Galatians 5:22-23

James 3:13-18

Terry McLellan

October 23, 2016


When Phil and Tasha asked me to preach on this particular Sunday, I don’t know if they calculated which Sunday of the spiritual gifts series this would be or not. Gentleness is not something I am particularly adept at. It is not one of my strongest gifts.
Many of you know that I like to swing a golf club once in awhile. One of my golfing heros is Tommy “Two gloves” Gainey. Tommy sometimes struggles with his game, but he can hit it hard. David Feherty once said of Tommy, on a TV broadcast of a PGA Tour tournament, “that golf swing is a thing of violence!!” Gentleness is not part of Tommy’s lifestyle. But, he is a winner on tour. Though he is not a top-tier player he plays both in PGA tour and Web.com tour events.
I’m just proud that there is someone who is successful with a swing that looks a lot like mine.
Gentleness – I am not sure I can define it but I know it when I see it. There are several attributes of gentleness we all can recognize. One is compassion, gentle people care about others, especially those in need. Gentle people avoid violence. But, there is a strength about those who live their lives confronting the world in gentle ways, in the face of all the ways others confront the world with violence and force. There is a non-aggressive nature of the Gentle, living with courage brought about by strong faith. Gentle people seem also to have empathy for the difficulties of others. Gentle people show love.
These days gentleness seems in short supply. It certainly is not part of the values in the market place. Gentleness is no always or of the rewarded by the general public. The world we live in does not value any of the fruits of the spirit Paul enumerated.
This world we live in thrives on celebrity, notoriety, winning at all costs, trash talking, making deals, get it (whatever it is) while you can because there’s just not enough to go around.
While Life in the Spirit thrives on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Paul’s whole thesis for the book of Galatians is that the Spirit of God is sufficient for the life of the church. And Paul characterizes what Life in the Spirit looks like.
The manipulation and conflict, necessary to live the life in the flesh is not what the life in the Spirit needs. But, what are the fruits of this spirit of envy and greed which drives so much of what happens in our society? Well, both James and Paul in Galatians agree that the fruits of that spirit are impurity, quarreling, anger, etc. And there is no shortage of those things afoot in our world these days. All you have to do is read the newspaper; look at the bulk of evening TV offerings; or listen to friends talk at the locker room or the barber shop to hear the fruit of the kind of spirit, flesh spirit, Paul is talking about. For Paul and for James, the alternative lifestyle built on love was a product of regular connection with the Spirit of God, mostly as it was encountered in the church.
Paul was writing to the church in Galatia, in what is now the country of Turkey, in response to communication he had received from them about problems in that church. It seems that there were questions about conflicts between what the church taught and what was the norm in society of the day. Kind of like today?
Is the church a unique body, guided by the calling of God, and taking on the values of God, as we understand God? Or is the church taking on the values of the world – the gifts of the material life – the gifts that keep on giving – winning at all costs?
Is the church maintaining its position in the world as a source for the gifts of the Spirit – gifts based on humility, generosity and gentleness — love?
Is the church a place in the world where such gentleness and patience and joy are shown and taught?
We come to this church week-after-week. Why do we come?
Social connection?
Catch up on the latest gossip?
See business clients?
Rest away from the phones and other gadgets?
Pray about our issues?
Learn how to live a rich life?
Get closer to God?
Allow God’s Spirit to take us over?
Ultimately, we are here to place ourselves in a position to be changed from persons enveloped in the spirit of the material world, to become persons immersed in the Spirit of God. The church as Jesus called it into being is transformation. Transformation of ourselves and transforming the world around us.
Both spirits, the spirit of the flesh and the Holy Spirit, are all around us, both spirits color the way we live. The question for us is, “In what kind of spirit are we to live?” Ultimately to what will we give ourselves?
Are we to be generators of violence? Or, are we to be sources of peace?
One time, early in my ministry in Carrollton, the congregation was in worship and I was just about to begin the sermon. Out of the sleeve of my robe came a spider. Needless to say it startled me! The nearest thing at hand was my closed Bible. Without a moment’s forethought, I grabbed the Bible and smashed the life out of that spider. Whhaappp!! Needless to say I had to explain my reaction and apologize for the disturbance and my violence perpetrated on the spider and on the Bible. I was not gentle with the life of that spider.
Some use the Bible in the same way with people – hit them over the head with it, without compassion, empathy or love. Gentle Christians do not do that.
What I learned later, which further increased my embarrassment, was that one of the matriarchs of the church had made a career in that church for decades telling stories to the children about “Sammy the Spider.” Here this new pastor was already killing off their traditions. I was eventually forgiven by that sweet lady and most of the congregation but I would continue to have some remember the story about the pastor that killed Sammy the Spider. They may even be telling that story to the new pastor.

Jesus was asked once, “What is the greatest commandment?” He said to those religious authorities, “The first commandment is to love the Lord, your God, with your whole self – heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is like the first, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
He went on to say, “On these two hang all the law and everything the prophets have said.” In other words, all their scripture of that day shared that theme. And Jesus carried that theme forward throughout his ministry, reflecting The Creator’s love around him in gentleness.
We are called upon to be reflectors of God’s love – Church should be where we come to polish up those reflectors so that when we go out into the world we can reflect that love to our utmost ability. All else we do is propaganda, if we do not have love.
Gentleness is one of the qualities Paul points to as evidence of a Spirit infused life.
I don’t have enough of it. But, the Spirit is not done growing me. I can be tough on those around me with whom I disagree. I can be rough with those I encounter who fail to fulfill their promises. I tend to forget that God is not done growing them either.
So we are all in the same boat. Do I think that my being rough and tough is going to somehow make the other more gentle?
Not likely. It will probably do just the opposite.
I can’t even master keeping my golf swing from being a thing of violence. How do I think I can master being a gentle person?
We can’t do it alone. But the Holy Spirit is all around us and we will see it and let it overtake us if we but look and ask. And it will change us. And we have one another. We can learn to walk this path together. Being with one another in our journeys and praying with and for one another.
Thanks be to God, God’s grace abounds. Amen.