Fruit of the Spirit: Love
July 7, 2022 Rev. Drew Stockstill
An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to vindicate himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came upon him, and when he saw him he was moved with compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, treating them with oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him, and when I come back I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Good Samaritan, Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1907
One of the greatest struggles for people of faith is the question of evil, specifically, why is there so much suffering in a world where a good God exists? It’s likely many of us, most of us, have wondered, are wondering even now, “Why, God?” Why, God, the shootings? Why, God, the death from disease? Why, God, that accident, hurricane, fire? Why, God, these politicians, their choices, their supporters? It’s such a big question asked of God, there’s even a fancy theological word to describe it: Theodicy. Many of the people I meet who do not identify as religious say it has something to do with this question. How could there be a good if all this stuff happens?
Usually, however, when someone is asking the questions, they are not really in the mood for a theological discussion. When someone sitting by their ailing mother’s bedside, tears in his eye, wonders aloud, “Pastor, why did this have to happen to my mother?” Do you think they are really looking for a theological answer to their theological question at that moment?
I don’t think there is a very satisfying answer, and certainly not one that is helpful in the midst of suffering, because the question of evil itself is unsatisfying by nature. Evil is evil because it’s not supposed to be. So, there is no way to justify it. Our longing to make sense of evil is born out of our hurt, disappointment, and confusion. Our thirst is not so much to understand evil but to figure out what in the world is God up to in the presence of evil. It is not so much that I need to understand how or why a car accident has occurred, because we can usually answer that. What I want to know is where is God in the car accident? What is God’s role? Our question, “How can this be?” is more of one of the heart than of the head. But losing a loved one in a car accident is just not something we want to be able to wrap our heads around. It will never really make sense, even if we can answer the question.
God does have a role in a time when evil seems to be winning, God is present in the times of our greatest hurt and questioning, but to experience the fruit of the presence of God in the hard times, in the midst of the suffering, the disappointment, the confusion, the loss, it is helpful that we remember and anchor ourselves in the character of God before those times strike. So, when the questions of, “Why God?” come, and they will, we have faith in our spiritual toughness, that enables us to face those questions and their source trusting we are within the comforting and powerful arms of God. Then while we may suffer, while we may wonder, while we may rage in pain, we are not taken away from God in despair. We can indeed experience all these things, all the Why’s and How’s, while also holding on to the peace of Christ in us that surpasses all our understanding. God does not begin to satisfy the question of evil with answers, rather God simply reminds us, “I am with you always, to the ends of the earth,” and “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Remember, “You are strong and courageous.”
One of my favorite hymns declares, “God of grace and God of glory, on thy people, pour thy power; crown the ancient church's story; bring its bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.” That is a prayer for God to give us what we need when we come to face whatever is being asked of us, whatever hardship, or tragedy, or mission – that rather than succumb to doubt and despair we rise in hope and faith that not only is God present in all this, but God is the one equipping us with what we need to face this hour.
This is what I hope to do in our summer sermon series on the Fruits of the Spirit – for us to go through a sort of Spiritual Bootcamp to grow in faith and gain confidence in some of the ways God is present with us in the world, that we may not only draw on them in our own hard times but that we may use the fruits of the Spirit in our roles as followers of Jesus’ Way and agents of his ministry of love in our world. When people of faith live boldly with confidence that God is present and active in the world we actually push against the despair that is taking root in our time, giving others hope, reminding them they are not alone, and holding the light for those who walk in darkness.
The questions about evil, where is God when bad things happen, are big questions, but a greater question is the role of God when good happens in the face of evil? Where do people get the wisdom and strength and courage to do amazing things? What is the root of a person who gives of themselves to others? How do caretakers find the energy? How does the grandmother find the strength to raise her grandchildren?
What causes a firefighter to run into a burning building? What fuels middle school teachers? What gets the state worker out of bed in the morning to work on that project? What is at work when people come to church, sign up to hand out bulletins, and read scripture, serve communion, and provide snacks? How does God let this good happen? Where is God when common grace erupts? Those are the greater questions, the ones that I suspect provide some light in the darkness when those other questions arise.
For the next several weeks we will take a look at each fruit of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul teaches us. We read together the passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia where he names nine fruits of the Spirit. We’ll read this passage together every week so that we can
memorize together these fruits, or gifts that God gives each of us through the Holy Spirit. Paul says the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are ways that God is granting us wisdom and courage for the facing of this hour. And it all begins with love.
The Beatles said, “All you need is love.” 400 years earlier Martin Luther also said, “Love is all you need.” Luther said of Paul’s list, “It would have been enough to mention only the single fruit of love, for love embraces all the fruits of the Spirit.” Paul is writing to a church in conflict, trying to figure out how to be followers of Jesus when there are so many different people in their community, with different cultures, beliefs, and experiences. So, Paul is writing in a time and situation similar to the one we face. How do we face this hour? Paul’s response is, “live in the Spirit and the Spirit will give you what you need. And all you need is love. From the fruit of love grows joy, peace, patience, and kindness. When we love each other, when we love our neighbors, when we are motivated by selfless love, then we are generous, faithful, gentle, and have self-control. God kisses each fruit with love to make it sweet. You can be generous, Paul says, but without love it’s nothing. You can be a faithful Christian, but without love, you’re nothing—just a noisy gong. We hear plenty of that noise these days, loveless religious folks. They may love to talk about the law, they may love to use the law to take away this right or that service, they may love to quote the Bible, to condemn, to cancel, but if there is no love, there is no Holy Spirit. To live in the Spirit, to have the Spirit live in you is to let God’s love motivate and animate all else. We love because he first loved us.
There was once a religious person who came to Jesus. He loved to talk about the law. He knew them all, followed them all. He wanted to test Jesus, see what he knew about the law; see if he was the right kind of believer or not. So, he asks Jesus, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, seeing the trap, turns the question on him. “You’re the expert, you tell me. What’s the law say?” The man replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your
soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But the man wasn’t satisfied. He was looking for something to condemn Jesus with. Love was an easy out. But maybe he could catch Jesus if he’d talk about who and how to love. “Well, who is my neighbor?” Is the Trump supporter my neighbor? The proud Biden voter? Is the woman who works in the sex trade? Is the Muslim my neighbor? Is the Wall Street CEO? Is the climate activist? Is the climate change denier?
So, Jesus tells that story, the one where a man is beaten by robbers and left on the side of the road. And two religious folks, a couple of experts in the law, pass him by. Finally, somebody helps the guy out, a Samaritan. He’s moved with compassion, moved by love, and he goes out of his way. He treats his wounds with oil and wine, bandages him, brings him by the medical outreach clinic so Liz and Vanessa can fix him up, gets him to a hotel room, and takes care of all the guy’s health care bills. What does I mean to love my neighbor? Love who? Love how? Be like State Farm, like a good neighbor, show up in love. This is what the Spirit’s fruit of love looks like. Jesus commanded the lover of the law, “Go and do likewise.” Paul said, “There’s no law against love.” Everything else that matters flows from love and nothing should stand in the way of love.
There are big questions about all the bad stuff that happens in the world, but there are just as many, even more examples of love overcoming. We could ask, what kind of God let’s that guy get beat up? What kind of followers of what kind of God just pass him by? We could ask that, but we could also ask, what motivates the Samaritan? What gives a man like that compassion and kindness, to be so gentle and generous and patient? God. God fuels that with his love, God gives people the sweet fruit of love and God gives us the command to “Go and do likewise.”