7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3: 7-10)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22)
I love you just the way you are. (Billy Joel).
When I was in Seminary, we required to take both Biblical Greek and Biblical Hebrew as part of our requirements for graduation. I still shudder when I think about those classes. They were incredibly difficult and I had to work REALLY hard about both of them. Both languages don’t use the same alphabet as we do, both languages don’t even use the same ‘script’ as we do. Vowels in Hebrew are add in that go below the line. There are tenses in Greek that I had never heard of before. And get this – both languages even read in a different direction than we do.
But they were required for graduation, and I was determined to graduate so I took the classes.
And really, I am kind of grateful. I can swear in Biblical Greek now and it just sounds scholarly instead of crass. Also, if I work really hard, can go back and really analyse a text to make sure I’m interpreting it correctly. I know how to use my interlinear Bibles when I prep for Sunday morning, and believe it or not, I actually do. Because giving you all a clear informed theological reflection is as important to me as is reflecting what it means to be a Christian in 2022 is. So, as hard as it was, I’m glad I took the class.
One of the things I found out AFTER I graduated is that other seminaries don’t require that you take both Biblical languages in order to graduate. Some seminaries don’t require that you take any Biblical language. Secretly, I was incredibly envious that other students got out of this requirement, but publicly, it just served to ensure that all of us Queen’s grads were smug and self important. “Only Queen’s grads are smart enough or educated enough to take 2 biblical languages” we would say in hearing distance of grads from other schools – particularly those that graduated from Emmanuel; apparently this was a long -standing rivalry. As if the fact that we could navigate more easily around a ‘Greek-Hebrew lexicon’ or an ‘interlinear Bible’ meant that somehow we did ministry better than our colleagues.
There are many other things that ministry personnel are smug and self-important about and sometime when I’m being really honest I’ll talk to you all about them because really, at the end of the day its kinda silly and trivial. And, of all professions, we ought to be ‘above it all’. But once again, it turns out that even ministers are fully human.
John the Baptist seemed to be quite aware of how ‘fully human’ the religious leaders were of his day. I love that he called them all a bunch of snakes – you all know the history of snakes in the Bible; from being the creature that tempted Adam and Eve away from God in the Garden of Eden, to invasive species that would bite and kill people if they looked at them. John goes on to point out that despite their education and status, despite the fact that they worked really hard at being morally upright pillars of their communities, that this was not the criteria that their lives would be judged by. That their lives were going to, instead be judged by whether or not they produced ‘good fruit’.
Judged not by power, or wealth, or even influence. Judged not by whether they can read Biblical Greek or Hebrew, or plan the best outreach events, or whether or not people are flocking to their synagogue for worship. But instead, judged by whether or not they loved people, and were joy, peaceful and patient. You know – all of that good relationship stuff.
This Advent, each Sunday we celebrate one of the fruits of the Spirit. Last week was Hope week. This week is Peace week. I hope my dear Bethel Friends, that you’ll look around at your community with joy and note that there’s a whole lot of ‘good fruit’ here. Good fruit, even though we’re older and we can’t do things the way that we used to. Good fruit, even though we only have one bathroom and anytime we have an event the line up snakes through the hall. Good fruit even when we can’t figure out how to get on Zoom or how to use the remote control for the new heat pump. Good fruit even though your minister had to struggle her way through Biblical Greek and Hebrew and often on Sunday morning isn’t sure she can walk to the back of the church during the sung Benediction.
Thank you, my Bethel Friends, for being Good Fruit. I know that God loves this.
Blessings today, and remember you are Loved.