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Sermon for 7 January 2018


Galatians 5:13-26

Has anyone played the games Scruples?

In it you are given moral dilemmas and asked to say what you would do. Here’s the kind of thing…..You’re at a friend’s party. You spill some red wine on their very expensive carpet. Do you say anything?  or Someone invites you to an expensive restaurant and asks you how you liked the meal. It was disappointment. Do you tell them? or how about this one You have a clear view of your neighbour who does yoga in the nude. Do you ask them to draw the curtain?

We sometimes think life is like that - a series of choices that we have to make, some of them quite complex, in which we get to look at the issue, think carefully and then decide what to do.

Is there anyone here whose frontline is as an Estate Agent? You will know the theory that people make a decision about whether to buy a house within the first 12 seconds of visiting it. Most of the decisions we make aren’t carefully thought through and deliberated on. Most of them are made by instinct, somewhere deep down.

And recent science tells us the same thing. We have a rational brain that can make carefully thought-through decisions about things. The kind of choices we make when we weigh up the options, considering carefully the pro’s and con’s before coming to a conclusion. We can do that, but rarely. Because that rational, deliberate part of our brain has a very short attention span, and can only do one thing at a time.

Fortunately, we also have an instinctive brain which is very good at making quick decisions, and that part of us can handle loads of stuff without any trouble. And it’s our instinctive brain that makes most of our choices. Should I respond to that colleague with a sigh of irritation or with a generous and kind response? Instinctive brain. Should I shake my fist - or worse - at the car driver who just cut me up, or smile sweetly and drive on? Instinctive brain. Should I be patient in the face of provocation from someone in the school playground, or engage with them in a self controlled and loving way? Instinctive brain.

And our instinctive decisions, those things we choose without much thought - [snap fingers] like that, they come from within, from who we are. They are the outcome of our character.

Character is different to personality. It’s not to do with whether we’re extrovert or introvert,  funny or serious. As Mark Greene points out in his book, the bible isn’t much interested in the personality of the people it tells stories about - he writes - ‘we don’t know whether Thomas was dour, Epaphroditus funny or Elizabeth shy.’ But it is definitely interested in character and so we do know that Thomas was courageous, Epaphroditus persevering and Elizabeth was upright.

Character matters. Because it’s from character that our response to everyday situations comes.

And it matters because Jesus said it matters. It is what comes out of the heart that counts, he said in Matthew 15. It’s our character that counts. 

And Paul got that, and we heard a list of the kind of characteristics that we are called to show on our frontlines in the reading we heard just now; we’re to be loving, patient, faithful and kind. We’re to show  generosity, gentleness, self control, peace and joy.

But……who here looks at Paul’s list of fruits of the spirit and think ‘Yup. No problem. I’ve got them all sorted; love - tick; joy - tick; patience - easy; generosity - you got it; self control - no problem at all?’

And who looks at the list and thinks, ‘well I didn’t quite live like that yesterday, but if I just try harder tomorrow, that’ll be fine. Then I’ll tick them all off without any trouble?’. Who thinks it’s just about trying harder?

So who thinks ‘that’s a real challenge - I’m not bad at gentleness, but I’m not very joyful. ‘Or, ‘I’m ok at self control sometimes, but when Marge calls, it’s a different story.’ Or, ‘I would really love to be more patient with my husband, I really would, but I just can’t seem to make it happen’.

We become more patient and more peaceful by allowing God to get to work in us. These, remember, are the fruits of the Spirit, not the fruits of our hard work.

So we acknowledge the areas where we’re doing ok and we give thanks to God for them. And we acknowledge the areas where we’re struggling, and we ask God to help. And then we get on and practice. 

I know we have some sports player here. Also some actors. Sportspeople and actors both have to practice - to rehearse. For the sportsman or woman, the aim is to practice the skills needed so much and so frequently that doing them becomes second nature. Have you ever seen videos of the All Blacks rugby team training? They are serious about it - so that on the day that they step out into the main arena, they know - without thinking - what to do. They run through every drill and every move so many times that when it really counts - in that moment when they have to deliver in front of 50,000 people, and the World Cup depends on what they do - they get it right.

And actors do the same. A really great actor doesn’t just learn their lines, so they can say what needs to be said, they enter into their character so fully that they become that person. * Daniel Day Lewis is a great actor. A few years ago he played the part of * Abraham Lincoln. He spent a year studying Lincoln. He read everything there is to read, he figured out what his voice might have sounded like, he acted being Lincoln and he dived deep into who he was. And when he began filming, he became Lincoln. 

One of his fellow actors said that the whole time they were filming, Day-Lewis stayed in role. He said this - "It was sort of an extended improvisation,You didn’t go up to him and say, ‘Hey, did you see the football game last night?’ It was important for him to retain the attitude, if you like, and the dialect he had created. So we would sit there and joke about the Vicksburg campaign.”

If we want to develop our character - how about seeing everyday life like that. As if every moment on our frontline as an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in our character to make it more loving, more faithful, more generous - so that when the crunch comes, and we have to make a decision or do something, it’s instinctive. 

Someone said to me yesterday at the day away that they’d never thought of doing the laundry as something that might be important to God. But what if it is? What if doing the laundry is a chance for us to practice patience. Or if that meeting we really don’t want to be in is a chance to practice self control and generosity. Or that person that really annoys us is a chance to practice kindness. We practice and practice, knowing that God is with us, and slowly, over time, these fruits become part of who we are. They become part of our character.

And here’s the wonderful thing. When the All Blacks train, nobody is watching. And when Daniel Day Lewis rehearses, nobody cares. For them, it’s only about the final result or the Oscar nomination. But not for us. The wonderful thing for us is that the opportunities for practice are also the real thing.

When we patiently do the washing - again; when we generously stay behind to help someone with their project at work; When we pray faithfully for our child or grandchild

When we do these things we are developing our character…..and we’re bringing glory to God. For us, every moment is the big moment. Every act is done before God. Every decision has the potential to please Him. The big decisions that we make at crunch time, and the little everyday moments that we hardly notice. 

And it’s all about modelling godly character.

So here are three questions for you to ponder on this week.

  1. Are there ways in which you can see you are already exhibiting the fruits of the spirit - in big ways or small - on your frontline? Why don't you keep a list of the fruits with you this week and try to see where you are exhibiting each of them.
  2. Is there a situation on your ‘frontline’ where those characteristics are particularly tested? 
  3. Are there ways that could you see that situation as the chance to ‘practice’ the fruits of the spirit?

Posted: 07/01/2018 at 15:11
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