On July 14th we had the pleasure of welcoming Gwen Simmonds as Worship Leader.
Gwen was a former Student at University of Glamorgan some twenty years ago and since finishing her studies has maintained her links with several people she met when she worshiped with us and joined the church music group – Unedig
This is her sermon!
Galatians 5: vv 1 & 13-25
Luke 9: vv 51-62
Once upon a time a young person walked into a church for the first time in few years. As a youth, their interests and basically being told by a church that they were too young for a proper service and that Sunday school was where they should be had put them going-but something had been calling. This person was quite shy and wandered into an unfamiliar church sat down at the back and then wondered what they were doing there… however before they could get up to leave a woman with a couple of small children sat down in the same pew and trapped them in. She also said hello, offered a friendly face without being overbearing. The young person stayed for the service, enjoyed the service, but made their excuses and left – not being able to get away quickly enough when asked by the minister and the woman who sat next to her whether they were going to stay for a coffee.
Roll on a while later and the young person felt the inkling to go to church again- they’d heard about a church that was the ‘in’ church for young people in the area and decided to try out there but had felt uncomfortable and decided to go back to try the other church the following week – as there was no pressure. So they did and they sat in the same place they had at the previous visit, was remembered and made welcome again by the woman with small children at the back, then decided it seemed an alright place after all and instead of venturing quickly out wandered to the front and started to speak to some other people.
Christ and the fruits of the spirit were present in that church.
That young person 20 years later walked into another prestigious church in the centre of Oxford, again a stranger, was brave enough to go for coffee after the service, but still being slightly on the shy side hung around in a corner thinking someone was bound to notice them and come and talk to them. It was 20 minutes before they were spoken to on realising that they were a one-off visit quickly made their excuses and left that person standing alone again….
Were the fruits of the spirit working in that church?
I’ll come back to this story later- but what I’m going to highlight at the moment is that we all have choices to make, and the choices that we make can severely impact the outcomes to ourselves and others and are often a reflection of how we are living in the love of Christ. The Christian choices are about both the choices we make as a church and as an individual.
It’s my choice not to stand here and preach to you an exposition of the biblical texts we’ve read this morning. It’s not my style- you see I like to ask questions- and not necessarily give you the answers- my aim is that we all leave here with some food for thought and a personal challenge. There are several themes running through today’s readings, the fruits of the spirit being one, the idea about choices and the challenge of responding to the calling of Christ
Paul starts the chapter in Galatians with a bold statement. “It is for Freedom that Christ has set us free”, but he then goes on to say that with this freedom we have a responsibility to place that freedom at the service of others. This is the climax of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He is challenging the need for the Gentiles to follow the laws of Moses – they don’t need to be circumcised etc.. but to try and highlight what to me is the crux of Jesus’ ministry in that we all have a responsibility to Love our Neighbour.
Paul is aware that a message of freedom, that plays down the authority of Moses could leave churches without a moral compass, all too easily blown off course by the social pressures of the wider world. So he insists that Christ’s freedom is not a recipe for anarchy but the mandate for a paradoxical kind of slavery: ‘through love become slaves to one another’, in line with the best of the law’s teaching (vv.13-14)
Practice arises out of holding to certain key sources of behaviour – behaviour which may be described as walking by or living by the Spirit (v. 16). This is Paul’s response to working out what it means to be a Christian. He wants to put rebellious human nature in one corner and the Spirit of God in the other. Each results in very different ways of living. It should be noted that this is not comparing like with like. The works of the flesh are described in the detail of certain types of behaviour whilst the fruit of the Spirit are broad ideas.
The Christian life is about becoming like Jesus; and in Jesus we see one who lived not for himself but for others, and who fulfilled the Law of Moses that Paul sums up in the phrase, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (v.14). Indeed, Paul’s bold suggestion is that now when we look into the Law, we see Jesus staring back at us.
So we are to behave as Jesus did. And we do this, not by observing the Law but by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. The Law was letters on parchment, the Spirit is the life of God poured into a believer’s heart. The Law could point out what was good or bad, but it was powerless to help us to act on it. Paul says that our human nature chooses things other than what God wants. What we notice about Paul’s list (vv.19-21) is that these are not just personal failings, but behaviours that destroy relationships and community. But we don’t have to live this way. Through Jesus we have been filled with the Holy Spirit, who grows in us fruit that closely resembles the life of Jesus (vv.22-23) – community-building, relationship-deepening qualities that are essential to human thriving.
And then we come to the reading in Luke, we find Jesus on his nomadic ministerial journey going from village to village- and he’s not always welcomed- and that’s not surprising really as Samaritans, Gentiles and Jews didn’t really intermix greatly and lived their lives differently. Where James and John wanted to pour wrath on the village unwelcome to receive them, Jesus is clear that is not the answer and that they’ll just go on elsewhere it wasn’t themselves that were losing out but the village- they just didn’t know it- I’m sure we all experience similar situations in life.
Jesus then asked of people around him to follow him…but they came up with excuses. His response was clear and quite cutting….. No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. Basically there isn’t time to hesitate when we’re called to follow- but a need to respond with faith and without hesitation.
But what does following Jesus look like in today’s world? I would argue that it doesn’t necessarily mean picking up our world and living the nomadic lifestyle that Jesus and his disciples were living. But it does mean being a little bit nomadic in the choices we make and how we respond- what do I mean by that- well sometimes it’s necessary for us to go outside of our comfort zone in a way of moving forward in Christ’s love and demonstrating that we are using our Freedom of choices to reflect the love of Christ through the Fruit of the Spirit.
I want to hold a mirror up to you this morning as a congregation and then challenge you to go forward. And to get us all to understand that our response to Christ’s calling can be in the little things- we might not have the calling to stand up and preach at the front of church, we might not have the calling to go outside of here and confidently evangelise about God’s love for everyone- but what we all do have is the fruits of the spirit with in us and we can reflect and offer those out to others and they do make a big difference.
Whoever would have thought that the young person at the beginning of the story would end up standing here in front of you telling you about yourselves, I’m holding a mirror up to you, to this congregation and say that the little things do matter?
If you hadn’t already guessed the young person in my story was actually me. The church was actually here, 20 odd years ago. The woman in the back pew Janet Williams with Lloyd, and his brothers, the welcome genuine and the people I went up to speak to…it was the music group and me asking can I come and join you….
What this church showed me at the time was kindness a friendly greeting a kind face- it wasn’t a grand sweeping gesture- but it was there in the faces- it still is, It was gentleness, it was patience is she going to commit to this here music group of are other interests going to pull her away? It was love and joy. If I walked into the church in Oxford 20 years ago I probably wouldn’t have walked through the door of a church again
I look around the congregation today and the faces have changed, much loved members moved on to a better world or different places, but every time I visit there is still the warmth that I first felt when I walked through the door. There are conversations going on questioning how inclusive you are and want to be and these may take you out of your comfort zone, but they are discussions held in warmth and love.
In our own lives we often don’t give ourselves credit for our actions, we can often feel too modest or inadequate, or have that impostor feeling and sometimes it needs someone else to hold up the mirror to us and say look this is who you are to me.
We might not feel good enough to follow Jesus, and take up the yoke in the way he asked his disciples to do- but Jesus wasn’t just about the grand sweeping gestures he was about the small things too- the washing of people’s feet, speaking to those rejected by society, love in a human form- demonstrating to us that we have the power to make a difference even in the little things. But Paul reminds us that we are also too easily drawn away from it all by human desires- getting too tied up with money, buildings, idolatry, drunkenness, jealousy, selfish ambition hatred, all things that can easily help us lose our way.
His challenge to us is to live by the fruit of the spirit- and not get swayed by the sins of the flesh.
So how can we as a church, in the sense of the whole body of the church reflect the fruit of the spirit? Do you still as a church of St David’s Uniting Church reflect the Fruit of the spirit and how are you to continue to do this? Do we as individuals reflect the fruit of the spirit to others around us? And if the answers to any of these questions is no- then we as individuals have a responsibility to challenge and drive change we need to be asking ourselves what do we need to change?
You see the fruit of the spirit gives us guidance tools to show the kingdom of God to others and to reflect the work Jesus to those around us, underpinned by the strongest message of Jesus to Love your neighbour- they should give us the confidence to take us out of our comfort zones and to be outward looking- to continue asking ourselves the question- Is what we are doing God’s will? Because we are given the freedom to make choices and those choices that we make may have a much bigger impact than we realise or think at the time and if we are doing them in God’s will then we know that they will result in beautiful fruit. In producing that fruit of the spirit we are actively responding to Jesus challenging call to follow him and hopefully spreading the love of God into the wider world- with no knowledge of the how far those little fruits may spread.
Go out from here sowing the fruits of the spirit. Amen