Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
By Brooklynn Smith
Last night, my youth group and I discussed the fruits of the spirit. We were diving into the tension between the freedom we have in Christ and the behavior expected of followers of Christ. We noticed together that we tend to make assessments of people’s values based on our interactions with them. We assume, for instance, that someone who is grumpy and demanding in line at the coffee shop is not a very patient person (or maybe they are just having a bad day). Someone who holds the door open for a stranger with hands full is probably kind. And so on, we worked our way through this list, skipping about, ending on “Faithfulness.”
We often talk in youth group about the relative unpopularity of being a Christian in this neck of the woods. We have discussed the ways Christians have failed the world God loves, and how a few people have given a bad reputation for the whole. And so we endeavor to find ways to embody our Christian faith in school, on the lacrosse field, and at home with our family.
I was struck by Galatians 5:23: There is no law against “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. No matter how unpopular being a Christian may be, these values are unlikely to cause problems at school. For those of us in other places of life, I venture to encourage the same – especially those of us actively engaged in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace.
There is no law against love. Legislation cannot steal my joy. Congress cannot interrupt my eternal peace. Politicians can try, but they cannot ban my patience in the coffee line. Immigration laws cannot keep me from being kind to the stranger, or generous to the refugee. Disappointment in my fellow citizens will not diminish my faithfulness to living the Gospel. In the midst of weaponized religion I can maintain my gentleness. When greed is expected I can use self-control. And all these things are not due to my abilities, but because of the Spirit who lives within me.
Why the Psalm at the beginning? Because when I fail to live out these fruits of the Spirit, God does not expect self-negating acts or sacrifice. God opens my ears to the struggle of others and how I have let them down. God opens my ears to hear the ways I have wounded my life and the lives of others, and God is gracious to renew me and enable me to grow in love.
May God open our ears, and grow in us a garden to sustain the struggle for justice.
Brooklynn Smith is a master of divinity student at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.