Author – Rev. Deborah Valiton-Carnish of the Spiritual Care department at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.

This sermon was first delivered on the Sunday before the 4th of July 2016. 

This weekend we celebrate The United States of America being 240 years old. That’s a long time for a nation to remain free. But, when you look at our history in the context of world history, America is just a CHILD among the nations. Egypt, China, Japan, Rome, Greece all make America’s history seem so short. Consider what a brief time we’ve really been here as a nation: When Thomas Jefferson died, Abraham Lincoln was a young man of 17. When Lincoln was assassinated, Woodrow Wilson was a boy of 8. By the time Woodrow Wilson died Ronald Reagan was a boy of 12.

There you have it. The lives of four men can take you all the way back to the beginning of our country, 240 years ago. We are so young. And yet we stand tall among these nations because of the principles on which we were established: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Thus begins the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate tomorrow. Freedom should be celebrated. I celebrate today with you the freedoms which God has blessed us. It is with gratitude we come today to worship. With thanksgiving to God and those who have paved the way with service and dedication to our land.

So, the lives of four men span the life of America. Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson and Regan. Now since being here at the villages, there are many common threads we hear as pastors…like “can’t complain…no one would listen anyway”…another one as a mother is “enjoy those babies they grow up so fast” many focus on the speed of time….no matter how we try to corral it, time will not and cannot be contained. . It is like the country song sung by Kenny Chesney called “Don’t Blink”. The song is about a man who was 102 being interviewed and they asked him the secret to a long life and his response is the chorus…it says…

He Laughed and said, “All I can say is

Don’t blink; just like that you’re six years old

And you take a nap

And you wake up and you’re twenty-five

And your high school sweetheart becomes your wife

Don’t blink, you just might miss

Your babies growing like mine did

Turning into moms and dads

Next thing you know your better half

Of fifty years is there in bed

And you’re praying God takes you instead

Trust me friend a hundred years

Goes faster than you think, so don’t blink

Truth to that isn’t there….so if life is so short, how and what will impact those around us concerning our relationships with our family, friends and community. How do we want to be remembered? Our legacy? What if you write our own eulogy…what would we want said? What would be the biggest compliment? Could it be the picture of perfection to strive for is described in our epistle today. Galatians 5:22 the fruits of the spirit are Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Think of someone you have known who exhibited these traits and you will have identified a person who has impacted humanity. Now that may sound like a broad comment but as we affect one person, it is like a ripple moving outward. The service today is outlined just like the first Lutheran liturgical service of communion in 1748. That’s a long time ago…why do we remember it?

Christianity has been around 2016 years how do we think it has carried itself through the centuries? The Holy Spirit yes, but it also takes men and women walking out in the Spirit, displaying fruits to draw others to the saving grace of Jesus Christ…and you and me…we are part of that. So we have a responsibility to continue the ripple of faith on throughout our lifespan and pushing into the next generations after us. So can we display the fruits of the spirit each day?

Living daily in the fruit of the spirit is a pro-active undertaking. Meaning, it takes effort and being intentional to walk this out. It is easy to verbally suggest, sure we can do this…day by day.

Until we actually encounter facing the opportunity to be kind instead of aloof, or gentle as opposed to harsh. There are many times in just a course of a day that it is normal to feel life’s challenges coming against the spiritual virtues in our lives. For instance, when illness or death faces our doorstep, how on earth is joy something we can choose?

What of peace. We want to have our existence far from turmoil and discontent. Peace is something we strive toward many times creating within ourselves less peace as we struggle to obtain peace!

Long-suffering or Patience. Sure….this one everybody wants right? Don’t we just volunteer to be patient and long-suffering!

This first grade teacher, and her class of 22 first graders, had watched it rain all day long. The last bell had rung, it was time to go home, and this teacher began putting galoshes on all 22 of those squirmy kids.

She came to the last little girl and she was so excited that she was about finished with this dirty chore, and she began to put the galoshes on this little girl, and they were unusually tight.

She struggled, she strained, she pulled, she tugged, she grunted, and finally got the galoshes on that last little girl. Just as she finished snapping them into place, the little girl said: “You know what teacher? These aren’t my galoshes.”

The teacher couldn’t believe it. She struggled, she strained, she pulled, she tugged, she grunted, until she finally yanked the galoshes off those little girl’s feet. Just at the moment she finally snapped them off, the little girl looked up at her and said: “They’re my sisters and she lets me wear them.”

Now what that woman needed is something that we all need, a virtue called “longsuffering” and we call “patience.”

Maybe we should be more like the little boy who was in a department store. He was at the end of an escalator and he kept watching the railing as it went around.

A salesclerk came up and said, “Son, are you lost?” He said, “No, I’m just waiting for my chewing gum to come back”…patience.

Now 3 of these fruits can kind of be lumped together Kindness, Goodness and Gentleness. Yes, these are most certainly able to be a choice in our lives. Most times It would be safe to say; when we are unkind, intolerant or harsh…we know it…we know it…somewhere down here in our gut, our spiritual check may confront us. But be not mistaken, we can shut that off and continue as we choose.

Another fruit…

Faithfulness. On January 13, 1982, when Air Florida’s Flight 90 crashed on takeoff and fell into the icy waters of the Potomac River, Martin Skutnik, age 28, saw the plane go down. He stood with other spectators on the riverbank watching a woman who had survived the crash and was struggling to swim in the cold water. Skutnik plunged into the river and rescued her. He had never taken a lifesaving course, but he saved the woman’s life. He probably didn’t use the proper form or technique when he swam to the woman’s side, He may not have followed the Red Cross Lifesaving Manual. At that time, Skutnik was a general office worker. He had a wife and two children. He became a national hero on that day by risking his life to rescue that drowning woman. Faithful…faithful to his fellow human…he chose to jump in.

Finally, let’s look at Self-control. Taking a look within and walking toward the choices God gave us and with His help…let us choose.

This is where the choice lies. We cannot choose at times our circumstances but could it be that as we choose our reaction to them that we may begin to cultivate a fertile ground for all of the fruits of the spirit? Even when things seem to fall apart, are we a people who will respond in the power of the Holy Spirit to engage the community around us exemplifying these traits? It isn’t easy.

I will be honest, not too long ago I encountered a couple here at the villages sitting with a woman who lost her husband. If I could bottle the care and compassion they had for her. There right in front of me were people living and walking out the fruits in the midst of tragic loss and what an impact it made, not only on the family but on me as a minister. See we are all in this together. Learning and experiencing one another and the gifts God has offered each of us and when we choose to walk life out in love, the ripple effect is endless.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To these let us commit our days. If we succeed, let us give thanks. If we fall short, let us seek God’s grace. And when our days are done, let us place our heads on our pillows and rest. Amen.