On Thursdays (if I don’t forget), I’m going to post devotions based on the the coming Sunday’s lessons. These were written by Rev. Earl Fedderson who, before his retirement in 2004, served in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s World Mission Department. I always enjoyed reading these weekly treasures and I pray you find value in them too.
There are many illustrations in the Bible about trees, vines, plants and fruits. One of the most frequent is that the people of God, like trees, vines and other plant life, are to bear fruit. Illustrations from nature are very common and, because they unfold from the universal experience of all mankind, they are very helpful. Fruits, nuts and berries are food sources for virtually every civilization, dating back to earliest human history. To speak of bearing fruit in various aspects of life comes quite naturally.
One of the more common illustrations comes from the fact that the seeds of reproduction are normally part of the fruits produced by trees and other plants. “Bearing fruit,” for us disciples, means making more disciples through the sharing of the Gospel. Then, when those who are lost are found, they become seekers and sharers themselves, bearing even more fruit! This is our mission.
Another familiar illustration is often used during stewardship efforts. The people of God return their “first fruits” to Him and His work in the world. We are seen as bearing fruit whenever we answer the call of God and use the talents He gives us to perform His work in the world–everything from caring for those in any need to proclaiming the Kingdom. Jesus’ parable about the vine and the fruit-bearing branches is not an entirely new thought. In the Old Testament, Israel is often called the “Vineyard of the Lord.”
In the Epistle lesson for this Sunday, St. Paul tells the Christians at Philippi, in Macedonia, that his prayer for them is that their love may abound more and more in all knowledge and insight…that they may approve the things that are excellent…be pure and without offense in the day of Christ…and be filled with the “fruit of righteousness.”
I believe that, in this instance, Paul is not talking about the fruits of disciple reproduction or the fruits of stewardship or service. I think he is talking about something more personal–an outward display or demonstration of a change that has taken place inside of us. These are more like blossoms or flowers than fruits.
In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul lists several things as the “fruit of the Sprit.” I think he has these same things in mind for the Christians in Philippi…and St. Louis…and your hometown. In Galatians 5:22, Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Notice how the first three of these are among our fondest Advent themes: God so LOVED the world that He sent good tidings of great JOY and PEACE on earth. Actually all of these, with the exception of self-control, are words that appear in the Christmas carols and stories. These are the flowers of righteousness–fruits of the Spirit to be sure–sweet-smelling and beautiful blossoms on the lives of God’s holy people.
Usually, at this time of the year, I like to think of myself as the frugal one in the family–not spending much money on the gifts and folderol associated with the season. I want you all to know that at any time of the year I would gladly drain all my cash and savings if I could wrap up and send to all my relatives and friends–including all of you reading these words–these precious gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. How wonderful it would be if we could undo a bow, unwrap a package and–ZAP–have these marvelous flowers blooming in our lives.
The truth is that, even if I had all the money in the world, I couldn’t buy or give these presents. The most I can hope for is that with God’s help I will be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful and gentle.
The key of course is the phrase, “with God’s help.” These are fruits of the Spirit–only God can make such flowers grow. Botanists tell us that a right combination of several ingredients will make a plant grow and produce fruit. These include proper amounts of nutrition, moisture, cross-pollination and sunshine. For reasons known only to God, many houseplants and finer varieties of flowers thrive far more gloriously with a generous amount of TLC from the humans who tend them!
The flowers of righteousness thrive on the grace of God, the Gospel, the Sacraments and the mutual tender loving care of God’s people. If you plant yourself down in your job and your living room, braving the cold in this holy season only to travel to Target, these flowers will not grow. You will not receive these precious gifts for they are the presents of His presence–they were never wrapped with a bow and wrapping paper–but they were once wrapped in swaddling clothes.
You know, one of the worst things that happens to all of us when shopping is when we finally find just the item we wanted, joyfully buy it and then find it again in the very next store at half-price. It usually happens where they display big signs saying: NO RETURNS!
Many people make poor purchases and bad trades. “Feddersen’s Fables” has a story about a merchant who heard that the residents of a South Sea island had more gold than they could use, so he decided to help them with their problem. He sailed to the island with a boatload of onions. The islanders were so pleased with this new delicacy that they gladly filled his ship with gold.
The merchant’s business rival thought that if the natives liked onions, they would love garlic. He was absolutely right. When he arrived with his load of garlic, they were more than willing to take it off his hands. In fact, they were so delighted that they wouldn’t think of trading him something so commonplace as gold so they reloaded his ship with their most prized possession–onions!
Someone has said that Christmas is just too much–we eat too much, drink too much and spend too much. It sounds like self-control is a needed flower at Christmas after all! If prizes and pleasures are our only gifts this year and not the flowers of righteousness, then it’s a bad trade–onions instead of gold. All we have left when it’s over is a bad taste in our mouths.
The worst trade of all time was the best trade for you and me. Jesus gave His life for yours and mine. He accepted the agony of the cross so that you and I do not face the agony of separation from God and condemnation. And there are returns! We return again and again…to the stable and manger, to the cross and to the empty tomb. Jesus paid the price for us and freely gives us forgiveness, life, salvation and the savory fruits of righteousness.