6th Sunday after Pentecost June 26, 2016
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
In the 2000 French film Chocolat, a woman by the name of Vianne, a drifter, finds her way into a rural French village; and opens up a chocolate shop.
The story line doesn’t seem all that riveting, except for the fact that Vianne opens the shop up during Lent, a season when all good Catholics refrained from eating chocolate.
It didn’t help that the chocolate shop was directly across the street from the church, and was open on Sunday.
Add to this that Vianne was not a church goer, and had a daughter outside of wedlock. None of this set well with the mayor of the town, who felt Vianne was tempting the town folk away from the conservative values that held the town together.
So the mayor sought to shut down the newly opened chocolate shop.
I was reminded of this movie this week as I read the “Fruit of the Spirit” text from Galatians 5. We hear this morning St. Paul contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the spirit.
As I think about Chocolat, I wonder who are the Christians in the story? Or at least, who are exhibiting the fruit of the spirit?
There’s more to be told about Vianne. Though she is a newcomer, she is able to connect with the community.
Vianne’s eccentric landlady is miserable over the fact that her pious daughter will not allow her son to see his grandmother. The daughter thinks her mother is a bad influence on her son. So Vianne arranges for the grandson and grandmother to meet in the chocolate shop.
Another towns woman confides in Vianne that she is living in an abusive marriage. So Vianne invites the woman to live with her and also gives her a job in the chocolate shop.
As the movie continues river gypsies approach the town and camp out on the outskirts. While most of the town objects to their presence Vianne embraces these misfits and shares chocolate with them.
On the one hand there is the mayor of the town. He is well respected. He is a church goer. He seeks to live the Christian life and tries hard to live the Lenten discipline of denial, especially the denial of chocolate during Lent. Yet, throughout the movie we see in him the works of the flesh; jealousy, enmity, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions.
On the other hand we see Vianne. The outsider. The free spirit. The non church goer. Yet, we see from her the fruit of the spirit; love, joy, kindness, generosity, and gentleness.
I’ll refrain from telling the ending of the story, outside of the fact that they mayor eventually comes around, and the local priest gives in to the temptation of enjoying chocolate during Lent.
But I’ve told enough of this story to reveal how deeply theological it is, especially in light of Galatians 5.
How do we live as Christians? Are we led by works of the flesh, even as we wear the label of being Christian? Or do we embrace the fruit of the spirit, even if we don’t always follow the rules of religion?
Paul builds an argument in Galatians for the freedom of the Christian. It reaches a climax in our second lesson this morning.
For freedom Christ has set us free.
Christians are set free from the demands of the law.
In chapter 2 Paul writes:
We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther loved Galatians, literally. He says, “Galatians is my epistle to which I am betrothed. It is my Katie von Bora.”
I’m not sure what Katie thought of that, but you get the point. We are save by grace, and not by works of the law.
But here’s the rub. If we are free from the law, are we free to gratify the desires of the flesh? Are we released from the law to do “whatever.” Is life just one great big free for all?
It is our Galatians text this morning where Paul says to us, “of course not.”
You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.
I read this week that Christ does not set us free to be a jerk. We are not set free to get drunk. Our freedom does not give us license to tear our community apart with our selfish desires.
No, we are set free to live by the Spirit.
This is what the mayor needs to learn in Chocolat. Refraining from chocolate during Lent is a helpful discipline to reveal our sinful nature and our need for Christ. It’s why we may give up certain indulgences during Lent. But these rules can never save us. How often do we succeed anyway?
We are free from such burdens.
But Paul reminds us this morning that we are not free to embrace fornication, sorcery, anger, envy, drunkenness, or carousing.
The mayor needed to learn that free from the law, he could now embrace the way of Christ. He too could show a little kindness, generosity, gentleness, along with love, peace, and patience.
Here’s the deal about the Christian life. The law never saves, only Jesus saves. And since we are saved, we respond not with works of the flesh, but with the fruit of the spirit. We do not behave, so God will save. God has saved, so we behave.
Martin Luther writes in On the Freedom of the Christian: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
This winter I invited the congregation into conversation. At the end of these visits I promised a pastoral response to let congregation know what I heard and how I respond.
I didn’t have Galatians in mind as I wrote my response, but our lesson this morning sets the tone for my words.
Woven through my visits were two common threads; a desire for the congregation to connect, and a desire to reach out to the community. I’m encouraged by this as it sets the stage for a mission driven congregation.
And this morning let me say that Galatians leads the way. The Christian life is not about being bound by church rules. Too often it only leads to the quarrels and dissensions that we see from the mayor in Chocolat.
But neither is the Christian life a free for all, allowing us to succumb to the works of the flesh.
We are not free to misbehave. And if we do, we don’t get what Christ has done for us.
Instead, because we are free, we respond with the fruit of the spirit.
As we seek to connect, as we seek to reach out, as we seek to be the church; certainly we don’t carouse and become drunk. But neither do we quarrel, or let anger or jealousy drive us; because it won’t drive us very far.
As I respond to Prince of Peace, as we look ahead to our mission and ministry; know that in Christ we have been set free. We are not bound by the law, by religious rules.
We are set free to be led by the Spirit. To be a faith community of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
If we live by the Spirit, we will be guided by the Spirit.