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. 

Sermon: The Strength of My Life

The Strength of My Life
Psalm 27:1-9
14 August 2016

In the beginning of Walt Disney’s animated cartoon feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” the seven little men had begun to return home, only to see that the lights were on in their log cabin with smoke coming out of the chimney.  Instinctively they knew something was terribly wrong and with crippling fear, they cracked open the door, only to discover that the beast was on the second floor.  With terror in their hearts, they crept up the stairs to the bedroom.  And as they lifted up their pick axes to slay the monster, the sheets were thrown back revealing the lovely Snow White.  Even though this is a well-known fairy tale, we love it because we can identify with the dwarfs and what they had experienced.

My scripture text is Psalm 27 which teaches us how to handle our fears.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tents and sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 3 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

King David, who wrote Psalm 27, was a man after God’s own heart. As a shepherd boy, he protected his flock of sheep from wolves, bears and lions.  As a teen, he slew Goliath the giant.  As a young adult, he had escaped the grasp of a mad King Saul.  And when he had become king, he himself faced the pressures of enemy armies.  But through it all, with his trust in God, David was able to conquer all of his fears.

Verse 1 begins with a declaration or personal confession: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Because the Lord is our rescuer or deliverer, we can be at ease.  You see, faith in God is not some obscure concept that is found in a theological textbook or some unreachable spiritual quest, ultimately it is a relationship with the Lord.  Because of this, we can be encouraged because we are not alone.  Although our problems and difficulties may not disappear, the fear of what troubles us can be replaced with trust.

There is an old Arab fable that speaks of that: Once there was an evil character called ‘Pestilence’. It seemed when this sinister creature was about to overtake a caravan on its way to the city of Baghdad, an old Arab chieftain spotted the creature and said:  “What are you going to do when you arrive in Baghdad?”  To which ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I shall claim 5,000 lives through sickness and disease.”  When all was said and done, 50,000 people died, not 5,000.  When the Arab chieftain later saw ‘Pestilence’ he said, “You promised to take only 5,000 people, but 50,000 died.  You were unfair.”  ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I kept my word.  I took only 5,000.  The other 45,000 died of fear.”

Many studies have shown that 80-90% of the things that we worry about never come to fruition. I have to continually remind myself of that fact.

  • Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all my worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
  • Mark Twain-“I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

If we are not careful, worries can cripple us or cause us to act out of fear.

The second part of verse one tells us, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” It reminds me that the best way to live out our faith is to be anchored to the “Rock of Ages.”  If we stay connected, the Lord will give us the inner strength, his Holy Spirit, to face those challenges and the things that we fear the most.  Here are some scriptures that speak to that:

  • Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 “Greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world.”
  • Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink about your body, what you will wear.”
  • Philippians 4:6 “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.”

Learning to trust God is easier said than done, and I have to learn this lesson over and over again. But once we have the inner strength of the Lord, regardless of what has happened, we can be calm.

There are a number of studies that document what Americans fear most. Many of the studies are found on the internet, and they often overlap.  Let me list some of the common fears; people are…

  • Afraid they will be in a car wreck.
  • Afraid they will be diagnosed with a terminal illness or Alzheimer’s.
  • Afraid that Social Security will run out when they retire.
  • Afraid they will become a victim of violence or identity theft.
  • Afraid to speak in public.

These are the general fears, and certainly there are others. As adults, we may or may not be afraid of spiders, snakes, and mice, but there are countless other things that could paralyze us with fear.  King David gives us good advice and that is not to rely on our own strength, but on the power of the Almighty.

Back in the early days of black and white television, there was a live circus act that featured a couple of Bengal tigers. On this one particular show, the trainer went into the tiger cage to do a live performance.  As the bright TV spotlights zeroed in on the animal act, the trainer skillfully put the tigers through their paces.  Then there was a power outage and the lights went out.  In pitch darkness, the tigers could see the trainer, but the trainer could not them. After 30 long seconds that seemed like an eternity, the lights came back on and the trainer calmly finished the performance.  When asked how he felt, the trainer admitted he had a great deal of fear.  However he pointed out that the tigers did not know he could not see them, so he continued to talk and crack the whip until the lights came on.

The trainer’s experience in that situation gives us a perspective of how fear works. Some people face the terrifying fear of fighting tigers in the dark.  But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than focus on our fear, we will make it.

The way King David channeled his energies is found in verse 4: “One thing I ask of the Lord. This is what I will seek after, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in the temple.” 

The House of the Lord was a special place to King David; just being in God’s house and the atmosphere that surrounded it, he received an assurance that everything would be okay.

Again if we focus on God as our light and salvation, we will be able to face any situation. When we come into the sanctuary that should lend itself to quiet strength, it doesn’t mean our struggles will go away, but we will not be alone.

Most of you have heard the poem Footprints in the Sand which speaks of the struggle that we face and how the Lord is present. It is below:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord,
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me,
so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Let me close. As with the seven dwarfs, our fears can be monsters in our own minds. When things happen, they will not be as painful or as bad as we expected.  Worry is something we all struggle with, but with the help of this psalm, perhaps we can take steps to replace it.