Sermon for Zacchaeus Sunday

St. Paul’s “Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit”
Sunday, February 6, 2011
by Fr. John Klingel

Today is Zacchaeus Sunday and, although this is not the formal beginning of Great Lent which takes place on Forgiveness Sunday (Cheesefare), Zacchaeus Sunday always feels like the beginning of Lent. And with this we are faced with a series of great themes with which we are all very familiar, that run week by week, beginning with Zacchaeus and continuing with the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Last Judgment, Sunday of Forgiveness, Sunday of Orthodoxy, St. Gregory of Palamas, Veneration of the Precious Cross, St. John Climacus, St. Mary of Egypt, and finishing with Palm Sunday. In addition to these themes, we have the Gospel readings for each of these days, about which we have preached many times. Then there are the Epistle readings, from which we all have drawn great spiritual teaching over the years. Finally, we have the rich hymography for these days, taken from the Triodion, which has also inspired us from Lent to Lent.

This year, however, I thought that instead of preaching on the same themes as we have done in the past, it might be a good idea to try something different. I have always been inspired by St. Paul’s powerful preaching to the Christians of Galatia, and in particular the fifth chapter of this Epistle. It is here that we find St. Paul’s description of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit, and they provide a wonderful model of the Christian life, showing us by example what we should be experiencing in our lives if we are living as we should. So, I think that for each of these coming Sundays, I will speak about each of these – one at a time – starting next week with love (agape), and providing you with a brief overview of the chapter’s ideas today.

Galatians 5: 13 – 26

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissention, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.

Freedom, Grace and Spirit.

Chapter 5 of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is powered by three big ideas. He wants the Galatians to claim the freedom that Christ has given them, but they are reluctant to do so, and are tempted to revert to a different path, that of the law. It’s tempting because it appears to be an easier path. Just keeping a few laws would be easier, they think, than having to always be on your guard against sin in some aspect. Paul’s argument with this is that if you want to go by the law, then you are renouncing the gift of freedom, and you must keep the whole law, not just some part of it.

The freedom that St. Paul is aware of, however, is not a scrupulous avoidance of sin. Sin exists and is a possibility for all persons. But the “freedom” he has in mind is more a style of living. In a sense it’s a realization of the completely unscripted, open horizon that confronts humanity, which directly results from Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. It’s a freedom to do good works as well as bad ones, and a freedom to become an instrument of God’s Will in this world. Mankind is no longer constrained by sin, death and corruption.

Living in this freedom requires the Christian to receive God’s grace, because this freedom is not simply the result of the exercise of the human will. Grace is the gift that makes living a free life possible. And that Grace comes to us through the Spirit. It is the Spirit who comes to us and lives within us that influences the Christian to live in a certain manner. The grace-filled life of the Christian is in contrast to the life of the non-spiritual man or woman, who is motivated by an opposing principal that St. Paul refers to as the “flesh.” It would be mistaken to interpret this term simply as a reference to the body or some aspect of our physicality. It is a much broader idea that St. Paul is invoking here. Living according to the flesh should be understood as choosing whatever pleases us without regard for anyone else. Living entirely for one’s self. This flesh is an active principal and it leads men and women to make certain choices, to certain deeds that St. Paul catalogues in a somewhat dramatic reference.

The Christian life, then, is not simply a matter of avoidance of sin. Rather, it is a question that confronts us daily, momentarily, about whether we will accept the gift of God’s grace in order to life a spiritual life, according to the Spirit. Entering this radical, existential freedom is a scary thing because from time to time we may choose to revert to the “flesh” and relinquish our freedom – becoming caught up again in the question of pleasing ourselves. Regardless, the radical freedom exists and it represents our truest self, who we were created to be. Having received the Spirit, we need to live according to the Spirit, listening to the Spirit and following its prompting to live for others as the truest of expression of God’s love.

For St. Paul, the life according to the Spirit is distinguished by certain “fruits,” which he also lists in perhaps one of the most beautiful descriptions of the Christian life. This is a picture that we should hold before us and consider. These are the results of a life lived under the influence of the Spirit. The coming ten weeks will give us plenty of time to consider each of these and to consider how best to live, in order to bring to such fruition the grace of the All-Holy Spirit.

Leave a Comment