Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sermon 26 June, Wk 4 Galatians series 'Fruit'

In the shadow of Thursday's EU referendum...

READINGS:
Psalm 16;   Galatians 5:1, 13-25

A million years ago, when I was an older teenager –  yes, it really was a long time ago –
I had a habit of cutting out and collecting
wise sayings with a twist, bad puns,
and deeply philosophical questions and statements, such as:
‘Do red corpuscles live in vein?’
[I never said they were good!]
or
‘Be odd, for God.’
At one point, in youth group, we were exploring the very same passage from Galatians that was read earlier, and thinking about the fruit of the Spirit. I remember our Youth Pastor looking at us all at one point, and observing:
‘God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts’
A saying that I immediately took note of and added to my collection .
The expression made such an impact upon my younger self,
that thereafter, every time I walked past a block of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate in a shop, Galatians 5:22 and 23 would pop immediately into my head.
I’ll be curious to see if that now happens to you...

Having begun Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we’ve covered
a wee bit of ground now – and we’re beginning to move into the home straight.
We’ve been thinking of themes around
change and transformation;
of unity and diversity;
of being clothed in Christ.
We’ve thought about grace,
and we’ve thought about religious codes – or laws.
Paul talks a lot about law, and especially within this letter to the young churches
in Galatia, who have been beset by those who would impose old religious laws upon them.
Paul has been urging them to break free of these shackles
that they’ve bound themselves in and, in our text this morning,
Paul brings home the message of living in the freedom of Christ:
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’
He then talks of what it is to be called into this freedom:
and it’s not a freedom from all responsibility ...
rather, this freedom is found within the context of community,
of relationship...
a freedom that has love at the centre,
a freedom that shows the fruit of that love in service to one another;
a freedom that can see the old law boiled down to this:
to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.
To love and serve your neighbour is part of a communal, mutual giving:
building one another up,
growing, blossoming, flourishing together.

Paul is particularly keen to emphasise this context of mutual love and service,
this context of ‘commonweal’ –  a guid Scots word...
He’s keen, because he’s addressing a community
that has been seriously at odds with one another:
split and riven by divisions about what it is to be a ‘true’ follower of Christ.
And the arguments that they’ve been having have been harsh and bitter and destructive.
Paul is alarmed by what’s been happening to these young faith communities,
communities that he’d shared the gospel with;
communities that had grown in faith, and strength and love;
communities that were learning the way of peace by following the Prince of peace;
communities... who were now so at odds with one another that they are seen to be
‘biting and devouring one another’,
and if they continued down this path they would destroy each other.
To stem the flow of violence and self-destruction of these faith communities,
Paul reminds them to ‘live by the Spirit’,
to be ‘led by the Spirit’ rather than living under the law.
He reminds them of the fruit of the Spirit:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But note what begins the list: love.
Love is the starting point – where God is, there is love.
Love is the root which enables the fruit to flourish.
And Paul is not saying don’t disagree with one another,
remember he recognises diversity within the unity...
Rather, Paul would seem to imply that by seeking to live in, and be led by the Spirit –
even amidst differences of opinion –
the community will work together to find a way
to accommodate one another so that all may flourish:
they may occasionally disagree, but through the Spirit they can
find a way in which to do so healthily,
to do so in a loving manner.

While it seems a life-time ago, it was only 21 months back,
that I stood here in front of you all, conducting worship –
but worship done whilst preaching as sole-nominee to hopefully become minister of the parish.
Then, as now, it was a couple of days after a referendum.
Then, as now, there were campaigns run,
from both sides of the debate, that were less than savoury:
name-calling, taunts, sometimes sheer bullying,
tactics aimed to instil fear,
tactics used to cover up lack of any concrete policies...
Then as now, communities began to divide down opposing lines,
then as now, families found themselves on different sides of the fence,
...then as now, in the aftermath,
there are those who rejoice at the result,
and those who are dismayed.
And then, as now...
we, as the community of love -
each one of us having voted in different ways for what we believed was genuinely
the best way forward for Scotland, or the UK -
then as now, we must model love.
We must love one another – no biting or devouring one another...
we must love our neighbour – the neighbour we know who may
have voted quite differently from us;
we must model love, and show the fruit of the Spirit
in our conversations,
in our communities:
love...joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,’
let us live in that freedom so that we work towards
reconciliation,
restoring harmony,
rebuilding fractured communities...
let us live in that freedom by serving one another in love –
showing to our friends,
our neighbours,
a positive way forward as we, as a nation, walk through a new way of being in the world.
Whichever way we voted on Thursday, we still have to live with one another:
how can we find ways to practice the fruit of the Spirit
as we get on with the business of living?
Where might we demonstrate kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control...?
How might we find ways of living joyfully, and at peace, with one another?
As we live into the freedom we’ve been given,
remember to listen to the voice of the Spirit,
guiding our steps,
urging us onward in the way of love...

As I was pondering what to say today, I remembered an old story –
and, I don’t think I’ve shared it with you, but if I have, bear with me!
It’s a story about a community of monks...
The community had once been a thriving order, but over the years had fallen on hard times.
Only 10 monks and their Abbot remained, and most of them were quite elderly.
They were also dispirited, and sometimes crotchety,
and occasionally would fall out with one another;
...the joy seemed to have gone out of the place.
The Abbot decided one day to go walking in the woods that surrounded the monastery,
pondering how he could reconcile his brothers to live in peace.
In the deepest part of the forest lived a hermit and the Abbot found himself
drawn to seek the hermit out and ask for his advice.  

The hermit welcomed this brother in God, listened in silence to the Abbot’s story
of bickering monks and then commiserated with him.
The Abbot asked the hermit what to do.  
But the hermit shook his head,
‘it is a difficult situation, brother, I am not sure what to advise you...
but what I do know is that Jesus is among you.’
They embraced, and the Abbot headed back to the monastery.

Upon returning, he called the brothers all together and told them of his meeting with the hermit.  Trying to recall the conversation, the Abbot, a little muddled, told them
‘the hermit said that Jesus is one of us. I’m not sure what he meant.’
They sat silently for a while, prayed together and went off about their duties.
But as they went about their work, each one began to wonder
about the hermits words...and if it was true:
was Jesus one of them... and if so, who?
Could it be the Abbot?
Or Brother Philip, or perhaps Brother Benedict or...
For days, each of the monks puzzled over which one in their midst might be Jesus...
And as the days turned into weeks,
and the weeks turned into months,
still the mystery held their attention:
‘which of my brothers is Jesus?’
And as they pondered, a strange thing happened:
they began to treat each other with more and more respect,
on the off-chance that one was indeed Jesus.

By the end of the year, the community had become a place in
which each member held extraordinary respect and love for the other –
indeed, love and joy seemed to radiate from them.
What had been a place of brotherly bickering
had become a place of healing and reconciliation as each served the other...
For as each served the other, there indeed was Jesus.

People passing by the monastery would often linger,
as they found themselves strangely compelled by the place.
Occasionally, they would meet one of the monks working in the gardens
or walking in the woods,
and in conversation would discover that Jesus was in their midst.
Folk found themselves drawn to come and spend time there,
to play, and to pray, and to bring their friends with them...
knowing that they would find welcome
and perhaps, even Jesus, at this place...
a place in which joy had returned
and a growth in numbers,
all seeking to find Jesus in the midst of them.   ...  ...

As I stand here, looking at all of you,
I echo the words of the hermit:
‘Jesus    is among us.’ ...

And so, as we look at one another here this morning,
let us see Jesus in the face of each other...
And as we go back into our homes,
 to our places of work,
or places of play and rest,
or as we walk along the street...
let us see Jesus
in the faces of the ones we encounter.
And as we do so,
may the fruit of the Spirit blossom in abundance...
and may we build, in our small way,
communities of love - this day, and always,
based on the great love of God,
revealed in the Son...
and, in so doing, bring in God’s kindom.
 Let’s pray:
Christ, our brother
Help us love one other
As you have loved us.
Help us live in, and be led by your Spirit,
bearing fruit that brings blessing upon us,
our families,
our communities,
as we seek to walk in your way of peace.
We ask, in your name,
Amen.

1 comment:

Teri said...

I love the monk story so much, I have to stop myself from telling it more than once a year or so. ;-)

Good work in post-referendum days, friend.