Sermon 11-13-2016; ‘A Harvest of Blessings’
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible; Galatians 6, pps. 331-340
Farmers plant fields hoping, assuming, that the crops will grow. They plant with hope for a bountiful harvest. But it is not the farmers who make the crops grow. They do all they can to see that the fields are made ready, the seeds are of the highest quality, the fertilizer is not too weak or too strong, the crop is right for the conditions of the soil… but they cannot make the crop grow. They can only hope. And wait. And, if they’re people of faith (and what farmer isn’t) pray.
We love the years where we celebrate bumper crops… we get all we’d hoped for and more. But how do we accept the lean years – the poor harvest we’re given? Or worse yet – what if the crop fails? What if our assumptions fail? How do we deal with that kind of harvest?
Think of all the times you have planted something in faith, and when it came time for harvest, it surprised you. Sometimes it was far more bountiful that you could have imagined. Sometimes it was a great disappointment. What did you do?
This past Wednesday morning we woke up with the harvest of the electorate – Donald Trump will be our next President. Some people saw this as an incredible bounty – just what they had hoped for. Others saw it as a great loss. While some were cheering in banquet halls and reception galas, others were marching in the streets – and still are. How do we deal with that kind of harvest? One that causes joy for some, and sorrow for others?
In our “Wired Word’ curriculum for today, the lesson shared this: “During this election week, many churches around the country offered prayer services, some including open communion, aimed at starting a healing process among a fractured electorate following the ugliest presidential race in the memory of anyone alive today. Other congregations opened their sanctuaries for prayer during voting hours. Still other churches, in their services this weekend, will be praying for healing of the national divide. For example, on election day eve in Seattle, Washington, Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral hosted a nonpartisan, interfaith vigil where Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders led prayers "for those in elective office, for those with whom we disagree, and for healing in our nation," according to Saint Mark's website.
So Friends, how do we respond? As citizens, as Christians, as Quakers? With humility or with anger? With purpose or with protest? My hope is that Paul, in his letter to the people in Galatia can help us. The letter is all about a two party system – Paul’s Disciples, and Jewish Christian Missionaries, and their disagreement about how to live together. You’re either in, or you’re out. They all believe in Christ, but Jewish Missionaries have come to town, convincing these non-Jewish people that they have to be circumcised or they can’t belong. They’re out! Paul writes, reminding them all of his earlier teaching, and the meaning of a community who lives and walks together by the Spirit. What does that take, and what does it mean for us today?
Mutual correction. Self-examination. Financial support of their teachers. And finally, doing good, both to everyone they meet, and especially to others within their community. Four things. Four things that are needed, whether after an election, during a conflict, or just in living everyday life. Four things that lead to a whole and healthy community.
First, the importance of understanding our responsibility for one another. Paul speaks to those who have received the Spirit, and he does not mean the Ministry and Counsel, or the Clerks, or the Pastor. Paul is talking to everyone in the community, and Quakers believe it means each person – that all persons have God’s Spirit within them. Here Paul is speaking especially to those within the church. We are all responsible to and for each other. And it matters to Paul just how we care for and correct others. With gentleness, with patience, with the intent to restore someone into community… that’s what mutual correction means. It’s not meant to separate, but to gather in. To bring in a healthy and whole harvest of community.
If we do this, it means we will bear each others’ burdens – we’ll deal with each others’ stuff. And this isn’t easy. It’s a choice we make to follow the law of Christ. For Paul, it all turns on the word “fulfill”. Earlier in his letter, Paul wrote “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” [Gal. 5:14-15] The law of Christ is love – loving your neighbor. And Christ, more than anyone, fulfilled that law by giving up himself - his life – for his neighbor – for everyone. “To fulfill the law of Christ, then, is to play out, over and over again in the life of the community, the pattern of self-sacrificial love that he revealed in his death.” Every day, in each simple thing we choose to do, in every selfless act to care for one another, and for our community, we are fulfilling the law of Christ – the law of love.
When we begin to acknowledge God’s Spirit in us, we begin to see our lives shaped by the Spirit. Paul reminds us that we are responsible for ourselves, our own work, our own choices, our own actions. We are held accountable for who we are, individually, as well as in community. We must be mindful of who we are, and to whom we belong – not just to ourselves, but to God and to the world.
Each one of us – each faith community – has an incredible impact on those around us. How we respond to each other, and how we respond to the world just now really matters. Do we act in faith, or in fear? “You reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption. If you sow to the Spirit you will reap eternal life…” The Missionaries would only accept these Galatian Christians if they looked like, acted like, and followed certain rituals of the Jewish faith – including circumcision. Without that rubric, their faith was worthless. Paul is warning them, and warning us all, that faith, and a community of faith, must be made known through more than external laws. It must be more than following the letter of the law… it must be the intention of the heart – faith and the Spirit. “In Paul’s view, the Spirit-powered community was given the task of doing good and offering the message of reconciliation to the whole world, but that reconciling work had to begin at home within the community of believers.’ [NISB]
The Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality are needed now more than ever before. If they’re to be genuine, they need to be lived out first in our community of faith, here in our own Meeting. Are we careful to go to one another with concerns, to gently correct and counsel one another, with the intention of holding them in community? Do we practice what it means to be a a spiritual community? Do we remember who we are, and to whom we each belong – taking stock of our own lives, and living in humility and with purpose? Do we seek out good teachers, and support the ministry of teaching? Is learning more than we know already important to us? Are we curious about the things of God, or are we satisfied with our own opinions, or own past knowledge… are we stuck intellectually in our depth of understanding? Are we willing to do the hard work of doing good – even with those we disagree with? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves, in order to show others the work of God’s spirit, the reconciliation that can come?
It’s a rare farmer who walks through a field of damaged corn and throws a tantrum. If he does, it doesn’t last long. Or, he doesn’t. Most farmers head back to the shed, grab their tractor, and dig it under, waiting for planting season. This friends, is planting season. With all the ground that’s been stirred up, what is it that we will plant?
In our Wired Word Sunday School Class today, Jeff Rasley shared his stream of consciousness, once the election results were announced: shock to dismay to grief to anger. And then he decided he didn’t want to be angry. Jeff chose to become hopeful, and now hopefulness is turning into… curiosity. A harvest of shock and dismay has become hopefulness and curiosity. Friends, there is so much opportunity here for the voice of peace and reconciliation, and Quakers need to be some of the first to speak. We need to be the first to voice our strong concerns, but they need to come from a place of healing, of reconciliation, of blessing.
In another letter Paul wrote, he makes this plea: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:1-3]
Turn to your neighbor just now, and instead of speaking of division – of those things of the flesh that mark us – speak to one another of the blessings of the Spirit. What is the harvest of blessing you have felt, seen, appreciated – not just this past week, but during this past year? As you have planted, tended, and harvested the crop of your life, what blessings have come? What have you planted in faith? How have you responded to its harvest?