Jesus Fruit: Let Peace Begin With Us - Romans 12:14-21 (Wednesday Night Reflection)

What do you do?
What do you do when you are coming home from town and as the two lanes merge into one you have someone come flying in and force their way in front of you?
What do you do when the waitress in the restaurant takes 15 minutes to come take your order, while you clearly see her talking the whole time with another waitress?
What do you do when a neighbor continually brings their dog into your yard to do their business?
What do you do when you find yourself confronted by the neighborhood bully?
What do you do when someone begins verbally assaulting you because your beliefs are different from their own?
What do you do if someone tries to steal from you?
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We’ve been on this journey for some time now…we’ve been considering what it means to bear Jesus Fruit.  We’ve seemingly been away from our series for a couple of weeks now, so let’s refresh our minds about this idea of Jesus Fruit.  Jesus had said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit....”[i]  We decided that since apple branches produce apples, and grape branches produce grapes, if we are branches attached to the Jesus vine then we are supposed to produce Jesus Fruit.
What is Jesus Fruit?  Jesus fruit is none other than the fruit of Jesus’ Spirit…the Fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks to the Galatians about: “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control....”[ii]  We came to realize that we don’t get to pick and choose between the list that Paul offers up, but that if we are bearing Jesus Fruit, all aspects of this one fruit will be found in our lives.
We began by considering the centrality of love…that love has to be the foundation of all that we do…that God is love and that without love, then nothing else we do matters.  We came to understand that the love that is supposed to be part of our Jesus Fruit is God’s agape love, so beautifully described by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.   It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   Love never ends....”[iii]
Next, we considered that aspect of Jesus Fruit that is “joy.”  We discovered that the command to be joyful or rejoice is found throughout Scripture and that our joy is rooted and grounded in the fact that we worship a Risen Savior…a joy that comes from knowing that there is nothing greater than the love of God found in Jesus…a joy that we are called to share, because it is only in sharing the Good News…the Joy of Scripture…that our joy might be found to be complete.[iv]
We took a break to celebrate our freedom to gather as the body of believers and enjoyed a hotdog cookout on the ground, and then last week as we returned to worship, we took a break from our “Jesus Fruit” series and considered the root of all freedom, the freedom that we find through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the freedom from bondage to sin.[v]
Tonight, we return to our Jesus Fruit and question what it means to bear Jesus Fruit that contains peace.
How many of you have ever had to break up a fight between children?  Working in day care for five years, volunteering in the schools for the last eighteen years, working with children and youth in the church for the last twenty-two years, and raising my own for the last twenty-five, I have done it plenty.  
When you break up the fight, what is the most common thing heard?  It is some variation of, “I had it first.”  “He hit me first.” “She started it.” Sound familiar.  The said thing is, those excuses aren’t limited to children.  Over the years I have heard quite a few grownups use variations of those statements in their own disagreements…it may vary a little, but when it comes down to it, it all means the same.  The world seems to support this idea and encourage this idea.  Not only do children watch adults fight among themselves, but Anita and I have actually had a parent tell us years ago, that they informed their children that if someone hits them and the parent finds out they didn’t hit back, then the kid better expect to get whipped when they get home.  The world says get even…the world says strike back…the world says fight it out.
Yet from God’s Word, we hear Paul echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as Paul tells the Romans:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[vi]
Did you hear that? Paul said, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Paul didn’t say live peaceably with others if they live peaceably with you.
Paul didn’t say live peaceably with others if they don’t hit you first.
Paul didn’t say live peaceably with others if they don’t cut you off in traffic.
Paul didn’t say live peaceably with others if they don’t appear to ignore you in the restaurant.
Paul didn’t say live peaceably with others if they keep their dog on their property.
Paul didn’t say live peaceably with others if they don’t steal from you.
Neither Paul nor Jesus called us to live peaceably with others based on the actions of the others…their concern was on our efforts…so far as it depends upon us, we are to called to bear the peace of Jesus Fruit.
Does that mean that we can never confront a wrong or disagree with someone?  No.  In fact, we are called to be faithful, and sometimes that brings us into conflict with others…yet we can maintain efforts for peace.  I took and taught a parenting class one time called “Parenting with Love and Logic.”  Some of what that program offered was invaluable and has stuck with me…especially the parts that apply to grownups as much as they apply to children.  Among those things was to focus on the words we use (a sermon series coming up when we complete this one)…and that when in a conflict or an argument to avoid using “fighting words.”  It was a call to use words that continue to discussion, but not words that are going to escalate the situation.  A simple example would be to avoid saying to the person you are disagreeing with, “That’s stupid” (because those are fighting words), and instead say something like, “let’s think this through.”  The tone with which we speak, as well as our body language also becomes important as well…maintaining a calm voice and an open posture.
Does seeking to live peaceably so far as it concerns us mean that we cannot defend ourselves?  No.  But there is a difference between blocking an attack and striking back.  I imagine Jesus, on the number of occasions that angry crowds attacked Him, had to dodge or block a punch thrown, yet in all of those attacks on Him, we don’t see the rest of the crowd laid out with Jesus as the last man standing, we see Him passing through the crowd and walking away[vii] every time, until that day where He is walking through the crowd, not walking away, but walking up a hill…and carrying a cross.[viii]
“But Pastor Lee, I can’t do that.  I have to argue back.  I have to fight back.  I am not going to let someone walk all over me.”  The truth of the matter is, we can do it…Paul tells the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”[ix] 
Remember the freedom we talked about last week…what may have seemed like a week away from this series, even to me, turns out to be a needed insert.  We are free…
Not only are we free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death…we are completely free in every aspect…we are no longer bound.
Someone else’s actions do not bind us in how we have to respond to them.  Just because they attack, does not mean we have to attack back—whether verbally, physically, or some other way.
The expectations of our society and view of others do not bind us.  Just because others would call us weak because we don’t fight back, or even go on the offensive, does not mean we have to.
In Christ we have the freedom to choose…
We can choose the way of retaliation and getting even, and fasten the twin-shackles of payback and vengeance about our wrists and ankles…knowing that the path of this slavery ends in death…
Or we can choose to embrace the freedom that Christ offers and with it, as far as it concerns us, seek to live peaceably with all, revealing to the world, even if it is how we take up our own cross, that we abide in Christ, and Christ abides in us, and we are bearers of Jesus Fruit.  My brothers and sisters, let us bear that fruit, and as far as we are concerned, let peace begin with us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[i] John 15:5
[ii] Galatians 5:22-23
[iii] 1st Corinthians 13:4-8
[iv] John 15:11
[v] Galatians 5:13
[vi] Romans 12:14-21
[vii] Luke 4:28:30
[viii] John 19:17-18
[ix] Philippians 4:13

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