SalutationColossians 1:1-12 (NRSV)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters[a] in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul Thanks God for the Colossians
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
Friends, today I want to spend some time thinking about fruit. Now when you think about fruit, what kinds of fruit do you think of? Bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, pears, watermelon, peaches, kiwi, lemons, limes, blueberries, strawberries? Did I leave out any of your favorites? There are lots of different kinds of fruits, aren’t there? And it is interesting how different fruits can be. Some of them grow on vines. Some on bushes, and some on trees. With some fruit, you eat the skin, while other fruits leave behind a rind or a peel or some kind of outer shell. And most fruit tastes sweet, though there are fruits that are sour or even bitter. But for the most part, fruit is a great way to add vitamins and nutrients to our diets. And they are simple and natural products of God’s Creation. If you think about it, it is like a special gift for us straight from God!
Throughout the Bible, we hear about lots of different kinds of fruits. Of course, the apple in the garden of Eden, but also olives and figs, dates and grapes, and even pomegranates are mentioned throughout scripture. But in the letter to the Colossians, Paul talks about a different kind of fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. Now the fruit of the Spirit is what grows within individuals that connect themselves to the Spirit.
Have you ever heard Jesus’ words from the gospel of John when he said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit”? Well, what that means is that when we stay connected to the divine, then we are able to blossom and bear fruit. But the fruits that we bear are not apples and oranges and bananas. Instead, the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As individuals, we share the love of God through these actions. And we don’t share them because we have to, but because, when we are guided by the Spirit and filled with the love of God, that’s just what we do.
But we cannot simply assume that we are always bearing fruit even if we think our faith is strong and we have a good relationship with God. Sometimes, we need to check on our progress and we need to ask ourselves a few questions. What fruit do I bear? Am I making a difference in the world? How am I bringing the love of God to others? When am I acting as a steward of God’s grace? And finally, through my actions am I bringing the kingdom of God a little closer?
Some of these questions are hard to answer, aren’t they? Because when we ask them, we realize the places where we have fallen short, opportunities that we have not fully taken advantage of, and reactions that we have had to–and with–others that have been, let’s just say, a little less than positive.
But the good news, my friends, is that the door is never closed, and the vine is never cut. We always have the chance to begin again! That is part of the good news of God’s grace. We are able to refresh our relationship with God and to have our Spirits renewed, that we might begin to bear fruit again once we have nurtured and cared for our soil.
But this question about bearing fruit is not only for us as individuals. It is also a great question for us to ask as a church. What kind of fruit does the Oldtown Church, or the Trinitarian Congregational Church, bear? What can we point to that demonstrates that the communities that we are in, are healthier and more faithful because of the presence of our churches? Do our churches make any kind of difference in society? Is the Spirit, through our churches and through us, actually changing lives, deepening faith, and planting seeds of hope in our communities? Or are we just that cute, little, old church in Oldtown? Or that church on the green by Wheaton College in Norton?
Mark Nepo wrote a book called “Surviving Has Made Me Crazy.” And in it, Mark tells of a town in New England in which a church closed because of declining attendance. Sadly, what the farmers of the community missed was the ringing of the church bell, not the ministry or the outreach of the church. It’s possible that if the congregation had asked itself, “What fruit do we bear?” though it might not have prevented that church from closing, it could have revealed that the church served no other role in the community than that of music-maker.
That is why it is so important that we think about and identify the fruit that we bear as churches and the difference that we make not only inside of our walls but out in our communities. Now I know that there are people in our communities that love to hear our bells ring out on Sunday mornings. In Norton, people look to the Trinitarian Church for their clock tower and its chiming on the hour. In Oldtown, people are very interested in our history. After all, the town of Attleboro would not have begun without our meetinghouse, because back in the early 1700s, there could be no town without a meeting house and no meetinghouse without a town. But as Carolyn Chretien always says on our historical tours, we are more than just a museum. We worship here every Sunday, and we have a very active congregation, and you are always welcome to join us! I get goosebumps every time Carolyn says that part! Through fundraising, both of our churches are known for their Fall and Christmas fairs, where everyone feels like they belong.
So, what it sounds like is that we are known for our locations, our bells, our steeples, our history, and our fundraising, but what about our faith? What fruits do our churches bear in the community as far as faith-raising? I know that as churches, we bear the spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But I also know that, like every church, we always have growing edges–places where we can stretch our branches and sprout new seeds, allowing new buds and blossoms to emerge so that new fruit can grow.
It is my hope and my prayer–and I’m sure that it’s Pastor Bernie’s hope and prayer too–that besides being known in our communities for the sound of our bells and for our locations and our histories and our fairs, that we might also be known for helping our community to ask some of life’s big questions as we gently guide them to build a firm faith foundation to stand on. And that we might teach others about the good news of the gospel, not only by inviting people to join us in worship but also through our actions as we meet them where they are.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, this summer, each time you enjoy a piece of fresh fruit, take a minute to thank God for the simple gift of that banana, or that orange, or that apple, or whatever fruit you are eating. And then think about the fruit that you bear as an individual and the fruit that we bear as churches. And then, if you feel a new seed beginning to sprout, or an opportunity presents itself to reach out to others, do not be afraid and don’t hesitate. Just open yourself and allow God to work through you as you identify and share the amazing fruit that you bear!