Saturday, October 29, 2005

Stepping into the river

Something that’s always amazed me, when I see film footage or a photograph of a serving prime minister or president – is how much they seem to have aged over a few short years on the job.  Maybe it’s just that effect of not noticing somebody getting older until you compare them with a photo taken a few years ago – or is it that people in that position, with that much power and responsibility, and the enormously long hours – is it actually true that the cost of bearing that much weight of responsibility begins to show?

You have to wonder why anybody would want the job?  Just the amount of personal criticism – you’d need a thick skin!  We don’t really believe the claim that they do it out of altruism or a desire to serve – in fact, we Australians are often fairly cynical about people wanting to be leaders, we tend to think there’s something self-serving about it, that people are attracted by the prospects of power, a high-paid job, high status.  And I think we’re right, at least to the extent that there’s always a mixture of motives, some good reasons and some self-serving reasons for wanting to take on a position of leadership.  Ironically enough, whenever they do those surveys of how trustworthy people think various professions are, politicians always come somewhere down near the bottom.  Somewhere down near priests and journalists.  It seems the very professions that have historically commanded the most respect are the ones that now seem to attract the most suspicion.  And that, of course, has got a lot to do with the times we’ve discovered – all too often – politicians or priests abusing the trust that has been placed in them.  Certainly we’ve a long way from the days when wearing a dog-collar down the street meant that people would be extra polite.  And maybe that’s not such a bad thing!

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is criticising the scribes Pharisees for abusing their position - funnily enough, even though Jesus gets into the Pharisees his point of view is not too different from theirs on a lot of things, and here, it’s just after Jesus has taken the Pharisees’ side in an argument with the Sadducees.  So he’s not attacking them for being Pharisees, and he even affirms their teaching authority but he accuses them of hypocrisy – of not practising what they preach – of making life difficult for common folk by insisting on a more and more detailed observance of the Law.  And he says they make a show of religiousity rather than practicing real holiness, that they put their own status ahead of God’s status.  It’s a damning criticism, and one that makes me personally cringe – maybe for anybody in any position of leadership in the church, this episode makes us think again about ourselves – what about my motives?  Why, really, am I doing this?  Truth is, we’ve got mixed motives.  There’s always a tension between selfishness and selflessness, between humanness and holiness.  In a church made up of imperfect, broken human beings, there is always a kind of magnetic pull on the one hand towards self-serving hierarchies and privileges, and maintaining outward appearances.  All the pharisaic stuff.  But on the other hand there’s the irresistible experience of God’s grace, the undeniable phenomenon of human goodness.

Jesus understands this, and so does writer of Matthew’s gospel who – though he has the utmost respect for the Torah and of all the gospel writers Matthew is the one who is most concerned to show how Jesus fulfils the Scriptures – but Matthew has taken to heart Jesus’ summary of the Law that we spoke about last week – that absolutely everything else comes second after the command to love – if leadership is not based on love then it no longer points us towards the God of love – the only sort of leadership that matters in the church is leadership that’s based on love, which is the leadership of the person who sees him or herself as a servant.  And Matthew widens it out, because when it comes down to it, it’s not just a critique of Pharisees – or of priests – but a warning for all disciples because in God’s eyes we all have ‘L’ plates on – we’re here to help each other and to love and serve each other.

So leaders have to be servants.  And in the Old Testament reading this morning we see two more important points about the leadership of God’s people.  And the first one is this – that the whole purpose of leadership is to show that God is here with us, that God is faithfully undertaking the journey with us.

Now, today, the mantle of leadership has passed to Joshua – notice that just like the Pharisees, Joshua’s leadership is based on continuity with Moses – but this isn’t just about establishing a line of succession – when God promises to exalt Joshua – that’s not just for the heck of it, not just to give his reputation a boost, not even just so God’s plan will be fulfilled – but so that the people will know that God is with them – ‘as I was with Moses, so I will be with you’ – the whole purpose of Joshua – and the whole purpose of Moses before him – was to be a sort of signpost or a symbol of God’s presence with God’s people.  If you remember the story of the Exodus, that was the one thing that the people questioned, over and over – where’s God? – is God really with us? – even Moses has to be reminded along the way that God is really present (in Ex 33 where God reveals himself to Moses) – when it comes down to it, God’s faithfulness to them is more important than their fairly half-hearted faithfulness to God.

The whole point of this story about the people of Israel crossing the Jordan into the promised land – does it remind you of the crossing of the Red Sea? – the whole point is that there’s a connection between the setting out and the arriving – between the escape from Egypt and arriving in the land of promise – what it emphasises is that God has travelled with the people from start to finish – and in spite of the people’s grumbling and their disappointment and doubt, the promised end of the journey is already present in some way at the very beginning – because the God who we long for is with us the whole time.

So leadership in the people of God is like being a billboard that says, ‘God is here, God has always been here and will always be here with us’.  It seems a long time, doesn’t it, since the good old days of the church when we had an assured place in society, when pews were full and Sunday Schools were full – what went wrong?  When you listen to the empty chatter of consumerism and the hollow cult of individualism – the shallow New Age trinkets that pass for spirituality in our world it’s hard not to wonder, where is God in all this.  Is God really travelling with us?  But even as the church struggles to find ways of speaking above the noise and chatter of the modern world – this is what we need leadership for – to tell us that God is indeed in this place with us, that the future God has in store for us is already in some sense here – because God is making the journey with us.

But there’s something else this story is showing us, and it’s about leadership but not just leadership within the church but about the leadership of the church.  Just imagine the picture – that the priests pick up the ark, like a portable temple, and they carry it straight into the water – in to the river which is in flood – and the priests stand there keeping the floodwaters back until all the people have crossed.  It’s about being prepared to take the risk – about being steadfast, about taking the risk of actually believing in God in the middle of change and uncertainty – it’s about being prepared – maybe against our better judgement - to carry the precious objects of our faith into the middle of the river because that is where God has promised to meet us.  Scary.  This last year, I think I’ve asked you to take a few risks.  I’ve asked you to take the risk of new ways and times of worshipping, of new ways of reaching out into our community with the Open Door Café.  The under-age dance party, fairly scary in itself.  And there are going to be more risks.  We don’t know where these things will take us, it’s like stepping out into the middle of the river and hoping for the best.  But God is with us, and on the other side, we have on fairly good authority, is the good land that God has promised us.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

23 October - no sermon posted


16 October: Giving what belongs to God

Years ago, when I was living I Brisbane, every now and then I used to be up early on a Sunday morning and switch on the TV.  It might have been something to do with having twin babies and it being my turn to get up.  And so I’d switch on and see the televangelists.  Smooth talkers!  Have you ever noticed they all seem to have these luxuriant heads of hair?  And that’s just the men!  But they’d talk, and they’d tell you how you were really empty inside but that Jesus could fill you up – one of the better ones was Oral Roberts, maybe it was just being up at 5.00 o’clock on a Sunday morning but often he seemed to make a lot of sense.  But inevitably the talk would get around to how you needed to give some money, and they’d tell you that as soon as you started really giving, you’d start to get more prosperous yourself – that God wants Christians to be successful and well off, so the more you give the more you’re going to get.

It’s not Christianity, is it?  Because underneath the veneer of fine words it’s an appeal to greed and self-interest.  Invest some money with us and I promise – God promises – that you’ll get a whole heap more.  It’s a lifestyle TV show brand of Christianity that’s a long way removed from the homeless preacher from Galillee who so often offends the rich and powerful.

So today we’re talking about money.  One of the words you’d hear fairly often if you went say to the Assemblies of God or the Baptist church is tithing.  It means giving one tenth of your income, which, if you take the time to work it out, is actually a pretty big whack.  In some Christian circles that’s the expected thing – and certainly it shows a serious level of commitment, because there’s a priority to giving so that it’s not just what happens at the end of the week when you see what you’ve got left over after everything else.  So really, I don’t discourage it.  But at the same time, it’s easy to see there might be some difficulties – for example, if you’re on a pension then a tenth of your income probably makes a bigger hole than if you’ve got a high paid job.  Which of course is exactly what Jesus is getting at in the story about the widow’s gift of two small copper coins.  Giving is relative, and only God can see the true cost and the true value of a person’s gift.

In our gospel reading today, we see the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus on the question of paying taxes.  Now, this is the last week of Jesus’ life, and he has arrived in Jerusalem and is spending most of his time teaching in the temple, and the chief priests and Pharisees are getting crankier and crankier at him.  So this question is intended to trap him – if he agrees with the zealots and revolutionaries that it’s OK not to pay taxes to the Romans, that’s going to get him into trouble with Herod, and if he says it is OK, then he’s not going to be very popular with the common folk who hate the Romans.  So it’s a trick question, but it’s one that’s still relevant whenever we find ourselves living in a situation where there is official injustice - is it right or wrong to engage in civil disobedience?  But as he does so often, Jesus gets out of the trap with a very clever one-liner: give the government what belongs to the government - and give God what belongs to God.

It’s an answer that gets Jesus out of trouble – for the time being – but it’s an answer that maybe causes headaches for the rest of us because it’s ambiguous.  On the surface it looks straightforward enough – it looks like Jesus is dividing reality up into compartments – this is where you’ve got your loyalty to God, everywhere else you’ve got your other loyalties -  and just so long as God gets his share.  Put your money into the collection plate on Sunday and then you can do what you want with the rest.  It’s one of the sayings that gets called on from time to time to tell the church to butt out – for example when politicians tell archbishops off for putting in their two cents worth about problems with the new industrial relations legislation – ‘you just stick to your praying, leave the business of running the country to us’.

But Jesus is not giving us a straight answer here!  He’s refusing to do our thinking for us – because it all depends on what Jesus means when he says, ‘just give to God what belongs to God’ – no wonder the Pharisees go away shaking their heads - because what have you got that doesn’t belong to God? 

Jesus is not telling us we shouldn’t pay our taxes – he and his disciples paid theirs – but he is pointing out that you just can’t divide the world into God’s bit and the rest that belongs to the boss, to the government, or to the family or the football club.  Or to yourself.  It all belongs to God.  Jesus is demanding is a bit more than a tithe, when it comes down to it.  According to Jesus, God expects the whole lot.

And I think the very ambiguity of Jesus’ answer means he is also demanding that we need to work out for ourselves how we balance the competing priorities and demands, knowing that absolutely everything we do – spending time with our family, contributing to our community, paying our taxes, as well as the offerings we bring to church – that all these activities are variations on how we see God and serve God in our day to day lives - and so there’s no hard and fast formula like a tenth – but Jesus is demanding something a lot harder which is continual self-examination and willingness to put God first in our lives.

Which is where St Paul comes in – in our reading today Paul is writing to the Corinthian Christians about the offering he is planning to collect for the support of the church in Jerusalem – and he makes two very important points

The first one is this.  You can only give as you are able – you can’t give more than you’ve got, because it doesn’t serve God if you ignore the other responsibilities you’ve got in your life – so again, St Paul is refusing to do our thinking for us, and he’s reminding us that we serve God in every part of our lives – that means hard and fast formulas aren’t appropriate – and the most important ingredient of al is prayer.

And the second very important point is this – the giver is blessed by the gift – but this isn’t just the shallow promise of a 1st century televangelist that the more money you put money in the collection plate the more prosperous you get – instead, St Paul believes that the more generously we give of ourselves the more we become the people God created us to be – the more we become a blessing to the world we live in.  The more we give of ourselves, the more we learn to think of ourselves as a church in mission to the world around us.  Which means we will be blessed, and the world we live in will be blessed through us.

Right now our church here at All Saints is not in good shape financially.  Most of the time the ‘nuts and bolts’ of running the parish, paying bills and sending our monthly contribution to Diocese are just things that the Treasurer does, more or less in the background.  So that often means people in the congregation never get to hear about the parish finances unless things aren’t going so well.  Over the last few months we’ve started putting copies of the monthly finances up on the noticeboard, and I’ve asked Steve, our parish Treasurer, to give a special report next week in our service.  But it’s also something I need to talk about today because what the finances are telling us is over the last five months our income from offerings is down by $4,000, that’s almost a quarter less than this time last year.  There’s been extra money that we’ve got from special grants, for example to do the paving and to buy some new kitchen equipment for the Open Door Café – so those things don’t cost us anything, they don’t come out of the offerings, but what the offerings do cover is the cost of having a priest, the cost of keeping the church building running, and that’s where we’re not doing so well.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been saying that the church we end up with is the church we choose – the church that reflects the level of our energy and commitment – and the offerings of money we are prepared to give for God’s work in our community.  And over the last 12 months or so I think we have seen a new energy and a new sense of purpose in our church.  We have new programs, we have a new congregation, we again have young adults and children worshipping in our church.  So today I want to thank to say thank you, because it’s through the generosity and the vision of all the people of All Saints Belmont that we have been able to find some new directions for ministry and outreach.  And I think what that says is that this parish believes in the future – that we believe God has a future for All Saints and that we are prepared to work for it and to take risks for it.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Coming to the party

One of the most disturbing – but at the same time inspiring – movies I have ever seen is the 2001 Italian movie, Ignorant Fairies – fully subtitled of course – which I saw while on retreat before ordination to the priesthood.  After attractive AIDS doctor Antonia’s husband is suddenly killed by a car, she starts going through his possessions and comes across evidence that he had been having an affair – with another man.  Driven by a powerful mix of grief, depression and curiosity, Antonia goes to see her husband's lover, Michele, and finds a huge apartment that he shares with gay and transgendered friends, including a Turkish immigrant and a prostitute.  Surrounded by an apartment full of misfits, accepted without question into this bewildering community centred around a seemingly endless meal of red wine and pasta, Antonia finds she has been given the strength she needs to begin to live again.

Once Antonia – and I - had got over our initial shock at the rather ‘in your face’ world that she had stumbled into, I found myself reflecting that this was nothing less than an analogy of what the church is called to be.  A place where misfits are made welcome.  A place where we gather around a meal-table, where we accept and welcome one another, a place where souls and bodies are fed and where lives are transformed.

I remember when I was 18, my friends and I discovered alcohol.  I might have been a late starter!  I remember that year there were a number of raucous parties that we all attended – I guess there was a particular sort of etiquette that no matter how tired and emotional we got, we knew we had to observe.  As you get older, when you get married and have kids, the teenage party gives way to the adult dinner party – not quite so raucous, not quite so hard on the neighbours – but again there are unspoken rules of behaviour.  If you’re putting on the dinner party you cook something really nice – it’s important that there be plenty on the table, you’re showing hospitality and you want people to feel good.  If you’ve been invited to the dinner party there are also some obligations.  You bring something to drink, or some flowers or chocolates, there are rules for conversation, for making sure everyone is included, that everyone gets a compliment.  Everyone at the dinner table participates, and generally speaking we all know what’s expected of us.

In Jesus’ day, the party was a whole lot more complicated, but it’s the same basic idea.  There are obligations of hospitality on both sides.  Throwing a party in a peasant village in Galilee was a major event – you don’t just pencil in for Thursday evening, you scratch out the rest of the week.  Some pretty major planning would go into it, enough food and wine for three or four days.  Everyone in the village would know you were getting ready – then when the time came you’d send out word to the guests.  Pretty embarrassing if nobody came!  So in the story Jesus tells – and Matthew embellishes a bit – the host just decides to invite the whole village.  You know, it’s not one of the really obscure parables, is it?  What does it mean?  Jesus wasn’t the only prophet to speak about God’s kingdom as being like a great feast, but here was something different – the party’s going ahead regardless, Jesus tells his listeners – if you don’t turn up when you’re invited then somebody else is going to get your place.  The alternative guests – in Luke it’s the poor, the outcast and the marginalised while in Matthew it’s the ones who aren’t very nice, the ones who aren’t very religious – God’s party just rolls on, and if the ones who think they should be on the guest list don’t turn up then the party’s going to go next door.  Then there’s this peculiar little addition that only Matthew mentions – if you do turn up at the party you need to be wearing a party frock – at one level it kind of contradicts the earlier bit about scouring the village to bring in the riff-raff but again what’s being said is pretty clear – if salvation is a banquet of which the Eucharist is an advance token – if the Church is a party - then just turning up is not quite enough – you have to follow the etiquette, first you’ve got to turn up then you’ve got to join in – obeying the unspoken rules of the party means participating, it means doing your bit to bring the party to life.

And that, I think, is exactly what St Paul also is getting at when he talks about spiritual gifts.  There are very many spiritual gifts, St Paul tells us, like the gifts of wisdom, of knowledge, the gift of faith, the gift of working miracles, the gift of prophecy, the discernment of spirits, the gift of speaking in unknown languages and the gift of interpretation.  And all of them, St Paul tells us, are secondary to the most important gift of all, which is the gift of love.  Like I said last week, Paul’s list is not definitive, you get to the end of the list and you say, no, sorry, none of those – well, a good definition of a spiritual gift is just this – an ordinary activity that you do with persistence and with love – the only difference between an ordinary activity and a spiritual gift is intention – intention and love.

There’s nothing hifalutin about spiritual gifts.  Speaking the truth is a spiritual gift.  Showing hospitality is a vital gift in Christian community – providing morning tea or supper after a service, bringing flowers to gladden the hearts of everyone who comes into the church.  Doing the washing up.  Your spiritual gifts are just the things that you have to offer in love to the people around you, and in love to the Church.  St Paul uses the analogy of the body, and he says the gifts we have are all different, and they need to be different, because we are designed to depend on one another, to add the uniqueness of our own abilities to the overall body of Christ.

St Paul is writing to his wayward church in Corinth, where there seems to have been a lot of competition between people who wanted to be thought of as most important, and St Paul says, there’s only one reason you have any spiritual gifts at all, and that is for the building up of the church.

But the sort of church St Paul is talking about is not a place, it’s not a building, it’s a doing-word.  Church is a verb that comes in two parts – at first it’s about Gathering, and then it’s about Sending.  Every week Christians come together for the Eucharist and then we get sent out into the world in peace to ‘love and serve the Lord’ – that’s where you bring your spiritual gifts to bear in your relationships with neighbours, with people at work, with members of your family.  We come along to the party that is the Church, and it is here that our spiritual gifts are used in building one another up in Christian life and worship – and then like the servants in the story we get sent out again as messengers.

The endless dinner party in Ignorant Fairies was a place of transformation and a place of redemption – a place where people came in broken, and around the table they became whole again.  That’s what Church is, that’s the banquet Jesus is talking about and that’s what we are on about here.  Nothing less.  But here’s the pinch.  For all the work the host puts on, you need guests who are in a party mood.  The party you get is the party that everyone contributes to and the party that everyone chooses.  You get the sort of Church you’re prepared to invest your dreams and your skills and your creativity and your gifts in. 

Our Church is a rich and varied tapestry of the gifts that many people have given so generously over the years.  The building itself is a labour of love.  The liturgy we use is a work of love and dedication.  When you look around you can see layers and layers of love – people reading, people pulling out weeds and tending gardens, people sweeping and cleaning and painting, people drawing and writing poetry, people coming together to sew wall hangings and altar frontals, people studying and praying together and visiting the sick.  People involving themselves in the great issues and the local issues of their day, people reading Synod papers.  People playing music, welcoming visitors, people laughing together and crying together.

We stand at a time of great urgency.  There is much to be done today in our Church.  And Jesus tells us there is miraculous new life to be found in doing it together.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bearing good fruit

Story – romantic movies – ‘the one’

I have the feeling that at the heart of one of Christianity’s greatest debates is a similar sort of anxiety.  The argument I’m thinking about is the one that began that great split in the Christian Church that for some reason we call ‘the Reformation’.  And the question was this - how can I be certain that I’m saved?

For common folk in the Medieval Church this was actually a question that weighed heavily on their minds - the source of huge anxiety – you have to remember, they had no romantic movies – and the most satisfactory answer, more or less, was this – go to as many masses as you possibly can.  So you’d see people in the great cathedrals literally running from one side chapel to another, waiting for the moment when the priest would raise the consecrated host, never actually receiving the bread and wine – it was a religion of high anxiety in an age of anxiety.

We all of us, Catholic and Protestant alike, have much to be grateful for to that most anxious monk of all, Martin Luther – who in 1517 posted his famous 95 theses which basically boiled down to a single, earth-shattering realisation – that our salvation is never actually in doubt – not something that hangs in the balance and might be whisked away for a momentary lapse – not the goal of life at all but the freely-granted foundation of it!  Salvation depends not on works but on how we respond in faith to the faithfulness of God.  The tragedy of course is that this realisation led to schism and war and burning people at the stake – and to a yawning chasm between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians that is not yet fully healed, even in our own day.

Partly that might be because of the tension between different layers of the New Testament itself that makes it possible for people to choose the bits that appeared to support their favourite position – but maybe also because at one level Luther’s realisation didn’t take away the basic anxiety – Protestants seemed just to have changed one cause of anxiety for another – how much faith is enough?

Remember last week I spoke about the life-long quest we have as Christians to become our true selves – the challenge to become authentic?  Either way you look at it, it’s about accountability – about our response to the saving initiative of God in Jesus Christ.  This week, Matthew keeps up the pressure – Matthew the gospel writer with the uncomfortable habit of cursing fig trees and cutting down fruit trees that don’t bear good fruit – according to Matthew, if we’ve heard the good news, if we’ve received the gift of the gospel then whether it’s about faith or about works we’d better measure up. 

In the original context of Jesus’ conflict with the chief priests and the temple authorities, the point of the story about the recalcitrant tenants seems fairly clear – the Jewish religious elites have lost their chance because their actions don’t match their claims, so the good news and the promise of salvation is going to bypass them.  But then we need to remember Matthew himself, writing for a Jewish Christian community 50 or so years after Jesus, some of whom are in danger of losing their faith, and others who want to impose conditions on non-Jewish converts – and Matthew, writing for his own community, is saying it doesn’t matter who you are, if you don’t bear good fruit then God’s kingdom is going to bypass you.  And so I can’t avoid asking myself – are there any ways in which I am like the Pharisees – ways in which I have got other priorities in place of God?  It’s a recurring theme for Matthew, just think about the parable of the talents – when you’ve received the gift of God’s Word, then you’re responsible for what you do with it.

So there’s still some anxiety, after all.  Are we bearing the right sort of fruit, or not?

And for this question it’s St Paul who has the word I think we need – St Paul writing to the church in Galatia with whom he is very disappointed indeed – the Galatians it seems are fighting amongst themselves, and they are abandoning Paul himself for the teachings of some un-named opponents who are teaching that they should all be circumcised and adopt the cultural practices of Judaism.  And St Paul’s answer is this: you don’t need the Law because being baptised in Jesus Christ you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

In some Christian circles today, people make quite a big thing of going through the various lists St Paul comes up with, here, and the letters to the churches in Rome and Corinth, trying to identify which of the gifts or the fruits of the Spirit they have.  I think that’s basically misguided, because it overlooks what Paul’s own main argument is – that you don’t need lists, you don’t need external guidelines or regulations because you have something far more dynamic, far more reliable, and that is the living Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When you are living in Christ, Paul writes, this is the sort of stuff that happens.

And I think there are three main points here.  The first one, as I’ve already pointed to, is that the fruits of the Spirit aren’t your work, they are evidence of the Spirit working in you.  St Paul takes seriously that the Holy Spirit is not just a theological abstraction or a difficult idea that we can only explain using clover leafs, but a real and vital agent at work in the communal life and the worship of the church.  That’s the first thing – the Holy Spirit is rightly called the Comforter, but also the Disturber and the Challenger and the Ruffler of Feathers – because it is the Holy Spirit that brings life and creativity, and thrives on diversity and freshness, it is the Holy Spirit who is the enemy of stuffiness and conformity and apathy.  The Holy Spirit is at work here – hold on to your hat!  Expect miracles, expect something remarkable.

The second point is this – that the fruits of the Spirit are organic – you don’t manufacture them, you don’t choose them, they just grow.  The fruits of the Spirit appear naturally as you grow towards the true self that has existed the whole time as a blueprint in the mind of God.  You don’t need to be anxious – because what you are to become is already known to God.  Does that mean you don’t have to do anything at all?  Not at all – your job is to pay attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit within you.  Pay attention to your dreams – learn to be still.  Spend time resting in prayer in the heart of God.  Learn to recognise what is and what is not the movement of God’s Spirit.  Be flexible – trust God and allow your life to move in the direction God’s Spirit is moving.  Fruit-growing is a co-operative enterprise – the fruit you end up with depends on two things - the movement of the Spirit – and on what you yourself long for.

And the third point is this – that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is relational.  Think about St Paul’s list – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – none of these are solo acts, they are all qualities that we can only develop in our relationships – they are all attributes that we can only discover in ourselves, and in one another, as we live together in a community of love.  That’s why being a Christian can never be a private, individual affair, your Christian faith can only ever grow and come into its true potential in a community that is committed to living out the faith of the gospel in mission to the world around it – pay attention to one another, learn to listen to one another’s dreams, affirm what is of God in one another, work together for God’s kingdom.  Forgive without limit, love without reserve, and in the way you live, proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone you meet.

The fruits of the Spirit are already, and uniquely, yours.  Luther had it right – salvation never was the prize for bearing the good fruit but the soil in which you are planted and in which, as God’s precious seed, you already are growing just as God intends you to.