The sermon starts at the 4:28 mark after the music
Lay Reader = John 14:23-27
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
We are continuing our series looking at the words to remember – Scripture verses that are worth memorizing or otherwise writing on your heart. When life goes sideways on you, these are the parts of the Bible that will bring you strength and comfort and God’s peace which surpasses all understanding.
This week we are looking at the Holy Spirit. Just a quick little poll here, so get ready to raise your hands. Ready? Raise your hand if you believe you completely understand the Holy Spirit. OK, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you’ve got a lot of company on that. The bad news is, I don’t totally understand the Holy Spirit either. So this might be the blind leading the blind, but we’ll see what we can figure out together.
22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Spirit Points to Christ
Part of the process of becoming a Presbyterian pastor is that you have to be psychologically evaluated. It’s a lot of fun, let me tell you. Especially when your dad is starting the process of being a pastor at the same time, and he was evaluated by the same person before I was, and the evaluator brought out my dad’s file as a reference when he was evaluating me.
Spoiler alert – I passed the evaluation. But I did hit a few snags. For instance, there were questions asking if I believed people were out to get me or trying to steal my stuff. And I answered yes to some of them, so the evaluator asked me about that with concern. But I lived directly between the park where people purchased illegal drugs and the park where they consumed their illegal drugs. If someone was short on cash that day, they were on the lookout. My car had just been broken into for like a dollar in change. And a week before I had helped a classmate chase away someone who was trying to steal her car from the parking lot. So yes, people were out to get me and yes they were out to steal my stuff. Sometimes it’s not being paranoid, it’s being perceptive!
But there were some other questions that raised questions as well. Do you ever hear voices in your head? Do the voices ever tell you to do things? Do the voices ever tell you to do things you don’t want to do? Well, yeah! The Holy Spirit sometimes gives me specific direction, and sometimes I’d rather not do what the Spirit is telling me to do! The psychological evaluator didn’t seem as amused as I was, but they passed me nonetheless.
But I do think that points to an interesting question. What’s the line between hearing the Holy Spirit’s specific direction, and just listening to voices in your head? How do you know when you’re hearing from the Holy Spirit or just listening to your own voice?
In our first text today, we heard one of the most important ways we can double check what we think is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” So if you’re wondering if the Holy Spirit is really telling you something, it first has to pass the Jesus test: “is this something Jesus would have said or done or encouraged?” If you can find a Biblical example of Jesus giving guidance or demonstrating it, then you really know you’re on the right track.
It’s not always that straightforward, but it’s always a good place to start. Have you ever reached into your refrigerator and wondered if something is spoiled or still good? You can check if there’s an expiration date – and remember that that a “12” in the month column could always refer to last December, so a year is preferable instead of just day and month. You can look at it to see if there’s mold. And the last step is the sniff test, right? You can do that in your life, too. Check the writing – the Bible. If you can’t find that, does it pass the Jesus sniff test? Would Jesus recommend or do this?
Fruit of the Spirit
And if you need some guidance on the Jesus sniff test, our reading today offers a great summary. The Fruit of the Spirit is a very famous passage from the Bible. So let’s talk about fruit.
My younger son picked out a strawberry plant at the store, and we warned him it might not produce too much fruit, but even with the recent snow it’s still trucking! He keeps close tabs on the new buds and updates us on the progress of the ripening strawberries. So tell me this: what kind of fruit is produced by a strawberry plant? What fruit is produced by a banana tree? How about an apple tree? And even though the yogurt container might say the flavor is strawberry banana, there’s no tree that produces both strawberries and bananas, right? One plant produces one fruit. Are you with me?
In the same way, our passage today talks about the FRUIT – singular – fruit of the Spirit. So the fruit of the Spirit is love. Everything else is expounding on what is meant by love. So a person who is filled by the Holy Spirit naturally produces the fruit of love. And just as a strawberry looks red and bumpy with a little green on top, love looks like “joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
We’ve talked about this before, but I just want to remind you about the different kinds of love in the Bible. In English we use the same word to say I love my parents, I love my wife, I love my children, I love my job, and I love my pizza. But in Greek there are different words for those things. And this word “love” refers to love by choice. I often summarize it as “wanting the best for someone no matter who they are or what they’ve done, and being willing to do something to help.” That’s the fruit of the Spirit. That’s what Jesus referred to when he said, “God is love.”
So you can use the fruit of the Spirit to help you determine if something in your life passes the Jesus sniff test.
Does it result in love that wants the best for someone no matter who they are or what they’ve done, and is that love demonstrated by actions?
Does that love produce joy that transcends your circumstances?
Does that love produce peace that surpasses all understanding?
Does that love demonstrate the same patience that God has toward us?
Does that love provide basic kindness and bless everyone you encounter?
Does that love seek the best that God has to offer a person?
Does that love demonstrate commitment – especially toward God’s mission and purpose?
Does that love remain visible on good days and bad days?
Does that love demonstrate discipline over time?
If you’re still not sure about the Holy Spirit, here’s another way to notice the Spirit in your life. Do you remember looking up and noticing the majesty of the Rocky Mountains? Maybe you saw the sky as God’s canvas and the rays of the sunrise or sunset as the color palette? Do you remember your prayer of thanks to God for the beauty of creation? It was the Holy Spirit who prompted you to see God’s glory and gave you the idea to lift up that prayer.
Or do you remember sitting in a hospital waiting room with your child or loved one? As the minutes stretched to hours waiting to even be seen, do you remember having far more patience than normal as you tried not to add to your loved one’s burden by being short with them? That increased patience was the Holy Spirit.
Do you remember when your relative or your spouse or your child died and you thought you would never take another breath…and then you did? The ability to breathe when life has squeezed you dry was the Holy Spirit.
Do you remember when someone’s name popped into your head and you decided to call them…and they desperately needed that call? Do you remember when you suddenly noticed that someone else was in need and you stepped in to help? When you had God’s eyes to see and God’s will to act, that was the Holy Spirit.
Do you remember thinking, “I didn’t know I had that in me?” Well you probably didn’t. The Holy Spirit probably made that possible.
Listening to the Spirit
Maybe you can remember moments like that. Maybe you can’t. Either way, there’s one fundamental question: do you want more of that in your life, or less?
Do you want more love or less? Do you want more joy or less? Do you want more peace or less? Do you want more patience or less? Do you want more kindness or less? Do you want more generosity or less? Do you want more faithfulness or less? Do you want more gentleness or less? Do you want more self-control or less?
I mean, can you imagine praying like this? “God, please transform my life. I want to be more bitter. I want to store up anger and snap at people. Help me to be meaner, O God. Help me to be stingier with my time and talents and finances. I want to be known as a person who does the bare minimum. I want to be known as a person who has no foundation, who is easily led astray.”
Is that the prayer you want? I’ve heard a lot of stuff as a pastor, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard that prayer from someone. If you want to be the kind of person who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit, how are you listening to the Spirit? How are you inviting the Spirit to work in your life? Strawberries have to be planted, tended, and harvested to become edible fruit, right? How are you tending the garden of your soul so that the Spirit can grow some fruit?
I’ve been doing the same journaling practice for a number of years. And I have a table of contents with the date, a title for that day’s journal entry, and the Scripture that inspired the journal entry. And if you think it sounds geeky to have a table of contents for your digital spiritual journal, you’d be correct.
I was reviewing my table of contents, and like everyone I have seasons of life, right? Sometimes it’s spring, and there’s new life and excitement in my life. Sometimes it’s winter, and everything looks dead and dormant. And as I reviewed my table of contents, I realized that many of the winter seasons lined up with gaps in my journal. It’s like I get out of my habit of listening to the Holy Spirit and I lose focus, lose direction, lose vitality. And it’s only when I realize my mistake and return to intentionally listening to the Spirit that my soul finds a new direction. But in those difficult times, I feel like I don’t have the energy to listen to the Spirit even though listening to the Spirit is the only way to find the energy I need to face difficult times. It’s a chicken and egg problem. Have you ever felt like that?
If you’re not feeling loving, if you’re not feeling joyful, if you’re not feeling at peace, if you’re not feeling kind, if you’re not feeling generous, if you’re not feeling faithful, if you’re not feeling gentle, if you’re not feeling like you have self-control, I encourage you to MAKE the time to listen to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is what gives us those things in our lives.
Maybe it’s journaling. Maybe it’s just taking a few minutes each day to say, “Holy Spirit, speak to me!” If you want the fruit of the Spirit and you don’t feel it right now, make the time to cultivate your garden and the Spirit will usually bring forth fruit in your life.
Sisters and brothers, the Holy Spirit may be hard to fully understand, but the Spirit can be seen wherever the fruit of love is produced. And that love looks like joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Do you want more of that in your life…or less? If you want more of that fruit in your life, ask the Holy Spirit to make it happen. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak. And then get ready to listen. Are you ready to see what happens when the Holy Spirit shows up in your life? Amen.