Fruit for all seasons


Why would anyone come to Kelsall?
I know they come for the steam fair and the folk festival. But most come to Kelsall for the fruit, from Windsors Fruit Farm at Willington and Eddisbury Fruit Farm on the Yeld.
One of the greatest pleasures of my childhood was picking fruit – picking our own strawberries from the field, scrumping apples and gathering conkers. What added to the pleasure was the sight of the fruit – the colour of the apples, the texture and coating of the conker and the size and softness of the strawberry the ones that were just ripe enough.
No home is complete without its basket of fruit. Albert Einstein said: A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?
Well times have changed. Now it’s an ipad, an iphone and anything else apple!
But for the sick, one of the go to gifts is a basket of fruit. It is healthy, it is cheerful, it is thoughtful and it is tempting.
Paul (Galatians 5) presents us with two baskets of fruit this morning. One basket is full of rotten fruit: strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions, envy … and things like these. This is an everyday diet – many people only have bitter fruits which leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
The other basket is filled with good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These are of course metaphorical fruits. They are the fruits of people’s lives – what people have to offer through their seasonal cycle of being planted, born, growing, fruiting and going to seed.
The two baskets represent the harvest of two very different people – a good basket which anyone who is sick, or who needs encouragement would welcome. The one is the harvest of lifestyles which are self seeking: the other is a range of gifts to enrich relationships with real human quality that affects reactions and responses. They are the fruits of the very Spirit of God.
The Bible begins with fruit trees and ends with fruit trees.
There will be a time when the fruitfulness of God’s creation will sustain people in all the seasons of their lives. Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible, refers to the fullness of time with the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river, as at the beginning, so at the end, is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its each month, for all the seasons of life. And the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations.

A sculpture was offered as consolation to the grieving, shell shocked people of Warrington after the IRA bombings that killed two young boys. It is by Stephen Broadbent and is at the scene of the litter bin outside Boots where the bomb was placed. It is the retelling of this vision of the work of God’s Spirit. The river flows through the middle of the street of the city, and on either side there are bronze plaques planted wither side of the river – twelve in all, each with their fruit to sustain people through all the seasons of their life, including the times when they even walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The one shown is for January, for a cold, dark, depressing and lonely time. The fruit offered for the season is JOY – and underneath the month Stephen has written the words “and the leaves of the trees will be healing of the nations” – every month, for all the seasons of our lives.
The Warrington sculpture, the hope and consolation that it represents, is the there and then of the promise found in Revelation in the here and now of violence, enmity and strife. It is a basket of spiritual fruit offered to a world that is feeling very sick.
Another basket of fruit was offered to a world of bitterness and anxiety by a mosque in York recently. Well it wasn’t so much a basket of fruit so much as the offer of a cup of tea and a game of football.

Apparently members of the Mosque heard that the English Defence League were gathering for a protest outside their Mosque – members of the mosque retaliated by putting the kettle on, invited the protesters inside, drank tea together and played football together.

But how does such fruit grow? How are some people able to offer such good fruit when everyone else seems only able to respond with anger, cynicism and despair?
The Bible is full of talk about fruitfulness. It begins at a fruit tree in the garden of Eden, and it ends with a fruit tree
Psalm 1 describes the process:
Blessed are they that have not walked in the way of the wicked,
Nor lingered in the way of sinners,
Nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.

Their delight is in the law of the Lord
And they meditate on this day and night.
Like a tree planted by streams of water
Bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,
Whatever they do, it shall prosper.

Similarly Psalm 92. There the Psalmist suggests that
It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord
and to sing praises to your name, O Most High.
To tell of your love early in the morning
and of your faithfulness in the night-time.
…… The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.
Such as are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be vigorous and in full leaf.

For the writer of John’s Gospel it is about being born again
The fruit of our lives can be the work and creation of the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God which helps us respond, react and hope with love. It is the Spirit of God which helps us to bear fruit in all the seasons of life, when faced with sorrow, disappointment, betrayal, enmity, jealousy. It is the Spirit of God which helps us to speak, act and think with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It is through the Spirit of God we have a basket of fruit for a world that craves fruit – five a day – our neighbours, family, community and enemies.
Isn’t that a healthy lifestyle? Isn’t that a winning way?
How many pray for more strife, more jealousy, more quarrels, more factions? Haven’t we got enough of them?
How many pray for more patience, more kindness, more generosity, more gentleness and more self-control in their homes, workplace and community? My guess is that we may have an answer to their prayer: a basket of fruit for all tastes.

A sermon preached at St Philip’s Kelsall on June 30th 2013

Resilience and efficiency

ImageWhen I had a study I wished I worked in an office. Now I work in an office and I wish I had a study. (Interesting that I use the verb “work” only in relation to the “office”). I was shy about the “study” because I didn’t think it had the street cred of the offfice. Like many of my peers I referred to my study as the office. Now I find myself fighting for the place of the study in ministry which seems to have less time for it.

In a recent blog post, Sam Charles Norton has some wise words as he contrasts efficient and resilient systems. An efficient system “is one in which each resource is being utilised to the greatest possible extent.” We love efficiency and worship its icon of the (upwardly mobile) graph which is the prerequisite of any office wall. Norton suggests that the Church of England is hell-bent (my words) on a drive towards efficiency which is (mis)-guided by a spirituality “which is based upon a fear that all that seems to be going wrong will continue to go wrong.” According to Norton, we have forgotten what it means to believe in God. “The Church of England will only be saved by those who are not consumed with conviction about how to save it, and who sit lightly at the prospect of the Church of England not being saved – simply because they are utterly committed to the sovereignty of the living God, and they trust in his provision, rather than our own choices.”

A “resilient system” is what the Church of England has been as it “has emphasised the importance of the local and the different, the queer and the inefficient”. Resilient systems have resources within them which enable them to withstand shocks and trauma.  These “unexploited” resources aren’t built or stored in offices. That would be too inefficient. Many of our offices stand empty with their enterprise blown away by the latest economic shocks to the system. Offices are only open for business and efficiency. They are closed to resilience and their house is blown down with but one puff.

“Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1).