FIRST LESSON: Isaiah 40:11, 28-31
EPISTLE LESSON Luke 14:7-14
SERMON: “Growing the Gifts of the Spirit - Gentleness”
The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, but what is gentleness. For one thing, gentleness is compassion.
A young boy arrived home from school one day much later than usual. His anxious mother asked him where he had been. The boy explained, “On my way home I saw a little girl crying because a wheel had come off her tricycle. I stopped to try to help her.”
“But my dear, you couldn’t fix your own bike when a wheel came off. How could you help that little girl?”
To which the little boy replied, “Well, I couldn’t fix her trike, but I could help her cry.”
Compassion, the word means “to feel with.”
The gentleness of compassion isn’t “fixing” other people’s problems -- it is supporting them by feeling their pain with them.
The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, but what is gentleness? Gentleness is compassion and gentleness is integrity. You can trust the word of a gentleman or a gentlelady.
Bobby Lewis took his two little boys to play miniature golf. Walking up to the ticket counter he asked the clerk, “How much is it to get in?”
The young man replied, $3.00 for you and $3.00 for any kid who is older than six. We let them in free if they are six or younger. How old are they?”
Bobby replied, “The lawyer’s three and the doctor is seven, so I guess I owe you $6.00.
The man at the ticket counter said, “Hey, Mister, did you just win the lottery or something? You could have saved yourself three bucks. You could have told me that the older one was six; I wouldn’t have known the difference.” Bobby replied, “Yes, that may be true, but the kids would have known the difference.”
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” We all have those times when we are tempted to take something, keep something, do something we know we shouldn’t. When we grow the fruit of gentleness, we admit that our child is seven, that the clerk gave us too much change; we return the books and tools we borrow; we value -- and practice -- honesty in relationships.
The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, but what is gentleness? Gentleness is compassion, integrity, and gentleness is humility. Many Bible translations use the word “humility” here.
Jesus told a parable when he noticed how they sought after the places of honor; he said, “when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. Apparently even in Jesus’ day people had difficulty with humility. Our human nature leads us to lift ourselves up by putting others down.
One night a man who had broken his left arm found that he couldn’t sleep, and as he lay there he imagined a dialogue between his right and left hands. The right hand said, “Left hand, you are not missed. Everybody’s glad it was you that was broken and not me. You are not very important.”
The left hand asked, “How are you superior?”
The right hand replied, “Why my owner cannot write a letter without me.”
Left Hand: “But who holds the paper on which he writes?”
Right Hand: “Who swings the hammer?”
Left Hand: Who holds the nail?”
Right Hand: “Who guides the plane when the carpenter smoothes a board?”
Left Hand: “Who steadies the board/”
Right Hand: “When our owner walks down the street and lifts his hat to greet someone, which of us does it?”
Left Hand: “Who holds the briefcase while he does it?” Then he continued, “Let me ask you a question. When our owner shaved yesterday, you held the razor, but his face is cut because I wasn’t there to help. Also, our owner’s watch has stopped? Why? You may do the winding, but if I’m not there to hold it, the watch won’t get wound. You can’t take money out of his wallet to pay for something because I’m not there to hold it. The master can do very few things without me.”
Each of us has a place of service for the Lord. When we recognize that others also serve, in different ways perhaps, we are less inclined to be arrogant or boastful about our place at the table.
There is an old ditty that goes: “It takes more skill than I can tell / to play the second fiddle well.” Indeed, Leonard Bernstein was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm -- that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”
As difficult as it may be to “play second fiddle,” it is easier to take the lower seat when you give Jesus the place of honor in your life. Corrie ten Boom was once asked if it was difficult for her to remain humble. Her reply was simple. “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?” She continued, “If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in His glory, I give him all the praise and all the honor.”
The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. Gentleness is compassion and integrity, humility and good manners, otherwise known as common courtesy. I remember my mother used to say to me sometimes, that “common sense isn’t really common.” I think that now we can say that about courtesy. Common courtesy just isn’t very common any more.
An incident occurred in the life of Robert E. Lee while that southern gentleman was riding on a train to Richmond. The general was seated at the rear, and all the other places were filled with officers and soldiers. An elderly woman, poorly dressed, entered the coach at one of the stations. Having no seat offered to her, she trudged down the aisle to the back of the car. Immediately, Lee stood up and gave her his place. One man after another then arose to give the general his seat. “No, gentlemen,” he said, “if there is none for this lady, there can be none for me!”
General Lee knew that good manners and humility demand consideration for people in all walks of life, not merely for those of high social ranking.
In today’s world it doesn’t always seem to be practical to be
compassionate, to have integrity, to be humble or even to show
common courtesy. In the movie The Poseidon Adventure, the ocean liner S.S. Poseidon is on the open sea when it hits a huge storm. A wall of water crashes through the ballroom chandelier. Men in tuxedoes and women in evening gowns scream and run. Lights go out, smoke pours into rooms and, amid all the confusion, the ship flips over.
Because of the air trapped inside the ocean liner, it floats upside down. But in the confusion, the passengers can’t figure out what’s going on. They scramble to get out, mostly by climbing the steps to the top deck. The problem is, the top deck is now 100 feet under water. In trying to get of the top of the ship, they drown. The only survivors are the few who do what doesn’t make any sense. They do the opposite of what everyone else is doing and descend into the dark belly of the ship until they reach the hull. By going down, they reach the ocean’s surface. Rescuers hear them banging and cut them free.
I appeal to you not to do what everyone else is doing, but to be nurture the fruit of gentleness of the spirit.
A Gen-Xer, hungry for God, wrote a poem that explains what today’s pre-Christian culture is looking for:1
Do you know, do you understand that you represent Jesus to me?
Do you know, do you understand that when you treat me with gentleness, it raises the question in my mind that maybe he is gentle, too? Maybe he isn’t someone who laughs when I am hurt.
Do you know, do you understand that when you listen to my questions and you don’t laugh,
I think, “What if Jesus is interested in me, too?”
Do you know, do you understand that when I hear you talk about arguments
and conflict and scars from your past that I think, “Maybe I am just a regular person instead of a bad, no-good, little girl who deserves abuse?”
If you care, I think maybe he cares --
and then there’s this flame of hope that burns inside of me,
and for a while, I am afraid to breathe because it might go out.
Do you know, do you understand that your words are his words?
Your face, his face to someone like me?
Please be who you say you are.
Please, God, don’t let this be another trick.
Please let this be real. Please.
Do you know, do you understand
that you represent Jesus to me?
As members of a Christian congregation we represent Jesus, not just to the Gen-Xers, but to everyone we encounter.
1(Tim Celek and Dieter Zander, Inside the Soul of a New Generation [Grand Rapids,: Zondervan, 1996], 106-107).