Monday, July 8, 2019

The Fruit of the Spirit is Love

 Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places

Ruth 1:1-21

            The fruit of the Spirit is love.  

            I read an article the other day that might not seem to have anything to do with this verse – but it does.  Bear with me. 
            The article began with an odd experiment in what we notice.          People were asked to watch a basketball game.  
            Half of the players wore white shirts and half wore black shirts.  They were asked to pay attention to how often the ball was passed among the players wearing white shirts. 
             Shortly after the game began, a man in a gorilla suit came out and walked among the players.    
            And you know what? -- fully 50% of the observers did not notice the gorilla.  
            In fact, they would have sworn that there was NO gorilla.  They were looking for something else.
            In our modern world, we have been trained not to see something which was obvious to generations in the pass:  that a personal God is active and moving in the world.  
            We still believe it – or we say we do.  But our senses have been trained in other ways.
            So this summer, we are going to train our senses to see what we believe – that a personal God is active and moving in the world.
            Starting, today, with love.
            The first of the fruits of the Spirit.  
             It’s no accident, I think, that it’s first.  
            After all, Paul also writes that, “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three – but the greatest of these is love.”  Love is first.  
            And the other fruit is connected to love.   It is sort of a foundation fruit – and you will see that when you see love – you may see another one of the fruits as well.  

            How do we train our eyes to see love?  
            First of all, I think, by noticing the stories of love in the Bible – really looking at them – seeing the details, imagining the scenes. 
            Like this scene, in the first chapter of Ruth.   
            I think that if there is one thing that is famous in the book of Ruth – it is the verses spoken by Ruth – and we recognize them as words of love 
            – but most of us know them from popular weddings songs.   “Entreat me not to leave thee/for whither thou goest I will go…. Thy people shall be my people, thy God my God… and where thou diest I will die.”    
            We know that Ruth’s words are words of love –

            But they are spoken from a daughter in law to her mother in law – and they are spoken in bitter circumstances.  
            Naomi and her family had left Israel during a famine and moved to Moab – and their sons had married two Moabite women.   But both Naomi’s husband and her two sons have died.  
            She has lost everything. 
            She knows she needs to return home.  
            And her daughters in law – being foreigners – there is no reason to expect they would be welcome in Israel – and really – no reason for them to go to Israel.  
            There have no children with their husbands.  
            They have no ties any more to Naomi.  
            And yet – both of them – at first – tell her that they will go with her.   
            And I think it is an act of love on Naomi’s part – to tell them they don’t have to come – she doesn’t want to tie them down.  
            She doesn’t think there is anything for them in Israel.   
            Naomi isn’t going to get married and have more sons that will grow up and be husbands for them – and that’s what both of these women need – in that time and culture.  

            But for some reason – Ruth won’t leave.  
            She wants to go with her mother-in-law.  
            She is willing to go to a place where she might experience hostility – and do what she can to help Naomi.    
            Between a Moabite daughter-in-law and her Israelite mother-in-law.  
            Maybe it’s not where you would expect to see love.  But it’s there.

            The fruit of the Spirit is love.  

            And what does this tell us about love – the fruit of love?

            First of all – it tells us that the fruit of love comes in unexpected places and in unexpected people – even the “wrong” person.  
            The fruit of loves comes in a Moabite woman willing to go the distance for the mother-in-law that she loves – to go with her to a country that she did not know – and where a welcome was not certain  -- Look for the fruit of love – even in the unexpected and the wrong places.

            And the fruit of love comes to us in places the places of grief and death – also unexpected places. 
            Naomi is living in a strange land – she has lost her husband and both of her sons.  
            She expects that her daughters in law will leave her too.  
            Why would they stay? She has nothing to offer them.  
            And yet Ruth clings to her.  
            For us too – the place of grieving and death is also a place of love – maybe especially so. 

            It was on the night in which he was betrayed that Jesus said these words to his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  
             And then he washed their feet – and then he died for them.  
            He was preparing them for his death when he said these words – when he gave them these words – words about his deep commitment to them – a love that would never let them go 
            – and their commitment to one another, a love that would also show itself to be fierce in the time of death.    
            Not then – but later, after he died and rose.  

            In times of death – love is the evidence of life.  
             Love that holds hands at a bedside, comes out for the funeral, brings casseroles, listens.  
            They are sometimes little things, but they are big things.  
            Where have you seen the fruit of love in this world, in your life, in this community?  
            Because we believe that a personal God is active and moving in this world.  But we need to retrain our senses to notice it.

            For many years I saw the fruit of love – but I didn’t that’s what it was for a long time.  
            I used to know a man who walked permanently bent over.  I didn’t know why and I didn’t really think about it much.  
            He walked permanently bent over, sometimes straightening up just a little, to say hello.

            Sometime after his wife died, I realized it.  
            Is wife had had polio as a young mother, and developed something called post-polio syndrome later on. 
            She spent most of their marriage in a wheelchair.  
            He gave up a job he loved as a professor to take a higher paying job, and they remodeled the kitchen so that the appliances worked for her.

            Even though she was in a wheelchair, they still enjoyed going to the theatre and to concerts together. 
            But in order to get her into and out of the car, and into places, he needed to carry  her.  
            From the car to the wheelchair, from the wheelchair to her seat.  And so all of those years – in this bent over man – I was seeing the fruit of love.  
            Only I hadn’t trained my eyes to notice.

            A personal God is active and moving in this world…

            The fruit of the Spirit is love.  Where have you seen it?   Where have you seen God?

            Go out and look for him this week…. 
            And then come back to witness to his power.

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