Sermons That Work

May the Grace…, Proper 9 (C) – 2004

July 04, 2004

“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters.” These words, written by St. Paul to the Christians in Galatia, come coursing down the centuries this morning, a benediction on us from this man of God. And then, being the teacher that he is, Paul gives us some instruction, not on how to obtain this grace—for he would be the first to tell you that grace is a free gift from God—but rather on how, having been so gifted, we should then live our lives. Early in the passage appointed for today, we hear Paul speaking of “a spirit of gentleness.” This is not the only time we will hear about the quality of gentleness in Holy Scripture, nor, indeed, the only time we will hear Paul talking about it. But what does it mean—gentleness? What kind of person can be described as possessing this quality? We probably need to rid ourselves of the image of one who is meek, mild, ineffective—probably what we would call a “doormat.” We’ve all read St. Paul’s letters and it is doubtful that you would use any of those terms to describe him. A few Sundays ago the reading from this same Epistle began: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face….” Not a meek doormat, the Paul we have come to know. But Paul also knew that “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” Paul writes, “If anyone is detected in transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” In other words, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. In a given instance, we may be right and our sister or brother may be wrong. But if we speak to that person in such a way as to anger them, cause them to become defensive, or so as to shame or humiliate them, the only thing we may accomplish is to close the door. “Speak the truth in love,” Paul encourages us in the letter to the Ephesians. A spirit of gentleness leaves the door open for the other person to think about what we have said, perhaps to talk again. It leaves the door open for us as well. Because sometimes, just possibly, we will be the ones who are in the wrong! This same spirit of gentleness is needed in our efforts to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. The author of 1 Peter wrote about this: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” Nobody likes being hit over the head, even if it is with good news. In fact, that kind of evangelistic behavior is more likely to act as a “turn off” than it is to win souls. “Let your gentleness be known to all,” Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians. The Christians in Galatia lived in a world that was much in need of a spirit of gentleness. So do we! As ambassadors of Christ it is up to all of us to contribute this spirit of gentleness. In a world where competitiveness reigns, can we sometimes just yield to one another? In a world full of road rage, can we practice a little courtesy, even on the highways and byways? In a world of increasing pollution, can we live gently with nature? In a world where politicians must demonize opponents in order to win elections, can we listen to both sides? In a world where even Christians let disagreements fracture the body of Christ, can we still be agents of God’s reconciliation? “The fruit of the Spirit,.” Paul writes in this same Epistle, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” And, as we read today, “you reap whatever you sow.” Let us then sow the kind of harvest that we will be happy to reap. As it is written in the letter of James “…a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” Lord, make us instruments of your love, your peace, your gentleness, this day and always. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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