“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” CS Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
What is goodness? Does being good really get you anywhere? We all like to feel that we are a good person. We will often say “good film” or “good bloke” or “good food” – but is there more to this concept of goodness?
Here we are, still in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, still being reminded of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Given the right conditions, fruit trees continue to grow fruit until the end of their life. Given the right conditions, we are able to grow the fruits of the Holy Spirit until the end of our lives. But perhaps with goodness, we are susceptible to the some of the problems which confront the discerning fruit grower.
Some fruits don’t grow properly – If you have ever tried to grow fruit, you may recall the frustration at your early efforts. Mis-shapen apples or discoloured damsens could’ve seen the end of your desire to keep going. Good intentions are the way that we start in our attempt to embrace true goodness. Very often, we are guilty of leaving our goodness marooned on the island of intention. We might sign up to the purpose of our church or the mission of our diocese, with very good intentions, but if it makes no discernible difference to our actual life, then the goodness is long along with other aspirations.
Some fruits fall to the ground – elsewhere in Paul’s writings, he says “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5). We need to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, that we might bear his fruit in our lives. This means that we, at times, lose the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We end up in a state of emptiness. Where has the goodness gone? We’ve tried, but it just falls away. We have done loads of really good planning. We have executed good communications. We have built good relationships. Sometimes we still encounter failure. Sometimes all this good stuff can end up like fruit fallen on the ground, trampled and forgotten. This can be true in our own lives, but it can also be true in our churches. It’s how we react to the failure which will define us. Do we go back to the source of the fruit? Do we go to him and ask him to fill us anew? Do we ask him for more fruit? That we might show it to others? That we might give it an opportunity to be shared and to last?
Maybe the main problem with goodness is that we believe it is ours. We use the phrase “oh my goodness” as an exclamation of surprise or shock. It could be seen as a replacement for the ancient cry of the Psalmist – “Oh my God in you I put my trust” Psalm 25. There is a clue here as to how we can be filled with goodness by the Holy Spirit. Not just a goodness on the surface, not just a good film, good bloke or good intention, but a goodness which we can be continually filled with, that comes from God.
So, how does this intersect with our thinking about mission in Tandridge Deanery? We need to be more than just good people doing good things. We can embrace the life-giving goodness which is sourced from God and is free to us. The expression of this goodness will vary from person to person and from church to church. Perhaps it will be shown in challenging injustice in your community. Perhaps it will be shown in giving a voice to the voiceless. Perhaps it will be shown in working with another local organisation or church on an outreach idea. We are asked to bear the fruit of the Spirit, may people see our goodness in all that we do.