The Fruits of the Spirit

September 29, 2013

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

This is the fourth in our series on the Top Ten Hits of our version of Christianity here at Judson. We don’t claim that this is Christianity in toto, just in parto. We have a humble but daunting goal: To say what kind of fundamentalist we are here at Judson, as in what fundamentals we cherish, and to stop finding our identity as NOT THEM, meaning the other kind of fundamentalists.

First we talked about Love as our Core hope and belief. Then we talked about Jesus. Last week we talked about Nature as a pathway to the ultimate. This week I want to say a little about the Spirit and to give you a way to identify as a third person of the Trinity kind of Christian.

You know the Spirit by the Spirit’s fruits in your life and in the life of others. You know the Spirit is not present when there is war or in justice or anxiety or despair. You know the Spirit is present when a community has a wide open door and a big heart and is also allergic to anything totalitarian. You can’t know the Spirit on the front end. You only know the Spirit on the back end. Right now I am knowing the Holy Spirit in the words and actions of St. Frances. I am praying for the holy to emerge from him as hard as I know how. But we won’t know till much later what kind of Pope he really is. Same way you can never know what kind of person anyone really is till you see what they harvest in your life.

Many psychologists tell us that people will rarely remember what we said or didn’t say, looked like or didn’t look like but that they will immediately know how they feel when they are around us. Call it chemistry or body language or both but you can tell pretty quickly whether you are safe around someone or not. One fruit of the Spirit is how you make people feel. To be someone who fruits Spirit is to be in charge of your own inwards, so much so that your relaxation is contagious. You sparkle with composure. That composure makes other people sparkle with composure. You are sunny, they are sunny around you. You are warm, they are warm around you. The slightest prickle in the process and things reverse. Instead of sparkling with composure, you release dread into the universe. We do feed each other our lines.

Unfortunately, we are much more acquainted with the demonic and how it works. That snarky comment about Stephen King’s latest book tells all. When people are dispirited, they often dispirit others. Note that the reviewer doesn’t even think King’s notion of the demonic is adequate. Some people can criticize ice cream. So few people can stand criticism of any kind that a little goes a long way. Criticism is truly an invasive spirit.

To tell the difference between a good spirit and a bad spirit is to take a look at its fruits. That’s why resumes and platforms are not really such a bad thing, only if they are taken too seriously. If you want to know a good Spirit, see what happens after it has left the room. Are the people more secure, more joyous, more peaceful, and more able? If you want to know an Evil Spirit, see what happens after it has left the room. Are the people backbiting, lying, hiding, conniving, sneaking? That is the evidence of an Evil Spirit.

Theologically Jesus said he had to go and that he would leave the Spirit behind to console and encourage and engage us. We have the Spirit right here, right now, in here, over there, and in our record as people. An old pastor was told by a parishioner how much she loved his sermon. He said, “We’ll see. We’ll see.”

The way the Spirit works is by invasion. Not the military kind but the spiritual kind. The Spirit works by the methods of Spirit. Sometimes it uses churches. Sometimes it uses Mosques. Sometimes it uses nature. Surely it used Jesus. Sometimes it uses politics. Sometimes it uses Community Organization. Or Education. Or medicine. The Spirit’s technology though is not social media or meetings or that language we use so badly, WORKING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE. The Spirit has a spiritual technology. It is inner peace invading the outer world.

I can show you best what I mean by explaining the Purple Loose Strife. How many of you know what it is? The Purple Loosestrife (yes it is a lispy thing) is an invasive species of marsh plant. It actually looks beautiful in bloom. It is purply pink. It can be eight feet tall. You have seen them everywhere because they have all but taken over marshes in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota. And they are right now making such a dent in Maryland that the state has called out the plant militia. No kidding. The plant is demonic instead of spirited as follows: it goes rapidly into a monoculture, knocking everybody else out, cattails and rush, even salt hat. Consider the 1% as an invasive spirit, using monoculture to mess up the system. It also changes the way water flows and destroys the food sources for many marsh animals, especially turtles. It came to this country probably in the 19th century on sailing ships and grew by attaching its pointy seeds to people’s clothing and letting them pay the fare to take the seeds elsewhere. The seed adheres to clothing, is very pointy in its seed sack (looking like a Halloween kind of devil) and can have over a million seeds per plant. The Loose Strife can loose strife in a wide area. It also knows how to grow by roots as well as seeding. There is nothing dumb about an invasive plant. There is an antidote to it and the antidote is a beetle. The Galerucella beetle, which is even smaller than a loosestrife seed.

You can find the Holy Spirit in yourself and in our world in the following ways. When you are gone from this planet, will there be more of a monoculture or more biodiversity? Forget the big stuff for a while and think about your office or your home. Will you have crowded out native plants or learned to live among them? Will there be more turtles, more slow things, or fewer? Will you have changed the way water flows and if so, will the flow help more people or hurt more people? Will you have increased the food sources or decreased the food sources available to people? In other words, will you be so Spirited that you can co exist happily or will you be so demonic that you will have to wipe out the others to survive?

Membership in Judson, by the way, means three things. One is that you find a spiritual friend here, one or two activities in which your friendship can result in another’s happiness and theirs in yours. Two is that you find a way to give financially or fully of yourself to increase the biodiversity and ecological health of this congregation. Three is that you participate in what we call governance and what I might call the flow of water through our system. That you make us healthy as a democratic system. When you are gone as a member – and of course this applies to all of us – will this community have great water flow, good ecology, excellent Spirits afoot and alive all around? Membership means Spirited membership.

You could also become a Galerucella beetle, and stop the bad spirits from invading the good ones. But when the strife that is loosed is blocked, let us protect the slow and the flow of the Spirits that are holy. Amen.

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