Every Thursday afternoon at 1 pm, our 94 year-old volunteer, Margaret walks into our church admin building to answer phones, greet and assist anyone who needs it and most of all, she “stuffs” the bulletins for the next Sunday. For a number of years, it has been her job to add the order of service to the bulletin jacket, sort them according to the service times and set aside a required amount for the different groups. Whenever there is a fifth week in a month, she reminds me that we need to include the Children’s’ Home offering envelope in the bulletin as well. One week the bulletins were printed late so she came into the office on Friday morning just so she could do her weekly job. She is a real gift to our church in her willingness be a part of our church’s ministry.
Last week we received a call from a church member asking about Margaret’s health and well being. She asked if she all right? Is she in the hospital? Did she fall? Why doesn’t she pick up when I call her at home? There was genuine worry and concern in the caller’s voice for her friend. Obviously there is a data privacy issue, however given that Margaret’s condition was public by this time, I was able to provide her with the latest news about Margaret’s condition. The relief in her voice was palpable as she received the news that Margaret, while not perfectly healthy, was still doing OK.
So why am I telling your that story? For my daily devotions, I have been concentrating on the Fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians. 5:22. In order to learn them by heart, I have been quoting them in their written order of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. My task has been to identify how these words matter in my life. What does it mean to embody a spirit of love? I think the word love is often overused and has lost its effect because it is used to describe feelings for anything that is more than a like. Phrases that come to mind are “I love your new car,” I love my pet,” don’t you just love this necklace,” and of course “I love coffee!”
What sort of love is Paul talking about when he says that we need to live by the spirit and bear the fruit of that spirit? Clearly he states, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit” (vs. 24-25). Throughout his letters, he was consistently focused on sharing the message of Jesus and building a new community of believers who embodied the love of Christ. He was totally committed to the gospel and engaged in building a faith community that supported each other in their daily lives. Most often, these Jesus-followers lived communally, shared everything and took care of those who couldn’t care for themselves. They were following the example that Christ set before them. The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus instructing people to love and care for the widows, orphans, aliens and the people on the fringes of society. He never addressed romantic love but instead his focus was on a love that encompassed a community. This is the spirit of love I believe Paul was talking about in the Galatians text. This is the spirit of love that Margaret shares each week when she diligently completes her tasks as a volunteer. This is the spirit of love that the concerned caller showed in her love and concern for Margaret. It is this spirit that draws us to follow Christ’s example by looking beyond ourselves to the needs of others. It is this spirit of love that pushes me to ask, how am I living my life in a spirit of love that bears fruit in the lives of those around me?