Sermon: The Spirit of Gentleness

July 7, 2019
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Galatians 6:1, 7-16; Luke 10:1-11
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Spirit of Gentleness

Grace as a Free Gift
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers, and sisters. Amen” (v. 18). This blessing is the last word that the disciple Paul says to the Galatian Christians in this letter. And these words have been spoken for centuries as a benediction at Christian gatherings.  

Our Christian life is not just living; we should receive God’s grace in our hearts so we also have a spiritual life. And I believe that our spiritual life must be distinguished from that of the world. As a teacher to Christians of all generations, the disciple Paul always gave his listeners some instruction about how we should live by God’s grace and what it means to live in a spiritual life.

 A Spirit of Gentleness
At the beginning of chapter 6 of Galatians, we hear Paul speaking of “a spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). It is actually a very popular theme in the Bible; Paul also talks about it pretty often in his letters to the churches. In chapter 5, Paul said that gentleness is one of the fruit that we bear if we possess the Holy Spirit in our hearts (v. 23). 

The disciple Paul knew that a gentle word turns away wrath and melts a person’s heart. He wrote, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). We may be right and the other person may be wrong, but if we really want to open someone’s heart and guide him/her to grace, we need to speak to him/her gently. In other words, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

By the way, what does “gentleness” mean? What kind of person can be described as possessing this virtue? No doubt such a person is kind, mild, polite, sweet, and always smiling when they speak. I would like to describe this kind of gentle nature as a “welcome doormat” – we put a welcome doormat in front of our door to invite people in and put them at ease. 

I believe that it is gentleness that brings us together and makes us all one body in God. As I often mention in our meetings, the “team-ministry” is where I meet and work with our congregation for the sake of God’s ministry. To make a good ministry team, I have focused on the gifts of communication, openness, flexibility, mutuality, presence, and willingness to learn; I am your partner and consider everyone as my co-workers in Christ. I believe that gentleness is the foundation to sustain and enhance our team-ministry; it makes us all one body in God. When we become one body, we can be strong enough to grow our mission and bear all the fruit God wants us to have.

 Reaching Out to Communities in Gentleness
This same spirit of gentleness is needed for our mission to the world. In Luke’s Gospel chapter 10, we see Jesus sending seventy-two others, two by two, ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (v. 1). What kind of mission trip is it? We are shocked at Jesus’ direction at the following verse 3, “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves” (v. 3). Imagine the picture that lambs are now entering the pack of wolves. Primarily, the lambs must have brave hearts! However, it seems to be an impossible mission. No matter how bold and brave the lambs are, they are just prey to wolves! If we take this scripture literally, Jesus is making his followers a suicide squad, just to fulfill his dangerous mission. 

Through this metaphor, Jesus probably points out how inhumane the world we live in is and how we, as his believers, deal with it. We live in a culture of violence, hatred, selfishness, indifference, alienation, distrust, discrimination, and injustice. We don’t want to let our children play outside because we don’t know who lives in our towns. Our daily news always shows us lots of troublemakers like drug dealers, sex offenders, or those murderers or thieves. Our solution is to close the door and stay away from them, protected. The world is dangerous, like the wolf in Jesus’ metaphor. 

But this Gospel lesson teaches us that our mission as Christians is not to avoid but to enter into the world filled with wolves (selfishness, hatred, discrimination, indifference). When Jesus sends his people into those troubles, he doesn’t want us to go to judge, blame, argue, or break those wolves by another violence or force. If so, I believe Jesus would have sent us out like “tigers” or “lions.” But for his salvation ministry Jesus still calls his disciples “lambs,” and the lambs’ mission, when they enter a house of wolves, is to announce “Peace to this house” (v. 5), to cure the sick (v. 9), and to proclaim “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9). 

Our mission as Jesus’ disciples is to seek God’s kingdom here amid all the brokenness and sinfulness in our communities. How can we do that? According to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel lesson, we should act like “lambs” – the symbol of non-violence, purity, innocence, peacemaker… As Paul instructed in his letter this morning, we should treat people in the spirit of gentleness. The gentle spirit is to melt the violent and discriminate cultures in our world, transform our communities into God’s kingdom where we heal people. People will then live in freedom, peace, and harmony. 

Jesus says, “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals” (v. 4). If you are good Christians, you may argue, “Lord, you always teach us to give to others what we have. But if we don’t carry anything for our mission, how can we bless others?” We tend to believe that our mission is usually to give people something like food, money, programs–practical help. There is nothing wrong with these practical programs (dinner ministry, GSM, VBS, food and clothing donations, etc.); we are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. 

However, for their risky mission, Jesus sends his followers without having anything to defend themselves or attract people’s attention. He only directs them to enter a family and then eat and drink with them (vv. 7-8) To share our meal, we first have to see others as our dear brothers and sisters. In this regard, Jesus’ command is simple: just go, encounter, and love. Our mission must be simple as well: welcome everyone and see each other as our own brothers and sisters so that we can eat together with them. It’s to treat people in gentleness and love.

This is difficult to put into practice. Who would be comfortable with entering the house of wolves and dine with them? When someone is known as a trouble-maker or assailant, our response is simply to close the door and stay away from him/her. If I am offended by someone, I don’t want to talk with him and even don’t’ want to see him again in my life…

What does it mean that we live in a spiritual life as we receive God’s grace?” In his letter today Paul says, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). Do we want to experience reconciliation with our friends? Do we want to have a peaceful relationship with our neighbor? Do we want to make our church one body of Jesus Christ? Do we want to stop all violence and discrimination and change this world into God’s kingdom? Those are the final goals of our Christian ministry, but the very foundation of all our ministry must be the spirit of gentleness. Upon the spirit of gentles, we should sow peace and joy in our relationship with others. Paul continues to say that “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (v. 9).

 Peacemakers in Gentleness
“The fruit of the Spirit,” according to Paul, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). After listing the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Paul is bold enough to say, “Against such things there is no law” (v. 23).

Our Lord of peace makes us instruments of his love, peace, and gentleness this day and always. Brothers and sisters, the world is always on fire. The wolves are around the corner. Let us open our eyes and truly focus on where the brokenness and sickness are. Let us go there and embrace those who are in trouble or in need, and say to them, “Peace.” In the spirit of gentleness, let us sow the seed of God’s mercy and salvation, so we can reap the kingdom of God among us. Thanks be to God. Amen.