FIRST LESSON: Luke 24:1-12
EPISTLE LESSON Romans 6:3-11
SERMON: “When Death Died”
My friend Pat called me yesterday afternoon just as I was finishing this message, and asked me if I was ready for today. When I said something about the task of finding fresh, meaningful ways to talk about the importance of Easter, she said, “Helen, it’s all just one great big Ta Da!” There is a B.C . cartoon that shows the entrance to the empty tomb, and the caption is “Ta Da!” It is done. God’s will is accomplished.
When we come to the Table, we remember the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Even people who claim not to be Christians, people who claim to be of other faiths or even atheists will affirm a belief that a man named Jesus lived about 2,000 years ago, that he taught amazing truths, appeared to do some miraculous things and that he was put to a most horrible death by crucifixion. Christian doctrine and the Confessions affirm that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, equal with God and the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of John affirms that:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Barely three months ago we celebrated his birth. Luke gives the most detailed account of the Messiah’s birth. We hear very little of his childhood, but all four gospels tell us of his ministry of teaching and healing. In the 16th chapter Matthew’s gospel goes to the heart of the matter when Jesus asked his disciples who the people thought he was. Some thought John the Baptist, other Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Speaking directly to Peter, Jesus asks, “But what about you? Who do you say I am.” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
At some point each and every one of us must ask ourselves that same question. Who do you think Jesus is? Today there are a great many people who accept that Jesus lived, that he taught amazing truths and that he healed many people, but stop short of believing he is the Son of God, uniquely human and divine.
Josh McDowell deals with this by quoting C. S. Lewis:
“C.S. Lewis, who was a professor at Cambridge University and once an agnostic, understood the issue clearly [and wrote in his book Mere Christianity], “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘ I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.
“Then Lewis adds: You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Ask yourself who you believe Jesus is – a liar? A lunatic? Or the Son of God, Lord of Life?
Why ask that question? Because if Jesus was just an ordinary man, who happened to teach some profound stuff, then his crucifixion means nothing more than the crucifixion of any other criminal. But Christians declare that Jesus of Nazareth is uniquely fully God and fully human, that in Jesus Christ God took responsibility for human sin.
The prophet Isaiah sums up the work of the Savior this way:
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5
So the second question then is what does Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection mean for you and me? The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, that in our baptism we are united with Christ, and “if we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. . . . Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
In our faith and in our baptism we have a promise that means everything: eternal life. Death itself has died.
We know we have a promise of eternal life in the presence of a loving God. So the final question today is this: Does that make any difference for you today and tomorrow, for this life?
Father Basil Pennington, a Roman Catholic monk, tells of an encounter he once had with a teacher of Zen. Pennington was at a retreat. As part of the retreat, each person met privately with this Zen teacher. Pennington says that at his meeting the Zen teacher sat there before him smiling from ear to ear and rocking gleefully back and forth. Finally the teacher said: "I like Christianity. But I would not like Christianity without the resurrection. I want to see your resurrection!"
Pennington notes that, "With his directness, the teacher was saying what everyone else implicitly says to Christians: You are a Christian. You are risen with Christ. Show me (what this means for you in your life) and I will believe." That is how people know if the resurrection is true or not. Does it affect how we live?
The amazing thing is that every one of Jesus’ disciples passed this test. Their lives were dramatically turned upside down by their encounter with Christ. How would you ever make something like this up and stick to it when stones were piercing your flesh as did Stephen, the first Christian martyr? Or as you were being crucified upside down like Simon Peter? It is hard to dispute the testimony of someone who is so convinced of what they have experienced that they are willing to suffer and die to tell the story.
Who do you say that Jesus is? What do his suffering, death and resurrection mean to you, personally? And can the people you encounter in daily living see the resurrection in you?
The message for this Palm Sunday worship consisted of short ‘reflections’ after the lectionary readings for the day.
FIRST LESSON Psalm 31:1-4, 9-16
Everything in Scripture, including the Psalms, ultimately points us towards Easter.
Brother Lawrence served in the kitchen of his monastery and said he experienced the presence of God as clearly in washing pots and pans as in the Blessed Sacrament. Though known as Brother Lawrence, his name was Nicholas Herman. He was born into a peasant family in Lorraine, France, in 1611. At the age of eighteen, he awakened to the presence of God in nature by gazing upon a bare tree in winter and thinking about its coming renewal. Later he became a professional soldier but was wounded and retired from the army; thereafter walking with a severe limp that troubled him throughout the rest of his life. Sometime later, he attempted living as a hermit, but failed at that. Then he joined the Carmelite Order in Paris. He was there as a lay person, serving in the kitchen and as a cobbler.
He is best known for the record of his conversations and writings entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. Like many others, Brother Lawrence entered a monastic order believing that he was giving up this world’s happiness to become a monk. He discovered a much deeper happiness than he had ever imagined. Reflecting on this turn of events, Brother Lawrence said to God: “You have outwitted me.”
Isn’t that a delightful phrase? “You have outwitted me.” What a testimony to the providence of God, the working of God’s grace in our lives, grace that consistently offers us the gift of hope.
Listen again to some of Psalm 31, this time from The Message translation:
1-2 I run to you, God; I run for dear life. Don’t let me down!. . . Get down on my level and listen,
3-5 You’re my cave to hide in, my cliff to climb.
Be my safe leader, Free me from hidden traps; I want to hide in you.
I’ve put my life in your hands. You won’t drop me, you’ll never let me down.
How easily we forget that when we are in the midst of difficult times. God will never let us down. The psalmist says,
6-13 You, God, I trust. you saw my pain, I’ve cried my eyes out; I feel hollow inside.
. . . My troubles have worn me out, turned my bones to powder.
14-18 Desperate, I throw myself on you: you are my God!
The psalmist, after describing his condition as desperate, clearly finds hope in God.
Getting through life is like riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, good times and hard times. Some are small hills and gentle valleys, and others are gigantic mountains and deep canyons. The incarnation reminds us that God rides along with us. God identifies with our problems, sorrows, hopes, frustrations and joys. God knows these things, not because God is omniscient. God knows these things because in Jesus Christ, God became a human being and experienced the joys and pain we experience.
Knowing our joys and our troubles, we find hope in this, that God is the ultimate giver of second chances.
One night, Thomas Edison watched helplessly as his laboratory was on fire, taking his costly experiments up in flames. He called his son Charles. "Come!" he said. "You'll never see anything like this again!" Then he called his wife. As the three stood gazing, Edison said, "There go all our mistakes. Now we can start over afresh." In two weeks he started rebuilding the plant, and it was not long before he invented the phonograph.
Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us hope, and he entered Jerusalem that day to the cheers of the crowd. Only he knew what the hope he was bringing truly was, and what the price was to be.
SECOND LESSON Isaiah 50:4-9
We've all seen it: that too-cute poster of a clinging kitten, hind feet dangling in the air, only its front paws, claws dug in frantically, keeping the kitty doing a chin-up somewhere above the ground. Underneath the picture of this panicked pussycat is the admonition, "Hang In There!"
Where the psalmist reminds us that God knows in a real and intimate way what we go through in life, the Isaiah passage, from the Servant Songs, perhaps even anticipating Jesus’ post-resurrection words to his disciples encourages us to “hang in there.” God is always with us. God promises never to leave or abandon us.
Are there any times when God leaves us? The following is adapted from a poem by Ray Strawser, and affirms that God is with us
When we feel lonely; When we are hurt; When we are afraid When we feel inadequate; When we can't pray.
When we don't understand; When we are stuck; When we are misunderstood; When we really goofed.
When we have stopped before we should have; When we don't recognize God at all; When our prayers seem like dead words to us.
When the seeds of faith seem to be dying. When we get weary of religion; When friends fail us.
When money is scarce or nonexistent; When we feel sick; When we are plain down discouraged.
When Christians greatly disappoint us; When we have been forsaken and life seems unfair
When we have misjudged someone; When we don't want to hear the truth; When we don't like ourselves.
When we are blind to opportunities pressing in on us; When we are in real danger.
When the world is too much for us; When we need courage and grace.
When we have lost a loved one; When we have been emotionally abused.
When it seems like there is no relief in sight; When we have become "unglued."
When other people's "spirituality" annoys us.
When we need peace; When we don't know the right way, are not sure, or struggle with the gray areas of life.
When we are depressed; When we have lost control; When we must wait; When we need to trust.
When we have nothing more to give; When we feel trapped; When we have "lost it."
When our love has grown lukewarm;
When we need healing in body, mind or spirit; When we need to be forgiven. When we face our own death.
As we move through the passion narrative we will learn that Peter abandoned Jesus at his darkest moments. But God never abandoned Peter. No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God will never abandon you.
As we move through Holy Week towards Easter, we are encouraged that because Jesus overcame the power of death, we can always approach God in prayer. Because of God’s powerful, everlasting love; we are strengthened to “hang in there.”
THIRD LESSON Philippians 2:5-11
FOURTH LESSON Luke 19:28-40
Imagine with me for a moment how frustrated Judas Iscariot must have been as he watched Jesus ride into Jerusalem. Like many of the people waving palm branches and yelling out Hosanna, Judas wanted Jesus to be a military conqueror. Having seen Jesus defeat demons and diseases, changing water into wine and walking on water, raising people from the dead, Judas surely believed that Jesus had the power to call upon God to defeat the regime that oppressed the Hebrew people.
How often do we want Jesus to enter our daily lives to conquer those who cause us pain and heartache, whether it’s the corporate CEO who cuts jobs or the guy who just cut us off on the interstate, certainly this miracle worker could take care of all the tyrants and tormentors in our lives.
In a blog post, back in 2011 author Brian McLaren engaged in an imaginative exercise, retelling the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of those who expected a military and political savior. What if Palm Sunday had happened that way, he wonders, as a carefully planned assault on Roman Jerusalem, rather than the tragicomic image of Jesus perched upon his donkey that we read about in the Scriptures?
"Operation Sacred Vengeance" is the name of the rebel campaign. Jesus and his disciples have engaged in careful preparation, storing caches of weapons, arranging for relays of horses, establishing communications with Zealot factions who are awaiting the signal rise up and sow chaos in the streets, preparing the way for
their military assault.
As McLaren tells it:
Jesus mounts a white horse. He is carrying a huge sword, but has it hidden in a palm branch. His disciples are similarly well-armed with swords, daggers, and shields, all camouflaged behind palm branches. They are mounted on warhorses, prepared for battle. The word goes out and the crowds assemble. In each man's right hand is a sword or dagger raised to the sky, concealed beneath in a palm frond or coat. Each left hand is raised in a fist. Younger men and boys carry concealed torches, ready to light them, march on the city, and create mayhem when the battle
begins . . . .
As they cross the brow of the hill near Bethany and the city comes into view, Jesus gives a rousing speech. "It is wrong for the heathen idolaters to have power over the faithful people of God!" he shouts. "That wrong must end today! We have suffered enough. Now we will make our persecutors suffer!" The people cheer and chant, "Victory! Victory! Crush the Romans! Kill the collaborators!"
"Who is with me in our holy cause?" Jesus asks. The crowds shout, "We are!" in a roar that echoes across the valley into the streets of Jerusalem. "Who is willing to fight to the death and avenge the blood of our ancestors?" Again the crowds shout, "We are!" "And who will shed a gallon of Roman blood for every drop of our blood that is shed?" Again the crowd erupts. Then the branches and coats are thrown to the ground and blades glisten in the sun.
Not exactly the way it happened.
Would we really want a Palm Sunday story that sounded like that? Of course not, because we know the rest of the story.
We know that the real enemy wasn’t Rome, but sin and death. Thanks be to God for sending, not a soldier or warrior, but the King of Glory. Amen.
FIRST LESSON: Psalm 130
SECOND LESSON Luke 18:15-30
SERMON: “Growing the Fruit of the Spirit – Goodness”
How good do you have to be to get into heaven? Do you have to be perfect? Someone asked that very question of a number of theologians at a conference held in Los Angeles several years ago, and their answers were surprising, especially considering that these were theologians, people who are the ones who study extensively what Christian Doctrine teaches. The answers went something like this: “It’s good that we don’t have to be too perfect or none of us would make it.” Somebody else said, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven. Of course if God expected perfection, we would not make it.”
These were the answers from people who should have known better. These were the answers from people who should have known that you must be perfect to get into heaven. The gospels record Jesus calling for perfection in two situations. The first is in the Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord concludes his instruction to love our enemies, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:47-48) And the second instance is in the passage today from Luke.
Think about it for a minute. Can you imagine that a Holy God, in whom there is no sin, could accept into his presence people who are not as Holy as he himself?
Now this gives us some problems. All we have to do is check around -- ask your husband or wife, your children or your parents or your friends – and, if they are honest with you, you will find that you are not perfect. As the psalmist wrote, “If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities (sins), Lord, who could stand?” The Apostle Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And The First Letter of John reminds us that if we claim that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Tell me, can you think of even one person who is totally and completely without sin?
Now we find ourselves in the dilemma that Martin Luther faced: knowing that we -- simply by virtue of the fact that we are human -- are imperfect, and yet at the same time, God can only allow us into his eternal presence if we are perfect -- but we cannot be perfect, because we are human.
Now a ruler -- a pretty good man -- came to Jesus and asked him, “Good teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This was not a leper or a thief, a prostitute or a murderer. This was a man whom even Jesus did not contradict when he claimed that he kept the commandments: “Do not kill, do not steal, and do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.” This ruler had observed the Law ever since he was a teenager.
He was one of the “ good guys. “ Jesus did not dispute that. But oddly enough, he answered the man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” And then he goes on to give this ruler a task saying, “Sell everything you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” We, like this rich, young ruler, find such a huge roadblock at this point, we miss the next phrase, “Come, and follow me.” We imperfect human beings zero right in on the material, financial requirement given. If I have to sell everything I own and give it all away to the poor, I’m never going to make it. It’s an unreasonable, impossible demand.
What is the consequence of giving to the poor, not entrance to heaven, but treasure in heaven. So easily we miss that it’s not the selling of everything we own and giving it to the poor that is the gateway to heaven. It is following Christ. We always have to be careful not to read things into the text. I have always assumed that this rich, young ruler went away, declined to do what Christ commanded him. And that’s quite possible. The text doesn’t tell us. He may have become sad, even grieved over what he was required to give away, and yet still done the difficult thing.
But doing the difficult thing isn’t what get’s this guy in or keeps him out. Jesus is the one that gets us through that narrow gate. How does he do that?
In II Corinthians 5:21 the Apostle Paul tells us: “For our sake, God made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” How good do you have to be to get into heaven? You must be better than good, you must be perfect, as perfect as God. Those who heard what Jesus said to the rich, young ruler asked, “How is this possible? Who can be saved?” And Jesus said, “What is impossible with [humans] is possible with God.” God made his only Son, the only one who was without sin, to be sin for us. Jesus, the Son of God, became legally guilty of murder, theft, adultery, cheating, false witness, taking the Lord’s name in vain, failing to keep the Sabbath, – guilty of every sin of every one of us.
Jesus Christ received what he did not deserve - our sin and its consequences, -- and we receive what we do not deserve -- the righteousness of God in him. God is perfectly good. No human is without sin. So how can a Holy God and an unholy person walk together through eternity when they are so unequal? Because of what Jesus did.
Ted Avant, a pastor in Mississippi wrote that he was always
good at math. Especially addition. Two plus two always equals four and ten plus ten always equals 20. One day his third grade teacher, Miss Mable Jones, called him to the front of the class to illustrate how to add. He was the best in the class she said. He was beaming . . . his time to shine had come.
She wrote on the board some figures to add. He was stunned! The best student in the class was being asked to add one-half plus one-fourth. How? Those were unequal quantities. He was stumped! It was like trying to add apples and oranges. Until she introduced him to the common denominator -- a device that enables unequal quantities to be added together. That’s what Jesus is for us – the common denominator – allowing an unholy person to walk together with a Holy God.
Over the past several weeks as we have looked at the Fruit of the Spirit, I have encouraged you to grow the Fruit of the Spirit in you, to nurture love, patience, gentleness, and Christ-control. It would be tempting to stand up here and urge you also to be good. It would be so nice if everyone were always good. But even good folk cannot be good enough. With humans it is impossible, but with God all things are possible, thanks to Jesus Christ who became sin for us, took the punishment and in whom God finds us to be perfect and holy.
This is why each Sunday when we worship we offer prayers of confession and are blessed to receive the assurance of pardon. This is why our response to that assurance should always be positive. Thank God for people who take the time to introduce us to
the common denominator, Jesus Christ.
There was a story in the newspaper a few years back about a grandmother in Florida who was taking care of her little granddaughter, and the toddler fell into the swimming pool. The grandmother did not know to swim, but in desperation, hoping to save her granddaughter, she jumped into the pool and ended up drowning, and both bodies were pulled from the pool. If you’re going down, you can’t be helped by someone who is in the same predicament you are. You need someone who can swim to save you when you are drowning, and only a sinless savior can save you and bring you into God’s presence.
We know how good you must be, but now let me ask you this: How bad can a person be before God cannot blot out his or her sin? What about an Adam Lanza who shot his mother at home, then killed 26 people, including 20 young children at Sandy Hook elementary School in Connecticut? What about a Timothy McVeigh, convicted of bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City? What about Osama bin Laden? What about the murderer, the child abuser, the thief? Someone wrote in to a pastor for his radio program and saying, “I have accepted Christ as my Savior, but I raped four women. I ruined their lives. Can I ever be forgiven? Is it possible that God can blot out my sin?”
The pastor made a word picture for him I want to share with you. He spoke of two roads. One road is a mess. The ruts are deep and they go into the ditch. The other road is rather well-traveled, and you can see the difference between those two roads, but when the snow falls, when you have two feet of snow falling on those roads, there is no distinction between them because the snow covers them.
“Come now let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) What does this mean? It means that the same righteousness that we receive is the same righteousness that a criminal receives if he believes in the Savior. The good news is that whosoever believes in Jesus Christ as Lord will be saved. John 3:16.
We may think that’s unfair. Why should those who come to Christ after doing evil receive God’s grace? Remember the parable Jesus told about workers in the vineyard. “When those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ’These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 ”But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
How is it that so many people are kept out of the church, the Body of Christ? We do it whenever we give the impression that one must first be good, good enough to deserve God’s forgiveness. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32). The fruit of the Spirit is goodness.
How much goodness must there be in you to get into heaven? Total goodness. You must be perfect. The only way to be perfect in the eyes of God is through Jesus Christ, the only one who was without sin and was made to be sin for our sakes. Jesus Christ took our sin, yours and mine, and the sin of the worst of criminals, to the cross and this is the good news: Believing in him we participate in his victorious resurrection and so are found to be good enough, holy enough to come into the presence of a Holy God. This is the gift of God.
FIRST LESSON: Psalm 51:1-12
SECOND LESSON Matthew 26:57-68
SERMON: “Growing the Gifts of the Spirit –Self-Control”
There is a story about a little boy whose mother, when disciplining him, used to say, “God would not like that.” And when the little boy really got out of hand, the mother would say, “God will be angry."
Usually these reminders were sufficient. But one evening at supper the youngster rebelled. He would not eat the prunes provided for dessert. He wouldn’t give in to persuasion or warnings. Finally the little boy was sent to bed with the reminder that “God will be angry.”
Not long after the child had gone to bed, a violent thunderstorm arose and the mother went up to her son’s room to comfort him, expecting that he would be frightened at God’s anger. To her surprise she found him at the window, looking out on the terrible storm and said “It’s a terrible fuss to be making over a few prunes.”
Well, we doubt that that thunderstorm had anything at all to do with uneaten prunes, and I am always saddened when someone paints a picture of an angry God, but Scripture does tell us that God desires our obedience. Today we continue taking a look at some of the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Now, the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.
Self-control has been defined as the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands -- and then eat just one of the pieces. Some of us have enough self-control to do that; many of us do not. How many of you can you eat one Jay’s potato chip -- or one small handful of peanuts, especially if there is a full bowl sitting within reach. Perhaps food isn’t the problem; maybe it’s your temper. Some wise person gave us this advice: “When you’re angry, count to ten before speaking. When very angry count to one hundred and then don’t speak.”
I came across this little, anonymous rhyme about temper to share with you:
When I have lost my temper
I have lost my reason too.
I’m never proud of anything
Which angrily I do.
When I have talked in anger
And my cheeks were flaming red
I have always uttered something
Which I wish I had not said.
In anger I have never
Done a kindly deed or wise,
But many things for which I felt
I should apologize.
In looking back across my life,
And all I’ve lost or made,
I can’t recall a single time
When fury ever paid.
So I struggle to be patient,
For I’ve reached a wiser age;
I do not want to do a thing
Or speak a word in rage.
I have learned by sad experience
That when my temper flies
I never do a worthy deed,
A decent deed or wise.
The gospel lesson today presents the supreme example of Jesus keeping his temper when he was arrested and brought before Ca’iaphas. The chief priests and the council searched for people who would come forth and bring false testimony against Jesus. The gospel of Mark tells us that “many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree.” Jesus must have hated that. I am surely not the only one here this morning who hates to have anyone tell lies about me. I’m not exactly enthusiastic about being criticized, but if criticism is based in truth, I’ve learned to handle it. You can criticize my preaching or my prayers, my church work or my housework. You can criticize my hairstyle or my clothing, my height, my weight, my piano playing or my singing, and I can take it. But don’t intentionally tell lies about me. You see, there’s a little thing called the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
It must have made Jesus very angry that they got people to lie about him. Jesus came full of grace and truth. Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life. And as they lied about him, he stood there silent, under complete control. And as they came forward to testify against him, and the meaning of his words was twisted and even those who loved him misunderstood. Right up there in painful situations, right along with being lied about, is to have what you did do or what you did say misinterpreted and misrepresented. When Jesus spoke of destroying the temple, the gospel of John explains that “he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” He wasn’t talking about the temple building. We have to wonder if they intentionally misunderstood because they were intent on getting rid of him.
How could Jesus stand there in calm silence when people were lying about him, testifying against him in a capital case, in a kangaroo court with his life on the line?
But there he stood, under complete control.
For a great many people, self-control means that I control my temper, my eating and drinking, or other bad habits that might plague me. At that most unfair, most unjust, most painful, most frightening moment, for Jesus self-control meant that the controlling force in his life was the Spirit of God. Totally unified with God the Creator, Jesus knew that God had a plan and a purpose. The human part of his nature, which must have longed to rant and rave, to explain himself, to refute the lies, to shake a fist or at the very least mutter a complaint or murmur a curse, submitted totally to the Spirit of God, submitted completely to God’s plan and purpose, as Jesus stood there in silence.
The fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and self-control is powerful when it is Spirit-control.
We hear with joy the Good News that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that he took the punishment for our bad behavior. Bu we’re not so sure we like the part about Jesus being Lord.
Most of us are here this morning because we have heard and accepted the gospel message that Jesus Christ is our Savior -- that he is the only begotten Son of God, that he lived a life of healing and teaching and preaching, that he was betrayed by his own disciple, that he suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, and that through the glory of his resurrection he overcame the power of sin and death. We believe that when we confess faith in him, that by our baptism we participate in the salvation he brings. Jesus Christ is our Savior. But is he our Lord?
We believe that Christ’s death on the cross paid the full penalty for our sins and purchased eternal salvation. But do we also welcome the call of the gospel for sinners to repent turn away from sin and turn towards Jesus Christ?
We believe that sinners cannot earn salvation or favor with God, but do we also believe that real faith inevitably produces a changed life? That true salvation includes a transformation of the inner person?
Paul wrote to the church at Rome (10:13) that “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” And to the same church he also wrote, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! . . . having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness. (6:15, 18).
We believe that Christ came to save sinners, but do we also believe as it is written in I John 2:4, “[Whoever] says ‘I know him [Jesus]’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; (Does that sound harsh to you?) but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
The fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and self-control is at its best when it is Christ-control.
For Jesus Christ to be control of your life does not mean that you will never disobey or that you will live a perfect life. But commitment to Christ does mean that obedience rather than disobedience will be our default characteristic. You cannot judge whether you -- or anyone else -- are a Christian by whether or not you sin. All Christians sin; all disobey; all fail. We all fall short of the glory of God. Our minds need constant renewing. Being Christian doesn’t mean we don’t sin. Being Christian means we make an effort to turn away from sin and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
That is what finally happened for John Newton, the author of our next hymn, Amazing Grace. At the age of 11 Newton joined his father’s ship and began his life as a seaman. His early years were one continuous round of rebellion and self-indulgence. When he was twenty three, while returning to England from Africa during a particularly stormy voyage, when it appeared that all would be lost, Newton began reading Thomas a Kempis’s book, Imitation of Christ. (WWJD) The seeds were sewn for his eventual conversion and personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as his savior. And yet he continued as a slave ship captain, trying to justify his work by seeking to improve conditions as much as possible, and even holding public worship services for his hardened crew of thirty. But the Spirit of God continued to convict and to call John Newton. Our faith journey doesn’t always make us feel good, but Spirit control will turn us towards the good. Newton returned to England and began to study for the ministry. When he was 39 he was ordained by the Anglican Church. The hymn Amazing Grace was one of more than 280 hymns he wrote to “promote the faith and comfort of sincere Christians.” Newton’s life finally became a faithful response to the grace and mercy of God in Christ, and that’s how God “saved a wretch” like him.
This year for Lent, let us grow the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and – self-control.
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).