May 16th 1993
THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT III
The fruits of the spirit are: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Trustfulness, Gentleness and Self-control
On each of these Sundays after Easter we are giving time to thinking about one of the fruits of the Spirit listed for us by St Paul in his letter to the Galatians. So far we have covered Love and Joy; today it is the turn of Peace.
Like many other Boroughs, Lewisham has a Book of Remembrance on display in the Crematorium.
In this book you can have written, for a modest payment, the name of your relative or friend who has died, together with some appropriate words. This will all be written out for you in the most beautiful handwriting, and a fresh page of the Book is turned over every day.
Whenever I find myself waiting for a funeral to arrive I always take the opportunity to go and have a look at this book to see what the day's entries have to say.
One entry particularly caught my eye and has stuck in my mind. It said something like the following:
In fondest memory of my beloved husband, Richard Roe. Born 1927 died 1984.
Rest in peace until we meet again
Now I don't expect that the obvious conclusion that those words suggest to me were the ones which Mrs Roe intended us to draw. As they stand the words imply that Mrs Roe was the most dreadful old nagger who drove her poor husband to an early grave at the age of 57. I expect they lived in perfect harmony together.
But I must say that the picture still sticks in my mind of Mrs Roe, as she composed those words "Rest in peace until we meet again" looking forward with evident pleasure and eagerness to her own death when she would be able to take up the battle again with her old man and settle a few of those scores from the point at which he so suddenly and inconsiderately put a stop to it all by dying.
Likewise I can see Richard Roe in his life beyond the grave busily preparing his defences for the dreaded moment when (in the words of another such entry in the book)
The pearly gates were opened wide, And in walked Mum"
But what the words do not suggest to me is peace, that fruit of the Spirit which we are thinking about today.
When people talk about peace they usually are thinking about the sort of ppeace which people like Mr Roe so sorely lacked in his worldly life. The peace which consists in the absence of noise, distraction and pain whether it comes from war or illness or the constant nag, nag, nagging of the likes of Mrs Roe, like (as the Bible says) the "continuous dripping of water on a rainy day".
If the telephone is always ringing, the doorbell is always going, the children always screaming for attention, and every letter coming through the letterbox contains a final demand for payment from British Gas or the LEB or the Inland Revenue then we do not enjoy a very peaceful existence.
But Jesus Christ never promised his follower like you and me that sort of peace. At least not in this life. Although he did truly say "Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, that is my gift to you", he qualified it almost immediately with the words "I have told you this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble; but be brave: I have conquered the world".
Those two words in me takes us straight back to the idea of the vine and the branches which Jesus had been speaking about a little earlier, ant the idea of the vine suggests the idea of fruit which is the point from which we started.
So let us think of a vine.
Like branches grafted into the True Vine which is Jesus, you and I as his disciples are expected to bring forth fruit. And one of the fruits we are expected to bring forth is peace.
Notice those words bring forth. They suggest labour, taking tyrouble, makeing sure that something happens. What they don't suggest is that the peace we are talking about is simply going to happen to us. Like the grapes on a vine, the only really worthwhile ones are the ones which grow as a result of the hard labour and constant attention of the gardener. Wild grapes the sort which "just happen on their own" are hardly worth eating they are so sour.
Fr Kirk was showing me his beautiful garden yesterday and in particular he pointed out how well his vine was doing. One of the things he said was "Next year I'm going to prune it back really boldly so that the following year, with a bit of luck and the right weather it will start producing real grapes.
That means that not only does peace as a fruit of the Spirit only happen as the result of taking trouble; it suggests that it also involves a good deal of pruning back and cutting away certain thinsg which prevent its fruition; and it means that it all takes time.
So the man who seeks for the peace of God is going to need to grow another of the fruits of the Spirit, namely patience about which you will be hearing more, I daresay, another week.
The peace that comes from the Spirit then, is the peace of god; and that peace, sayss St Paul passes all understanding.
It's hardly surprising then, if the world in general knows very little about that kind of peace.
That kind of peace doesn't come naturally. When it comes it doesn't come easily. And when it comes it doesn't last very long.
All of which may go some of the way to explaining why the modern world is such an unpeaceful place.
For modern man, having turned his back upon God finds he has to fill that part of his nature with something else, for nature abhors a vacuum. He has chosen, so far as I can see, to fill that gap in his life with things that are precisely the opposite of peace, with distraction which make such peace impossible anyway.
The mind-blowing noise of electronic music being played at full blast by passing cars; the personal transistor battering the eardrums of the headphone-wearer in the train are both painful witnesses to the fact that peace is both hard to come by and people don't exepct on the whole to possess it.
For you and me there is a rather different agenda. God has made us for himself said St Augustine and our hearts are restless till they rest in him.
That little word IN provides the answer to so many questions which people ask about what it means to be a Christian. We are to remain IN Christ, in the vine if we want to grow the fruits of peace. "You will find peace inme" said Jesus to his apostles in the passage I quoted earlier; and in the prayer which he prayed on the way to his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, as a troubled man who knew that his end was near and with little peace at hane, he said "With me in them and you [Father] in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me">
Peace then comes in two forms. One is the absence of strife and conflict and distraction. That is, and I suspect always has been, exceedingly difficult to come by in this world, and something which the world sets out systematically to destroy or make impossible for us wherever it finds it.
The other sort of peace, the peace which comes from Jesus Christ passes the world's understanding. But in those rare moments when we come together in commuinion in order (literally) to be IN HIM as we shall be doing together here in a few minutes time, we can cometimes catch abreath of that peace, like the scent from a fragrant bush may "catch us" as we walk by and were least expecting it.
But jesus has promised ust that waht we can only enjoy fitfully and momentarily in this world will be our permanent heritage in the world to come, providing, of course that we remain in him.
That is a peace which the world cannot give us
"I shall see you again" he said" and your hearts will be full of joy: and that joy no one shall take from you"