It might seem little odd to speak of fruit in the same sentence as the Spirit.
Because of the sheer mystery of God’s Spirit, it might seem more appropriate to speak of things like extraordinary visions, unearthly voices, and inexplicable occurrences – of signs and wonders, as the New Testament witnesses put it.
But those same New Testament witnesses inevitably talk about fruit when they speak of the Holy Spirit. And that’s because of Pentecost.
Pentecost was originally an agricultural festival, a celebration of the harvest. Coming 50 days after Passover, it was all about giving thanks for God’s redemptive act of liberating the people from slavery in Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land. God had promised that this land would be fertile, that it would produce a rich harvest. Indeed, when weather conditions were favourable, the Promised Land was truly bountiful.
So, in acknowledgement for divine faithfulness, God’s people held this great festival to thank God and to celebrate. Hence the language and images of fruit. Or, more broadly, the harvest.
God always was and still is interested in the harvest. God intends good for all people, and therefore ensures that there is a harvest from the soil, the forest, the lakes and seas, and even from the air. For God is the God of creation.
God is also the God of redemption. God sent the only beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to sow the crop by his transformative teaching, his welcome to the righteous and the sinners alike, his insistent gathering of them all at his table, and his forgiveness of sin.
And even when the world says No to Jesus – even when we just don’t want God among us on God’s terms, and we try to get rid of him; even when we cry out, Crucify him! – even then, God just won’t give up. God the Father raises God the Son from the grave as the First Being of the New Creation – or as some of the New Testament witnesses say, the First-Fruit of the New Creation.
Now it’s beginning to make sense! God sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in order to provoke a wonderful, awe-inspiring harvest – not of apples and carrots and grain, nor of animals thriving on the land, nor of fish teaming in lakes and seas, nor of birds swarming in the sky above – but a rich harvest of what God has always wanted from you and me and all people: the righteousness of faith.
When God poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples who were gathered in Jerusalem on that momentous Pentecost festival almost 2,000 years ago, bystanders wondered whether they were drunk. The Spirit had given the disciples the gift of tongues, or speech in earthly and perhaps also angelic languages.
The bystanders heard it as gibberish. That wouldn’t be unusual when we keep in mind that Pentecost was originally an agricultural festival and that grapes were an important part of the harvest. Grapes inevitably lead to wine, and we all know what wine can do!
Simon Peter chimes in immediately. No, it’s too early in the day for all these people to be drunk. Something else has happened. And then he tells the marvellous story of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, and what it means for the whole world.
But hold on. What if were to go with the charge levelled by the bystanders? What if we were to acknowledge the suggestions that the disciples were drunk – that is, drunk with the fruit of the Spirit?!
And maybe we would be crazy enough to say that we’re drunk, too, in the 21st century, here in Abbotsford or wherever you happen to be. And if we’re not, then maybe we should pray that God pour out this Spirit in such a way that contemporary bystanders would cluck their tongues and wag their heads at us and our wild attitudes and our scandalous behaviour.
Because of God’s Spirit, we’re drunk with love, love that arises from God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God has freed us from our sin. We are not prisoners of our past. We’re not enslaved to vengeance. We don’t keep little black books recording the names of people who have wronged us. Those little black books were stripped of us when God raised us to new life. They’re back in the grave, rotting, while by the power of God’s Spirit we have walked away, re-created and free.
It doesn’t stop there. It spreads out, by the power of the Spirit, and gains power as it goes. Not only do we exercise patience with one another, now we seek the well-being of all people. Just as in the Kyrie that we often sing as we gather for worship, we pray to God for all people, asking God to provide for all.
Of course, those prayers are offered in peace. That is why God the Father sent God the Son in the first place – for the sake of peace. Peace among us who are gathered here; peace that extends to our homes and neighbourhoods; peace that is addictive, because we’re drunk with the Fruit of the Spirit.
These aren’t the only gifts or fruits that we’ll find in various lists in the New Testament, but I believe they are the most important. Add them all together and you get the word, faith. Faith itself is a Fruit of the Spirit.
May God pour out that Spirit anew, and produce in us this harvest that God desires. May we live in love, peace, and faith, for the sake of another and the world that God persistently loves.
Peace be with you all.