Sermon – 31st August, 2014 – Fruits of the Spirit – LOVE

Gal 5: 13 – 26 and Matthew 7; 15 – 29

 

With Brendan away for 5 Sundays I wanted with the later service to have a theme and choose “Fruits of the Spirit” which is why you had different readings to those set out in Koinonia today! So for those that normally come to 8.00am if todays sermon wets your appetite then you will have to come later next week!!!!

 

First of all I want to differentiate between fruits and gifts of the spirit. 1 Cor 12 outlines the Gifts as those things which are given to God’s people for the strengthening and building of His Kingdom – and given for the common good – wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, tongues, interpretation and freely given as God determines.

On the other hand the Fruits as we heard them read this morning are something that we learn and develope as we grow in Christ. When Lynne and I were at the church in Gisborne we had a beautiful elderly lady called Issie Brooks who had been in the choir for years and at evensong the choir members took it in turns to read the lessons. Issie was single – she would have called herself a spinster and very devout but always seemed to be the reader who got the more salacious passages. One Sunday she had to read this mornings epistle all about the acts of the sinful nature – sexual immorality, debauchery, impurity, idolatry, witchcraft etc- after the service she wanted to know why she always had to read these terrible readings because she didn’t understand what half the things were she  was reading about!!

Anyway the first half of our Galatians reading was a warning – “if you live by the Spirit you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature”. Paul, when he wrote this epistle, fully understood the weakness of people to fall from grace through human failing. He was telling his readers and us that only by cleaving to the principles of  a God filled life would we have the strength to fight evil – furthermore if we stood against evil then our lives would bear fruit – the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Closing them off by saying –“against such things there is no law” .

Our Gospel reading was also about fruits of the spirit and  also with a caution – “By their fruits you will know them’”.

This Gospel passage is all about teaching – whether from the pulpit or from simple conversation as we share our faith with others. We need to make sure that what we share is truth – Although most of our 10 commandments begin “Thou shalt not’ our religion is not a negative one. The Jewish faith was built on laws which, if followed implicitly bought salvation. But the whole essence of our Christian faith does not consist of NOT doing things but quite the opposite – we must be doing things positively.

We must never gloss over our faith making it seem like an easy out to salvation. We are taught to live by Jesus’ example and that wasn’t easy. We need to understand that if we say “Lord God I love you” then sometimes in our faith journey there will be pain and hurt – any teaching that takes the iron out of our religion, which removes the Cross from our thinking is false teaching.

Our faith does not teach us to become insular and separate from community life because Jesus sent us into the world to teach and preach His message.

“By their fruits you will know them” – in 1981 I went to an Anglican conference in Lower Hutt – “Anglicans in Aotearoa” 1100 committed Anglicans in one auditorium – the place was humming!!

One of the keynote speakers was a South American evangelist who spoke with passion for about 45 minutes on his work in S America. We then split into small groups to discuss what had been said. Everyone in our little group thought the speaker was fabulous. One member of our group was a chubby Franciscan monk and after we’d all had a say he jumped to his feet and shouted at us “didn’t you look at that man as he spoke about poverty? He was dressed in a hand sewn linen suit that cost $1000, he had a hand painted silk tie worth another $100, he had hand tooled genuine leather shoes and carried a sharkskin briefcase! Oh yes he spoke very eloquently, but how can you believe he knew anything about poverty?

He went on ‘I live by the vows of poverty, chastity & obedience, I wear a simple brown robe and sandals and eat 3 meals a day and I don’t really know poverty or hardship.”

“By their fruits you shall know them”

What did our Gospel say – “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but only those who do the will of my Father.”

 

We find the fruits of the spirit when we accept God into our hearts, when we share the teachings of Jesus Christ and when we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then those blossoms turn to fruit and the first of those is love. A word that in this day and age seems to have lost any meaning of reality, a word that is used with little understanding.

The Greeks split the word up into 4 so it covered the different areas.

“Eros” the word describing the love of man for woman, the sexual connotation if you like. That word eros is never used in the New Testament!

Then they used “philia” – the warm love we feel for family – brotherly love would be a good way of describing it.

Thirdly “Storge” which meant simply  the affection that we may feel when we think of our children – it is warm and comforting.

Lastly they used “Agape” which was an all encompassing love. A love that was willing to accept insult or injury from someone yet never looking for anything but good. A feeling of mind as well as heart. It describes a deliberate effort on our part – which we can only do with the help of God – always to seek the best outcome even for those who may have hurt or offended us. It is the purest form of the word Love.

Paul knew human frailty and the weakness of our minds and wills and knew that the fruits of the spirit could only be ripened and harvested by using the gifts God gave us. I hear many Christian people say “But I don’t have any God given gifts” and my answer to that is then you haven’t really looked closely at yourself, your life and the blessings you have received. All God’s children have received a gift – some more obvious than others which doesn’t make then any more precious or special than what appears a lesser gift.

Think about your God given gifts and know that you have each born fruit as you go about your daily lives sharing those fruits with all those you love and come into contact with. “By your fruits they will know YOU…”.

 

 

Want to close with a blessing for courage.

 

When the light around you lessens and your thoughts darken until your body, feels fear turn cold as a stone inside.

When you find yourself bereft of any belief in yourself and all you unknowingly leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands your whole heart and it is raven dark.

Steady yourself and see that it is your own thinking that darkens your world,

Search and you will find a diamond thought of light,

Know that you are not alone and that this darkness has purpose;

Gradualy it will school your eyes to find the one gift your life requires hidden within this night corner.

Invoke the learning of every suffering you have suffered.

Close your eyes, gather all the kindling about your heart to create one spark.

That is all you need to nourish the flame that will cleanse the dark of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive to urge you towards higher ground where your imagination will learn to engage difficulty, as its most rewarding threshold.

AMEN

 

Sermon 24th August 2014 – Take Action

Exodus 1:8—2:10 (2014)

Psalm 124

Romans 12:1-8

Matthew16:13-20

 

Over the past weeks we have discussed family situations based on the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, how within this large family they struggled with issues of jealousy, of competing for birthright and wives, and squabbles around their place in the family. – now – today we move on to the story of Moses.

But as we discussed and agreed – today in NZ we see similar issues appearing. Issues affecting ordinary families and blended families, – Issues around separation and divorce and the effects of children born into these situations (out of wedlock).

Not that all people caught in these types of relationships have issues,  – but for me it is about identity – knowing who belongs to who and children knowing who they ARE.

For example if I was to ask you who ARE YOU – what would you say?

ANYONE WILLING TO chip in?

(Maori culture – speech – son of Lawrence of the Gibbs family tribe of Nelson)

 

OK – we know our names, most of us know who our parents are and because of our ages we have mostly come to know who we are in ourselves.

For Example – if I was to describe some of you I would use words like; caring, generous, and strong willed, comedian, supportive, a fantastic mum/dad and so on.

I’m not sure where today’s theme fits in because after reading the set readings through again and again one theme truly stuck out for me – and it was that of “lost identity”.

 

We are firstly told in our story that a new pharaoh (king) had come to power in Egypt – and this new king does not know Joseph (v. 8).

Why we may ask? And the answer to that is probably simply time.

Time had elapsed since Joseph was in power. As the saying goes – people come and they go. Joseph was no longer in his position – probably due to age, maybe he had retired.

We also know that the Hebrew people had become a significant ethnic group, and the pharaoh sees them as a threat to Egypt’s security. He knew his identity and these Hebrews were different and they appeared threatening to him.

He therefore embarks on a three prong attack:

  1. enforced and severe hard labour,
  2. infanticide,
  3. and finally the order that all Hebrew infant boys are to be killed.

Our story also details the midwives’ courage and Moses’ infancy.

They are all part of the broader story of the relationship between God and Israel as presented in the book of Exodus.

 

While it doesn’t say straight out that the Hebrews – known as Israel – have been in Egypt for so long that they have forgotten who they truly are, what it implies is that the Egyptian culture and lifestyle has meant that the stories of their past have nearly been forgotten. – Especially in their relationship to God.

 

Maybe their difference from the Egyptian is in the colour of their skin, in their language and the maybe the odd custom. Maybe there are still the few who are seen on their roof-tops praying or practising customs foreign to Egyptians?

Like many people who struggle but rely on God for help, as God ministers to them and they become self reliant, it can be easy to forget about God, as if you don’t need him anymore.

 

Throughout the early chapters of Exodus, Moses will wrestle with his dual identity as a Hebrew and an Egyptian.

The beginning of chapter 2 establishes Moses’ Hebrew parentage for us the reader: but there should be no doubt that, as the child of two Levites, Moses is a Hebrew and, more specifically, a Hebrew from the priestly lineage of Levi.

 

But today’s story isn’t just about Moses and his start in life and how he will become the leader of Israel. It is very much a story about identifying who these currently lost people are – That they are Gods people.

 

Through Moses – Israel will learn who God is, and they will learn that their identity is rooted in belonging to God.

In Exodus 3, God will reveal God’s name to Moses, declaring that this God YHWH is the God of Moses’ ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God will refer to the Israelites time and time again as “my people,”

claiming them, hearing their cries, and delivering them.

 

While Pharaoh will ask, “Who is YHWH – that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2).

Like the Pharaoh who did not know Joseph, this Pharaoh does not know YHWH.

Pharaoh, like the Israelites, will need some convincing about who this God is and to whom the Israelites belong.

Lifting up the theme of identity in Exodus fits well with Jesus’ questions to the disciples about his own identity in this week’s appointed gospel reading from Matthew 16:13-20: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And that same question applies to us and our identity.

As Jesus asked – “But who do you say that I am?”

 

The book of Exodus and the Gospel reading alike show that even if questions of identity can be boiled down to pithy answers, the phrase of  “who we are and whose we are” is understood most fully when accompanied by the careful interpretation of the rich stories that have shaped our understanding of ourselves and our God.

Later – Moses’ dual identity will reach a crisis point when he kills an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew (2:11-15).

Until then his vocational identity, as God’s prophet- chosen to lead God’s people out of bondage, will continue to be tested as the book of Exodus progresses.

 

So what is the message for us?

Well it goes back to that very first question I asked at the beginning –  of WHO ARE YOU/WE?

Can we answer and do we answer – I’m a child of the risen Lord, a follower of Christ?

Then too we can identify reasons as to how people lose their identity.

 

They stop praying, they stop reading their bibles, and they stop relying on God to work in and through their lives.

People stop going/coming to church, they stop fellowshipping, studying in a small group, doing regular bible reading/devotions – they become an indifferent people by no longer seeing themselves as followers of Christ, or worse still – they no longer see a need for God.

They lose confidence in the promises of God – that all who believe and confess Jesus Christ as Lord become children of God.

 

Next time someone asks about your life – can you confidently say – Im a believer in Jesus Christ?

That is the challenge for us today – to acknowledge to ourselves and to others that Jesus is an important part, or even an essential part of our lives.

Amen