Wednesday, July 11, 2007

July 9 Sermon, Harvest is Plentiful

Sorry for the delay in getting this week's sermon online.

Galatians and Luke

You’ll reap what you sow! How many of us have heard this phrase uttered at us in our lifetimes? Perhaps some of us have hurled this adage at others we generally dislike. Perhaps we have watched someone’s life fall apart who never seemed to work at “life” in the first place and we have muttered to ourselves or turned to a trusted friend and shrugged, “Well, you reap what you sow.”
It is often said with disdain when we see someone who is corrupt or mean getting their just desserts. Well, you reap what you sow! Always said in this tone of providential perspective.
Yes, we usually utter the ancient wisdom, “you reap what you sow,” in hindsight. And you know another adage about hindsight as well—it is 20/20! Paul, however, uses the phrase to diagnose a present dilemma. He saw people putting their trust in circumcision. They were sowing in the flesh. They were planting their spiritual hopes in a system of religion and cultural distinction. And Paul warned them—“IF you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption in the flesh.”
As I mentioned last week, if we hear the word “flesh” and think about sexual sins, we are missing the larger point of what Paul is describing by “Flesh.” Flesh is the name he gives to all those practices of human nature which are contrary to the God of Love, unity, embrace, and reconciliation. Flesh, especially in the community of believers is more usually manifested as enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy. If we examine our own lives and we can’t account for any “sorcery, fornication, and drunkenness” and therefore think we are not in the grip of the Flesh, we need to take a harder look at chapter 15!
To further expand on what Paul means by “sowing in our own flesh,” we must also remember that Paul is confronting the specific practice of circumcision and what it represented in the community to whom he was writing. Paul was confronting that notion that you could put your ultimate faith in a cultural practice that demarcated Jews from non-Jews. The cultural practice of circumcision was literally a work of the Flesh that Paul saw creating much strife and jealousy and quarrels and dissensions among this community.
To translate into our time, Sowing in our own flesh would perhaps be putting our ultimate trust in our religious practices and cultural constructs instead of on the movement of the Spirit among us. It could be akin to saying—“You’ve got to practice religion THIS WAY in order to be saved.” “You’ve got undergo this and that religious ritual in order to be saved.” “You’ve got to be a member of this Religion in order to be saved.”
On the other hand, Paul says, we can “sow in the Spirit, and we will reap eternal life.” This “sowing” puts our spiritual lives in the hands of the Maker instead of our own. It is an understanding that perhaps God is bigger than we think. Perhaps God works in mysterious ways and not just ways that our tradition or our culture and even our religion has put its rubber stamp on. Sowing in the Spirit might literally be interpreted as throwing seeds in the air. Jesus tells a parable about the master Gardener (That’s gardener with a big G!) spreading seeds in just this fashion. Some seed lands on the rock, some lands on the fertile ground, some lands in the pathway, some lands among the thorns.
Sowing in the Spirit is letting go of our conditions, because God loves us unconditionally. It is letting go of our “rule based” pseudo spirituality, because Jesus loved those who it was “against the rules” to love. It is letting go of our “God-mocking” quest for power and control. Reaping eternal life isn’t just about going to heaven when we die, it is about living life eternally right now!
Eternal life doesn’t begin later. Reaping eternal life means that we are followers of a man who showed us how to live in such a fashion that we are never going to stop living. Jesus sent his followers out to spread the news—“The Kingdom of God has come near.” It is so near that we can grab on to it and get caught up in its movement. If it has come near, that must mean it is going somewhere and has passed by here on its way there.
Do we know how to reach up and grab on? Do we have the courage to do so? I’m not saying that “sowing in the Spirit” is some willy-nilly free for all. Look how Jesus sends his disciples out into the villages to gather the harvest. First of all, he puts things in perspective for us. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” We know we have lots of work to do. We know we cannot afford to become soft and lazy.
Jesus probably felt like many of you who have fields that must be reaped after a month full of rain. I know that as I reflected on this scripture this week, I was thinking about my back yard, which looked like a jungle! The harvest is plentiful, indeed! The workers were few and up to their necks in work! The disciples had a tough row to hoe as well.
Jesus gives his disciples specific instructions: “go out two by two, take no shoes or purse or cloak. Speak to no one on the roads. Stay in one house and eat what they give you.” Jesus has plenty of instructions. But Jesus wants us to know that Kingdom life, that Sowing in the Spirit, that Reaping Eternal Life isn’t a cakewalk. “I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Why?
Because he is taking away their safety net so they don’t rely on the Flesh and instead they rely on the Spirit. He strips them down so they can know God as a provider. Don’t you ever think about how we coddle ourselves to the extent that we might too oversaturated to observe or absorb any miracles? Perhaps you feel this as you are watching your third hour of television of the night and then notice that your son or daughter has stayed home tonight and you could have been spending that time with them. Perhaps we feel this over-saturation when we take a walk down the street and notice all sorts of things that we miss when we are zooming by in our air-conditioned, noise insulating automobiles. Maybe there are miracles all around us, and we miss them because we are too busy providing for ourselves, too busy sowing in the Flesh. Perhaps this is why Jesus instructed his disciples to bring no sandals, no money, and no bag of belongings.
He gives them only the message: “The Kingdom of God has come near.” Paul gives similar encouragement to the Galatians, saying, “We shall reap eternal life, if we do not give up.” “The Kingdom of God has come near.” “Don’t give up.” Do we bring this message into our community? Do we give our neighbors and our families and our friends and our enemies reason to believe that God is doing something new and bold and beautiful? Do we live in a way that this proclamation, “The Kingdom of God has come near,” has any merit or authenticity or validation by the love we show? Paul followed his sowing and reaping comments by saying, “Let us work for the good of all, and especially for the family of faith.”
In the next paragraph, he says “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” Paul Tillich, an influential theologian of the 20th century, said that this is the crux of the whole Christian faith. This is the message of Christianity for the modern world. We bear the proclamation of a new creation. Paul says it elsewhere in 2nd Corinthians, "If anyone is in union with Christ he is a new being; the old state of things has passed away; there is a new state of things."
As new creations, we are more open to the miracles in our presence. Like newborn babies having natural trust in their parents, we can have complete and total trust in our God. We have new eyes to look at the world—we see enemies as brothers and sisters, we see hope in desperate situations.
Perhaps this is what Christ is commissioning us to go out and tell the world—it’s not about the way we do things, its not about the words we use, it’s not about the cultural trappings for which we reserve the most nostalgic corner of our hearts—our faith is about the New Creation that we have become by the power of the New Covenant.
We all live in the old state of things, and the question asked of us by our text is whether we also participate in the new state of things. We belong to the Old Creation, and the demand made upon us by Christianity is that we also participate in the New Creation. We have known ourselves in our old being, and we shall ask whether we also have experienced something of a New Being in ourselves. Can we choose to hold on to that newborn child’s trust in our Savior?
Have we experienced the nearness of the Kingdom? Have we shared that nearness in some way with our neighbor? Have we allowed the reality of the New Creation to become fully apparent in our lives? Have we abandoned sowing in the Flesh? Have we put our trust in God’s provision and daily miracles?
I think John Wesley’s famous covenant prayer gives us that hope and that focus, let us bow and pray,
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put met to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by you or laid aside by you,
enabled for you or brought low by you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

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