Faithlife Sermons

This Christianity Stuff is Hard Work

Galatians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Announcements, Joys, & Concerns

Gathering Song  #701

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,
pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
sanctuary for you.

Call to Worship

Leader: Our hearts are ready, O Lord, our hearts are ready!
All: We will sing and make melody! We will awaken the dawn!
We will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples, we will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great above the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Leader: We will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples, we will sing praises to you among the nations.
and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
All: For your steadfast love is great above the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
—based on

Opening Prayer

Hymn # 366: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Love Divine, all loves excelling Joy of heaven to earth come down Fix in us thy humble dwelling All thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion Pure unbounded love thou art Visit us with thy salvation Enter every trembling heart.
Jesus, thou art all compassion Pure unbounded love thou art Visit us with thy salvation Enter every trembling heart.
joy of heaven, to earth come down.
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion;
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.
Breathe, o breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast; let us all in thee inherit let us find the promised rest. Take away the love of sinning; Alpha and Omega be end of faith as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.
Finish, then, thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be. Let us see thy great salvation Perfectly restored in thee; Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Finish, then, thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be. Let us see thy great salvation Perfectly restored in thee; Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Confession

Declaration of Forgiveness

Gloria Patri (Glory to God)

Glory be to the Father
and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
it is now and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen, amen.

Musical Meditation

Witnessing God’s Work

Prayer for Illumination (understanding)

Psalm Reading

Psalm 52 ESV
To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.” Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.

Epistle Reading

Galatians 5:1–25 ESV
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

This Christianity Stuff is Hard Work

I’d like to share with you my favorite commentary line ever. It is from a sermon starter reflection on Calvin Seminary’s website. It said, and I quote this word for word:

“Christ did not set you free to be a jerk.”

(http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-8c/?type=lectionary_epistle#sthash.175QJx8M.dpuf)
In Jesus, we are granted freedom from the bondage of sin and death and yuck, but that doesn’t mean we’re free to do whatever. There are plenty ways of going about our day to day lives that do not genuinely embrace freedom in Jesus. Freedom from death doesn’t just mean that we accept a golden ticket to heaven to get us out of really dying some day. It has implications for today as well. Real freedom means we are free here and now as well. Not free just to do whatever we want, but free to want to live the abundant life that Jesus offers us. 
We aren’t set free from responsibility toward ourselves, others, and creation when we are set free from sin. We aren’t set free from participation in the struggle between good and evil. We aren’t set free from sin in order to spend all our time judging the sin of other people. People who spend any part of their precious time on Earth nitpicking about the way other people live their lives or refusing kindness or service to others because of the other person’s sin (actual or merely perceived) aren’t free from sin – they’re trapped by the sin of other people just as much as they were trapped by their own sin before. 
This passage in Galatians is a terribly mis-used one. Many of us learned the “Fruits of the Spirit” part of it in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School as kids, and many people use the list of “don’t do this’s” in order to point the finger at other people, but rarely do we put the two together in their entire context and that’s a huge problem. 
When we look at just the list of do nots: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” It’s easy to fall into a pattern of avoidance – of living out of rather than living into. In other words, we can take that as a list of things to avoid and think we’re doing ok if we manage to avoid most of them most of the time. “Well. . . I was jealous of that new Apple watch my friend got this week, but I didn’t participate in any occult activities, so I’m not doing too bad.” 
When we look just at the list of the “fruits of the spirit”: the things that Paul says Christians should be doing, it’s easy to see it as a to-do list that we can check off. It’s a list of good deeds and the more we nail the better. And that’s really a best-case scenario of what happens when we separate this. Worst case is when we put it up on a pedestal as a list of really nice ideals that nobody really gets right anyway. “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” looks great cross-stitched on a pillow, but it’s not very easy to actually do every day. And so we pick out one or two of them to work on sort of like they are some sort of new-years resolution or part of a list we found in a self-help book or online article. 
Another great line from the same commentary I quoted at the beginning of the sermon is this:

“For Paul it was never a matter of saying ‘Become what you are not by behaving better.’ It was always a matter of ‘Be who in baptism you already are.’ It was never ‘Behave so God will save you.’ It was always, ‘God already saved you so act like it.’”

Paul isn’t saying, “Here’s your list of do’s and don’t’s.” Paul is saying, you are free to live as the person God made you to be and here are some of the characteristics that people living in Christ’s freedom have in common. They are set up in contrast to a set of characteristics that people living in bondage to the flesh – the world – have in common: anger, division, rivalries. And they are not meant to be black or white. You’re not either solidly in one camp or the other. We’re all sort of all over the place. 
These aren’t a prescription for trying harder. They are a description of what we are free to become. Freedom in Christ is so much bigger than simple freedom from going hell. Freedom in Christ isn’t freedom from change and it doesn’t mean that some sort of magic wand is waved over us and we instantly become an awesome person. It takes time for fruit to grow. It takes nurture: fellowship with other Christians, time spent reading scripture, prayer, fasting, meditation, worship, celebration, solitude, silence, and so much more. 
When we moved into our house, there was a terrible wild rosebush we referred to as “Audrey II.” It was covered in beautiful little pink roses for about a week in June. The rest of the year, it was a thorny, dangerous mess that didn’t allow anything else to grow in that section of our hill. It would snag people as they tried to walk up our front steps, it made half the front yard completely unusable. So we tore it out. And it grew back. So we tore it out again and covered the ground. But eventually it grew back. So we tore the stupid thing out AGAIN and planted raspberry bushes. THAT WORKED! That summer we planted the berry bushes, we had lovely raspberries for much of the summer and there was no rosebush trying to kill us as we walked past. 
There was just one small problem with this plan: Tim and I are terrible gardeners. Neither of us has the time, energy, or desire to do anything with any part of our yard. We’re lucky it gets mowed more than once a month. The thing about raspberry bushes is that they are pretty hardy unless you completely neglect them.
The other day I noticed something as I was walking back to the house from the neighbors’ house: Little pink roses in my front yard. “It’s BACK!!!!! THAT STUPID THING IS BACK!” I shouted. Tim thought I was losing my mind until he saw it too. That ridiculous, tenacious rosebush is back. 
We tried hostas, but with similar results.
Year after year, every June for over a decade, we would see that stupid rose bush and it’s little pink flowers taunting us. I think. . . I hope and pray. . . that stupid bush is finally gone.
We did not nurture the fruit. We didn’t water it, prune it the right way, or weed the ground around it. So while it had one great year of beauty the first year we planted it, eventually it withered away to nothing. And that crazy, dangerous, wild rosebush came back. We were free from that rosebush for a while, but we didn’t take that freedom seriously. And we paid the price for neglecting it. It killed the berry bushes and we fought it for a few more years.
After years of killing it back every year and putting plastic on the ground, digging out all the roots we could find, planting other things, it’s pretty much gone now. But of course we still have other weeds trying to invade.
That is how faith is. Many bear fruit right after faith takes hold, they have a good season or two, but with neglect and malaise, the fruit slows and eventually withers to nothing as the weeds creep back in. 
Last summer, we walked through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This summer, we’re going to do something a little different. We’re going to walk through ways that we can nurture the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives and develop deeper relationship with God. We’ll spend the summer talking about discipline – not punishment or trying harder – but spiritual discipline. Using the practices that Christians throughout the ages, since the time of the churches Paul wrote to, used to grow closer to God. 
They won’t all speak to you and that’s ok. But I encourage you to spend some time considering how to build more time with God into your life. Try the different disciplines out and find out how God speaks to you and how you best listen. We’ll be talking about: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. If you want a good book to read this summer to go along with this, I highly recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. You can see me if you want information on how to purchase it. If there is enough interest, we’ll put in a group order like we did for the book on 1 Corinthians last summer. You’ll also see in the kitchen that there are scripture checklists that go along with the series. They coincide with the book and with what I’ll be preaching. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of the checklist. It’ll also be available on the church website. 
My friends, all of our gardens need to be tended. Not just sometimes, but always. We are free to live in beauty, dear ones. So let us seek out that beauty, that freedom, and walk joyfully in it together.

Homework: Prayer Prompt

How can we as a congregation live into the fruit of the Spirit? What do they look like in action in our neighborhood?
Lord, help us to live into our freedom. Give us the discernment to follow your Spirit so that all who meet us would see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Show us how to tend our own gardens and the garden that is this church community as well so that this fruit might grow and flourish. Amen

Hymn #623: I’ve Got Peace Like a River

I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river.
I’ve got peace like a river in my soul. (repeat)
I’ve got joy like a fountain. . .
I’ve got love like an ocean. . .

Apostle’s Creed

I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of the People

After each petition, the pastor will say, “Lord, in your mercy,” and the people respond, “Hear our prayer.”
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who’ve sinned against us. Lead us, not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Sharing our tithes and offerings

Doxology (Song of Thanksgiving)

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise God all creatures here below.
Praise God above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Hymn #36: For the Fruit of All Creation

For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God.
For the gifts to every nation, thanks be to God.
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth’s safekeeping, thanks be to God.
In the just reward of labor, God’s will be done.
In the help we give our neighbor, God’s will be done.
In our world-wide task of caring
for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing, God’s will be done.
For the harvests of the Spirit, thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit, thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us, thanks be to God.

Charge and Blessing

May the peace of our Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.

Amen

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