(Proper 8C2) Gal. 5: 1, 13-25
Good morning, and grace and peace on this summer Sunday morning here in the Hicks Chapel. Last Sunday of June and midpoint of 2013, as time flies along.
I want to shine a bit of a spotlight this morning on “love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” That sounds all good! Continuing to reflect on this in-course reading through Galatians. St. Paul has some of these lovely passages, over and over, here in Galatians 5, in the third chapter of Colossians he urges that group of new Christians, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Similar passages in Romans 12, and of course, famously, in First Corinthians 13. Rosters of virtues. Recipes for Christian life. So often we hear these kinds of readings at weddings and funerals, and they would I think also be especially appropriate at parish meetings and diocesan conventions, whenever and wherever Christians get together, as an encouragement and reminder. “Love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
That would be a very nice eight-Sunday sermon series, a list of ingredients for each of us one by one, and in our families, and in community. The life of the Church, the Christian family—though I’m not sure those are the qualities that people in the wide world most often think of first when they would talk about the Church. Sometimes that’s because the media distorts things. But I think just as often it’s because we do indeed so very often stray from that path. “Love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Wondering what the last decade even here in our own diocese would have been like, what things would be like now for that matter in our continuing brokenness in so many ways, with that recipe prepared and set on the table. What St. Paul here in this morning’s reading from the 22nd and 23rd verses of the fifth chapter of Galatians calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” That is certainly, or certainly would be, a cool breeze on a hot day. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
And Paul gives us the contrast as well. On one hand, and on the other hand. “Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing.” And this great phrase, “biting and devouring one another.” I suspect a sermon series built on that outline would be especially popular. So long as we don’t name any names . . . . Or maybe more popular if we did!
If we live by the Spirit, Paul says. And that’s what we say we do, as Christian people, what we would hope to do, try to do, the goal of our lives, walking in the footsteps of Christ in the mystery of our baptism, our dying to the fallen world and our rising to new life by coming into relationship with him. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” As the Spirit reveals that guidance to us certainly in the Holy Scriptures, and as Word and Sacrament generation after generation will shape us as individuals and beyond, the life of the community.
At our first summer book discussion group cottage meeting the other night at Jim and Heather Eng’s house Conrad Seamen reminded us at one point of the slogan that was adopted by our St. Andrew’s Outreach Committee a few years ago: “Putting the Love of God into Action.” We might say, talking the talk and walking the walk. Which is exactly what Paul is getting at. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. The message in this morning's lessons that I’d write on a 3x5 card and tape to the mirror, for early-morning reference. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Walk the walk.
St. Paul didn’t know anything about Twitter or Facebook, social networking, strategic marketing, any part of the world of Madison Avenue. But what he knew was that the messenger is key to the communication of the message. For most the messenger is the message. “Listen to what I’m saying, but pay no attention to who I am, how I live my life.” That doesn’t go very far these days. Never has, though perhaps with pervasive media and almost 100% transparency we are going to know much more about the messengers that folks in earlier times ever did. Thinking about Nelson Mandela this week. How the whole world paid attention to what he was saying, because of who he was. Humility, charity, after decades of solitary imprisonment. “This guy is the real deal.”
There was a saying back in the first century, and true over and over in every century since, that it was the blood of the martyrs that became the seed of the church. It might seem counter-intuitive. Holding hands, singing hymns, as they were being led to the executioner. Who wants to join that parade? But it turns out: those who witnessed all that went home in the evening to think: maybe I’m missing something.
The first century in the Eastern Mediterranean world was a time, a culture, very different from ours, of course. The dominant Greco-Roman society was intensely materialist, all about money, accumulating wealth, creature comforts, status symbols, getting ahead. The poor were oppressed, ignored, left by the side of the road without dignity or value. The world torn apart by wars of conquest and convenience. The political elites hypocritical and corrupt—designated leaders out for themselves and with no care for the common good. Read about those ancient Romans, and Silvio Berlusconi seems like a Boy Scout. This is the world Paul is living in too—the world all around these new Galatian Christians. Immorality of every kind imaginable. And hundreds of little cults and religious movements celebrating a privatized, self-indulgent, amoral “spirituality,” establishment religious officials obsessed with the pursuit of power, prestige, and personal wealth, a fascination with the supernatural, witchcraft, divination. Ah—the first century. A time very different from ours, but perhaps if we use our imagination we can just barely manage an approximation.
In a world like this, what does the Gospel of Jesus Christ look like? What does it look like what it’s put into action? Why would anybody be interested?
Paul’s pastoral word for his little flock. . Who had sat with them and opened for them the great and holy story of the Scriptures. Who told them about Jesus, about the Cross, about the Empty Tomb. About dying with Christ in baptism, and then about living in his resurrection, right here and now in this broken and dying world, as a sign of his promise. When Jesus isn’t at the center, it all begins to fall apart, Paul says. Remembering again that Stephen Covey line, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” The banner over this epistle. To pray for the strength and courage and discipline, for the grace and for the stirring of the heart, that he would live in us, to shape our lives in such a way that when the world would see us, it might catch a glimpse of him. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”