But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 6:22-23 RSV)
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:7 NIV)
Rather, it (your beauty) should be that of your inner spirit, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great value in God’s eyes.
(1Peter 3:3 NIV)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12 NIV)
Last week I had an up close and personal encounter with one of my shortcomings. Pastoral evaluations in the UMC for many years referred to these as “growing edges,” though I’m not so sure I have much to work with in this particular case. Let’s just call it a spiritual shortfall. Yet another morning had dawned foggy and cool after a full week of the same. Fog is lovely when it creeps in on little cats’ feet (as Robert Frost once said) and creeps out again just as quickly and quietly; being socked in with the stuff for a week begins to fray the nerves somewhat. So, I decided to do something healthy and make a smoothie for breakfast. All went well until I tried to add some frozen mango chunks that had frozen into a solid slab. I tried to separate them with the assistance of a meat mallet...no dice. So I kicked it up a notch and tried the long-handled hammer...no joy. Finally, in mounting frustration, I went to the garage and got my trusty demolition hammer, a whopping thing weighing several pounds...nothing gave way. By this point, even I realized that I was behaving foolishly. Yet I was seriously considering demolishing something easier to smash, just for the relief of it, when I heard my mother’s voice, reminding me to soak frozen foods in cool water if I’m in too much of a hurry to wait for them to thaw on their own. Done. Three minutes later, the mango pieces were easily broken apart. It took longer than that to put away all the tools I’d used to try to beat those chunks into submission.
As I took the first sip of my smoothie, a little voice echoed in my head, “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great value in God’s eyes.” Uh oh, I thought, you’ve missed the mark again. (Bible “Trivia” Tidbit of the Day: the New Testament Greek word commonly used for “sin” - “hamartia” - means “missing the mark.”) When gentleness was being handed out, I mused, you must have been standing behind the door. Yes, I know, that’s no excuse; it only lets me off the hook, which means that nothing changes for me. Being able to quote to oneself memorized Bible verses can be a mighty help in time of trouble, but the one thing the Bible never does is let us off the hook - it’s way too truthful for that - and this time, the Bible verse I recalled put a mirror in front of my face, showing me just how un-gentle a soul my actions revealed. What on earth are you going to do about this, I thought; it’s not like you’re young and malleable - you’re old and hardened. Then another verse from the Epistles came to me: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Any gentleness that grows in me will not be the result of my own gardening prowess; it will be the result of the Spirit’s work in me - though the process works best when I get with the program. The Holy Spirit doesn’t generally force the issue, as I tried and failed to do. Notice that the Scriptures do not refer to the fruits of the Spirit, but to the fruit of the Spirit. It’s all one multi-faceted piece of produce. You can’t have gentleness if you lack patience (no need to try that one, folks; I’ve already proved it conclusively); you can’t have patience unless you possess some measure of self-control (ditto); you can’t show self-control if you’re not experiencing a fair amount of love, joy, and peace - you get my drift. It’s all a work of grace, and grace rarely operates in a compartmentalized way...which is a really good news if, like me, you have more than one “growing edge.”
And something tells me that right now, I’m not the only one experiencing a deficit of gentleness, patience and self-control. The first news article to pop up on my iPhone this morning had a headline so wild and crazy, I wondered if it was for real: “Bus driver beaten to death by passengers who refused to wear masks.” (This happened in France, by the way, in case you missed it.) OMGoodness, I thought, what are we coming to? Even if you don’t want to wear a mask, even if you view it as an infringement on your rights as an individual, even if you have doubts about the efficacy of wearing masks, why would you beat to death a worker who was simply doing his job? Don’t get me wrong here; I understand that one of the effects of prolonged exposure to a negative or depressing or fearful reality over which we have little or no control - be it bad weather or a pandemic - is heightened frustration, displaced anger, even senseless rage. And all of us are under a significant level of stress right now. But, here we go again - the Scriptures do not let us off the hook. We are not just any old people: we are God’s people, God’s chosen and beloved people, and we are called to be God’s holy people in some very specific ways - by clothing ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Cheer up, everybody; we don’t have to embody all that kindness and gentleness “au naturel”: the Spirit can weave those gracious garments around us and clothe us in a robe of righteousness we do not possess on our own. But it’s going to take some prayer and meditation on our part. So I’m hoping that you will join me in fervent prayer that the fruit of the Spirit will be grown and shown in us; for we are among those whom the Scriptures boldly and bravely call “God’s chosen people.” Thanks be to God that we are not in this alone; for, in the words of St. Paul, the Lord is near.
Take time to be holy; the world rushes on.
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like him Thou shalt be.
Thy friends in thy conduct, his likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy; be calm in thy soul;
Each thought & each motive, beneath his control.
Thus led by his Spirit, to fountains of love,
Thou soon shall be fitted for service above.
Mighty God, we entrust into your skillful hands the ribbons of our lives. By your Spirit, weave in us and around us the garments of grace, that all may see the power of your saving love. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood