what’s happening.  He falters and Jesus reaches out and grabs him, and brings them both safely into the boat.

Well what does this teach us about living in the life of the Spirit?  When God meets you in a situation, or a relationship, and challenges you to act in new, courageous, maybe challenging ways, STEP OUT OF THE BOAT.  You may not be sure of what you’re doing, but Christ is!  And if you falter, fear not.  There is a strong and loving hand to catch you, and to restore you.  You can take that risk because you are responding to Christ.  And this is how the fruit of the Spirit grows in you and me. 

Believe in your heart the life-giving love of God for you, and for this world.  Confess in deed and in word that Jesus Christ is actually Lord – over everything!  And you will be a fruitful garden for the Spirit.  God will make sure of it!  Amen.