Sermon, Pentecost 9C, Sunday July 7, 2013, St Petri
Hanging in there
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.
You are sitting at your dining table with a fellow Christian who feels like giving up their faith.
The reason that they feel like giving up their faith, you discover as you talk, is because for this person, Christian faith has become too hard. He has been trying and trying to please God. He has been trying and trying to do the right thing all the time to be acceptable to God.
He has been doing this because he has been listening to some teaching. He has been reading some books, maybe listening to some Radio programs or podcasts and gathering with some group somewhere and the message this person has been hearing is that God expects a lot of you. God wants you to live for him and if you don’t live for him enough by keeping some guidelines or principals in your life, God will not be happy with your faith and your living of it.
This person is feeling crushed under the weight of all this keeping of expectations. He is a millimetre away from actually getting angry at God and going out and breaking a few rules to just to try and find some freedom. Either that, or this person will just remain crushed and burdened and not be in receipt of any joy in faith whatsoever. Christianity has become rules, expectations, keeping up appearances – dry, dead, life-less ritual…….
What do you say? What could you say to help this person stay the course of living in the Christian faith – finding joy again, living in faith with real heart and purpose and personal growth and sense of willing service and satisfaction from this?
If you believe that the good news of God’s kindness and love is freely given to all sinners through the cross of Jesus, and you trust that God loves this person (and you) and has proven this in the death and resurrection of Jesus and that all Jesus did for this person has been given in this person’s baptism, then is that what you say?
You say it! Paul does. He has been saying these things all through his letter to the Galatian people who are like this friend at your table. They have been conned into going back to keeping the Law of God to appease God rather than doing the good things God requires out of a loving response to the God who has loved them and given them new life.
Hang in There
Paul is encouraging these young Christians with whom he lived and ate and shared the gospel, and whom he loves, to hang in there in living in the grace and love of God by faith in Jesus.
This good news of God’s undeserved and unearnable love and kindness for his enemies, whom he loves with everything he can love, sets this person at your table free from both being crushed under the weight of an angry God out to inflict judgement all the time (a false belief many have) and also from searching for freedom and joy in places that cannot deliver these at the deepest and lasting level.
This burdened person at your table can leave the table with gospel words you plant in their soul, and in time, or even right then, they can leave your table with the weight of keeping the law lifted off and the return of gospel hopefulness and joy in his heart. What a privilege we share as Christian to each other!
This is Paul’s vision for the Galatians as he signs off from his letter. He encourages them to hang in there in this planting of gospel seeds.
Paul encourages his people to hang in there in living their life in the grace of God by issuing a warning and extending an invitation.
If you give up living in the grace of God in Christ and thereby go back to trying to achieve your own hope and love and salvation in life, you will return to the slavery of giving your heart and soul to things that cannot ultimately help you. In fact, if you sow the seeds of your life in trusting yourself, and your own perspective and reliance good works and intelligence and looks above the gospel of Jesus… you will return to fear and slavery – never finding the peace for which you long; never knowing the love for which you crave; never receiving the great gifts of faith, hope and love for which you were created to receive and give.
The warning is stark; but the promise is wonderful.
“The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (v 8).
If we give our life and our all to the living in line with the gospel of grace we have received by faith in Jesus Christ out of profound thankfulness and joy, we will not be slaves to our own self-seeking desires or to the fear that comes by not knowing the unconditional love and acceptance of God. As we give our hearts and minds to living in the gospel of Jesus’ forgiveness and the hope it brings to bear we will live in that confidence of God’s love and acceptance, not matter what; no matter how long it takes for the good seeds we plants in the lives of others to sprout.
All of a sudden, this person who is at your table can see himself more as a farmer in the gospel than a person just consuming things to feel OK. The person who was crushed by weight of expectation and keeping God happy – swinging between despair and outright rebellion and rejection of God ready to consume whatever he could to feel OK has been transformed into a gospel farmer – a steward of the gift of the gospel God has freed him to be.
This person no longer has to keep God happy, or keep others happy by endless keeping up appearances and meeting expectations. This person is now aware that he is accepted, loved, freed to be himself and to respond to the gifts of God. He is now ready to be a steward of God’s gifts for others’ sake and in genuine love for Jesus.
By your gospel seeds spoken, this man is more patient and considered and secure. He is a seed sower now – a giver of the gospel not just a receiver.
Being a Christian is not now a matter of mere keeping up a ritual or a pattern for the sake of it, but it is living in the pattern and the rhythm of God’s grace – daily dying to sin and rising to live in Jesus’ resurrection love and power.
Now going to church is not over-burdening or life-less, but going to church is an opportunity to receive the gospel and give it away – plant seeds of the gospel in other people’s lives – love fellow disciples and strangers…..
And just like a farmer who knows that those seeds he planted will eventually sprout and grow the full measure, he (and we) will trust that the good he says and does (good seed) will do the good God intends them to do – even if he never sees the fullness of the good he planted in someone else’s heart.
From Consumers to Stewards
Friends, we live in God’s undeserved love, and by our living in this grace we hear God promising us today that it is worth it. It is worth moving beyond consuming to being a steward or manager or giver of gospel seeds. The good seeds of the good news we plant in our actions and words, will germinate and grow. We plant and God gives the growth.
We at St Petri believe God has called us to be not mere consumers of his gospel gifts but stewards of all he gives to us. We have moved long ago from consumer to steward in our living of the gospel.
We trust that the Lord wants to nurture us in his teaching and that he is calling us to nurture each other in the bible’s teaching.
We believe that the Lord is calling us to bear witness to his grace and love to each other and the stranger.
We believe that the Lord is calling us to serve each other and our local community.
We believe that the Lord is calling us to share fellowship together with his Spirit and draw others into the fellowship we share in the Holy Spirit.
We believe that the Lord is calling us to worship him in the truth of his Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
If anything, this last part of Galatians is an encouragement to hang in there in our gospel planting among each other and among all those with whom we live and work and study.
I hear the Lord calling….
I hear the Lord calling us to engage in this process we have begun of finding and setting directions in mission for the next 3-5 years with all our heart and mind – not for our own sakes, but for the sake of others – especially those within the family of God – the ones who are that now and the ones that are to become that in the future.
“So take our hearts, Lord. Take our minds. Take our lives and make them one” as we hang in there and keep sowing the good seeds of the gospel of Jesus Christ through our words and actions as stewards of the gospel.
Share the top three things that make it hard for you to “hang in there – to “not grow weary in doing good, especially to those in the household of faith”?
Can you think of times in your life when you have been sowing to please your sinful nature and been forced to reap the “destruction” this inevitably brings? Share your thoughts…..
How have you been sowing to please God’s Spirit in your particular circumstances, and what have been the great rewards of doing those things for you (and others)?
How have these verses and even the whole series we have shared in the Book of Galatians motivated you to “do good to all people”? Are there any changes that you sense the Spirit is calling you to make? Share these as you are able….
How does chapter 6:14 thrill you? How does it challenge you?
Tim Keller says, “verses 6:14-15 sum up what it means to rely on what Christ has done, rather than on what I am doing. Paul says: the gospel changes what i fundamentally boast in – it changes the whole basis for my identity. Nothing in the whole world has any power over me – i am free at last to enjoy the world, for I do not need the world. I feel neither inferior to anyone nor superior to anyone, and I am being made all over into someone and something entirely new” (Galatians for You, 2012, p 184). How do you respond to his thoughts here?
If you were to sum up the message of the whole book of Galatians what words might you use?