Note: if Grace were about getting more chances to get it right, I’m pretty sure I would exhausted my share and those designated for a couple of other people. I’m grateful for Grace and the invitation to speak at Corinth Reformed Church this morning, July 2, 2017. It fulfills a bit of my dream to be involved in pastoral ministry in some fashion once more.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (NIV)
The book of Galatians has been called “the Magna Charta of the Church.” God has used its message to stir world revivals in former generations. The great spiritual awakening of Martin Luther and of the Reformation was stirred as Luther read and studied the message of this book. John Wesley received peace of heart – peace for which he had so long searched – when he heard a sermon preached from Galatians. The message of Galatians is targeted toward our hearts and is intended to stir us to action – action rooted in the knowledge that we are saved by Christ and Christ alone. It has been said that Galatians contains the message of Liberty, yet Subjection; of Unity, yet Diversity; of Oneness, yet Difference.”
Blake Tommey wrote in this week’s d365 devotional: In 1963, 300,000 protestors gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and sang the hallmark civil rights song “We Shall Overcome.” Enduring violence, discrimination, political opposition, and painful longing to this day, African Americans and others in pursuit of racial equality continue to recite the famed gospel song when freedom feels most threatened.
Verse after verse, singers repeat one line above all: “Oh, deep in my heart.” Perhaps that’s the only part of our bodies that can’t be chained. Maybe true freedom has to occur deep in our hearts, especially if we’re waiting for oppression or sin to release their grip on the other parts of us.
Paul says the heart is the source of our obedience to God’s grace. Only there can we experience true freedom from sin. Sin will, of course, continue to have its way with us, but if the core of our being knows only a loving, grace-filled God, then we will be free.
True freedom means deciding we are free even under the yoke of an oppressor— whether it be cultural in the form of racism, sexism, ageism, or another of the countless ways in which freedom is limited or personal oppression as it manifests itself in selfishness, fear, neglect, indifference, hatred, feelings of inferiority, diminished self-efficacy….and the list could go on. With God’s unbelievable grace deep in our hearts, with our hearts securely in the grasp of God’s grace, we can face these oppressions, these limitations, these hindrances with freedom.
Our Scripture reading earlier in the service this morning came from the New International Version. As we move into the heart of the sermon and I share some thoughts on sowing and serving out of this freedom of the heart, I want to read the same verses from another source, a different version, to perhaps give additional illumination to the text and the thoughts to which I want to call our attention. This is Galatians 6:7-10 from The Message:
7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
9-10 So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
I’d like to offer you a handful of observations and thoughts about sowing and service based on these verses from Galatians 6.
First, notice with me that there is a Word of Reminder. I read several other translations of this passage and noticed that the first part of verse 7 is rendered as an imperative in every translation I read. An imperative is a way of making a request, offering an exhortation, or giving a command. Paul urges us “Do not be deceived.” “Don’t be misled.” Or J.B. Phillips translation of the New Testament – “Don’t be under any illusion.” To what deception, misleading, or illusion can we be subject? While there are many, I want to just highlight a couple that come to mind quite readily.
We can be subject to the deception that God is distant and thus, He is unconcerned, uninvolved, and uncaring. If our concept of God’s sovereignty extends to the point that we require His intervention to stop senseless violence, inhumane acts by one person or people toward another, or the downward moral spiral of our society and culture, and God does not act, we can be inclined to think that God is distant and is not concerned, does not want to get involved, and thus, He does not care.
We can also be misled by the thinking that we have figured out God. This is when we view God from a strictly pragmatic standpoint. The thinking goes like this – If I do A, then God will do B. Sometimes our pragmatic thinking about God gets very involved and complex – If I do A, B, C, and D, then God is required to do E. It is an understanding of God based in cause and effect. In other words, by my actions (the cause), I can elicit a defined, expected response (the effect) from God.
Another illusion in which we can be inclined to believe is that we can contribute to our own salvation or even achieve our own salvation by our efforts. This is the particular illusion Paul is writing to dispel through the book of Galatians. The churches in the region of Galatia had encountered a group of false teachers, the Judaizers as they are called, who were professing Jewish Christians teaching a mixed Gospel. They taught that a person is saved partly by faith and partly by works; and that a person grows in Christ partly by faith and partly by their own effort. In the particular context of the Galatian believers, they were taught it was necessary to believe in Christ AND to participate in the main ritual of religion, i.e., circumcision, AND observe all the ceremonies and rituals of religion.
For what reason does Paul include this reminder? I believe it is because a level of self-awareness, knowing the particular deception, or misleading, or illusion to which we ourselves are subject will greatly assist in our hearts remaining free, unencumbered, and unoppressed to serve and to sow out of our experience of the grace of God.
Paul reminds us so that we will be aware of the temptations of thought to which we are inclined. Then he offers a Word on Relationship in Sowing. “A man reaps what he sows.” “What a person plants, he will harvest.”
I grew up on a farm in Wilkes County. Pun intended, you might say that I was raised on a farm. When someone asks what we grew or what we raised on the farm, I will sometimes respond by saying that we grew rocks. If I had not observed and participated in the sowing and harvesting of the corn that became silage for my Dad’s cattle and later in the cultivation of fescue for hay for the cattle, I would have been left to the evidence of my experience of picking up rocks out of the plowed fields. Rocks. Hundreds of them. They ranged from the size of my five or six year old fist up to the size of my father’s hands in a double fist. After the corn was cut for silage, and the field was plowed, it was time to “harvest” rocks. Part of the reason I know that we didn’t grow rocks is because we didn’t plant anything in the way of seed to produce them. They were produced by innovations and improvements in farming technology and equipment that allowed plows to cut deeper and deeper into the levels of the earth. In case you are wondering, you can’t plow as deeply with a mule and a single point plow as you can with a Ford 4000 and a moldboard or disc plow. The point of the story is that we were not harvesting what we had sown because we had not sown.
Paul talks about the outcomes of sowing in Galatians 6 – a person reaps what they sow. That is the relationship to which I believe our attention is drawn and we will consider that in just a moment. First I want to attend to an implication I believe I see in these verses that one may choose to not sow at all. Please note that I am not suggesting that it is an option, but rather hoping to underscore that it is not an option. A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century, beautifully illustrates this.
God speaks to each of us as [God] makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Richard Rohr has written, “If your spiritual practice doesn’t lead you to some acts of concrete caring or service, then you have every reason not to trust it.” Not sowing, I would suggest, truly is not an option for the heart secured in God’s grace. Every child of God has a unique gift to share with the world that reflects the grace of God which they have experienced.
The relationship in sowing to which Paul directs our focus is not just the relationship between sowing and reaping – we harvest what we sow, but also the relationship between our sowing and the source out of which we sow – selfishness or Spirit. Where the NIV translates the phrase “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction,” the Message renders it with a stronger emphasis – “The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God! — harvests a crop of weeds.” The text continues by saying all that person will have to show for their life is weeds – crabgrass, poison ivy, kudzu, horse nettles, and thistles, spiritually speaking.
The outcome of sowing to “please the Spirit” or “in response to God” is far different. The harvest will not be weeds or destruction but rather “real life, eternal life.” You and I may sow in small ways, medium sized ways, or large ways through relationships, attitudes, and actions. The magnitude of your sowing isn’t the most important thing. In fact, I’m not sure it even registers as an important factor to consider. More important is that we are attentive to and rooted in the grace of God allowing us to sow out of the Spirit.
The last observation or thought about sowing and serving that I want to share is that Paul gives a Word about Responsibility. Verse 10 in the NIV begins with the word “Therefore”. You might replace the word ‘therefore’ with the phrase “In light of these things.” Then the verse continues to say, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” I would submit to you that our responsibility begins not with the act of doing good, but with the intentional awareness of and engagement with opportunities to do good. Opportunities exist all around us and our hearts, unbound to live in the freedom offered by God’s great grace, unclouded by the deceptions of our limited thinking, can readily identify those opportunities for which we are gifted and for which we have a passionate call, or sense of leading from God. I believe both are important and necessary to avoid the calamity described in verse 9 where Paul speaks of growing weary, even to the point of quitting. Be on the lookout for opportunities – YES! But be careful to avoid the trap of serving at every opportunity – it will exhaust you.
Speaking of opportunities, I do want to remind you that some of the opportunities for this Service Sunday are time-limited and specific to today. There are others that are on-going – the Hope Garden, Hickory Soup Kitchen each Wednesday, our Card Ministry (just to mention a few). I also want to make mention of one opportunity that exists right now within our church family. Earlier this week, Pastor Bob sent an email to the men of our church with a couple of opportunities for men. There may have been a similar email to other mailing lists, but I am aware only of the email to the men. The second request in that email had to do with a specific, current financial need for a church member. Through gifts to our Good Samaritan Fund, there is an opportunity to assist in this need, to “work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith” and not only this need, but others that arise as we go from week to week. Please note that we are doing the offering differently today and you can place your offerings and gifts in the offering box as you go, designating gifts to the Good Samaritan Fund as you see fit.
Be reminded that our best human thinking can be influenced so that we are misled or deceived and our continuing focus on the grace of God extended to us in salvation through Christ alone helps us to not be disillusioned. Don’t forget that the relationship out of which we give is most important and seek to give out of the Spirit of God which lives within you. Finally, exercise responsibility, living out of a heart secure in God’s grace to seek and engage opportunities to do good, and seek the benefit of all.