Sermon preached by Margaret Carter at St Martin's on Sunday 22 June 2014
PRAYER: Dear Lord you are closer to us than our own breath. Open our hearts and minds to your word today. Amen
This sermon is one of the series of sermons called FRUITFULNESS ON THE FRONTLINE and today’s sermon is about having a Godly character.
Well we can easily dismiss godly character as to be so obvious as to be not worthy of consideration. But it’s much more than being nice. It is about allowing this new way of being human to develop within us.
SO HOW DO WE DEVELOP A GODLY CHARACTER?
We have a choice. We can live in one of two ways: we can live for ourselves or we can live for others. Living for ourselves is having ourselves at the centre of our universe, not God…. where we use other people for our own gratification, our relationships are full of strife, we take many aspects of creation and use them for our own ends.
Alternatively we can live a life shaped by the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are the evidence others see of the choices we make in our lives.
SO HOW DO WE MODEL A GODLY CHARACTER?
It’s fascinating to realise just how much of our lives we spend at work, or another place OTHER THAN OUR HOMES, where we come into contact with others.
God gave us free will. We are free to choose what we say, what we do and what we think. Great you might say, BUT doing what we choose, even if it’s a good thing, isn’t always done in the right character, the character of God. So, can l ask you for a moment to reflect on an ordinary day in your life, if you don’t go out to work reflect on situations at home, with partner, on the telephone, at the door, shopping, on the bus, swimming pool, in the street, with your neighbours, this is your front line. PAUSE
Part of my front line is still teaching. With teaching an ordinary, day might involve; inspections, appraisals, staff fall-outs, arguments at home, parental disputes, frustrations with friends, challenging situations and people, confrontations, tedious situations etc etc. All of which can offer opportunities for friction when we put ourselves at the centre of our world. But they are also opportunities where these characteristics are both developed and allowed to shine. So how do we match up?
JESUS WASN’T ALWAYS MR NICE GUY
He often had tough words for those he came across. Godly character will often lead to loving actions and should. The emphasis is on modelling, on the way we come across to others, on how our character leads people to expect certain kinds of responses from us.
A STORY FROM SCHOOL
Sam was a 9yr old boy when l knew him. He was one of the most difficult children l’ve ever taught. He lived permanently with his dad and didn’t like or trust women. He would throw tantrums and be difficult on a daily basis. The facts of the matter are that Sam’s mum was an alcoholic and had put his hamster in the microwave when he was about 4. Sam was a damaged little boy. I prayed, asking God to help me to reach out to him. I felt God was telling me to have lunch with Sam in the canteen. We had lunch every Wednesday and Sam’s popularity grew as other children came to sit with us at lunchtimes. It’s interesting that his behaviour got considerably worse every Wednesday morning. Then my mum died, which meant that someone else took my class. On the day l returned to school, Peter Hart came to see me. My class was in the hall being spoken to by the Head and Peter and l spoke in my classroom. A knock came at the door and it was Sam. Sam asked if he could get his pencil case and off he went. I didn’t know at the time that Sam had been permanently excluded and l wouldn’t see him again. Hearing the teacher who had taught my class bragging about how she had ‘got rid of Sam’ hurt me very much. The resentment, anger, frustration l felt with her knew no bounds. So what might God have been teaching me through this? Was l too wrapped up in my own grief to ask about him before school, or notice there was something wrong with Sam when he came into the room? And the teacher, because of my anger did l miss an opportunity to speak to her… l’ve often thought of her situation…her husband who was also a teacher, had previously had a nervous breakdown and had to leave teaching. So was she resentful and found the class too much to cope with? I don’t believe l got it right…my intentions at the beginning were clear but l let God down because of my anger and resentment. Since then l have often thought about Sam AND the Teacher and know that God has been at work, teaching me through this situation and many others before and afterwards so that eventually l might get it right. In marking myself against the fruits of the Spirit, l feel l came low down.
But here’s what’s interesting: Where did the God of the universe decide to teach me about my pride, about being a servant, a cheerful worker? Not in the church building, although he does it there too. Not in the home group, or with my prayer partner, nor over coffee with a Christian friend….he chose right there on my frontline, in the middle of my ordinary day, with my non Christian Head and fellow teacher.
It isn’t easy to live out the fruits of the spirit when you’re trying to cope with tough situations. Maybe your Frontline is being a carer 24/7. Looking after someone who can’t feed themselves, or take themselves to the loo, who are less able to remember what they said a moment ago, or the one before that, or the one before that. I know this will resonate with many people here, myself included.
Maybe your frontline isn’t as demanding as that, but l wonder how highly you might mark yourself at the end of an average day on the list like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
When my mum was alive, I always took her to Morrison’s on Saturday morning to get her shopping and then have lunch in the cafe. One day l was in a rush and l balanced the basket on her lap in the wheelchair. Of course because l was rushing the basket fell off, as l was going round a corner, spilling the contents all over the floor. I was cross with her but actually it happened because l was rushing and it was not her fault. Again my score would be very low.
Modelling godly character is about letting the life of Christ’s Holy Spirit flow in us and through us in tough times as well as good times.
We are who we are but we are also becoming something else….something more like Jesus. That is the essence of it all, it’s the only way most of us can even contemplate talking about modelling Godly character. The hypocrisy rating is high for us all, and many is off the scale, mine in particular. If we were all cast adrift in a boat with holes in the hull to match our sinfulness, every one of us would be sunk without Jesus.
So as we seek to model godly character, we don’t do so in our own strength.
Do we grit our teeth and try to summon up some smidgen of love? some atom of patience for that bad-tempered bully, no, we go into that situation with God. But then one day we suddenly find ourselves behaving in a way which makes us think.
It’s just that we don’t react in quite the same way as we used to…we catch ourselves thinking. Oh that was unusual, that was good,…..it’s not pride or self-satisfaction, it’s just a Godly rejoicing with God at his work in us. Now it’s important to see that Paul doesn’t say that the fruit of the Spirit is doing loving things, doing kind things or gentle things. No the fruit of the Spirit is the living presence of those qualities in us. So yes God does do loving things, but he does them because he is LOVE. He just can’t help it. Just as an apple tree cannot help producing apples.
It is clear that what matters is character..God is making us into people with particular kinds of qualities.
Character is not just displayed through actions, but through our emotional posture. So we might do the right things but not in a manner that is kind or do the right thing under pressure but not in a manner that is joyous or marked by an element of peace.
In Galations Paul summarizes it all as freedom, Christ’s grace and love frees us from the power of sin. Christ’s love graces us with a deep assurance of his love which gives us joy and peace and allows us to be other-centred.
As we are given an ever expanding picture of who God is and what he has done for us, we recognise how generous his mercy is to us, how patient he is with us and that begins to express itself in both our attitudes and actions. The one shapes the other. Right attitudes lead to godly behaviour. Doing the right thing, even with gritted teeth, even when we don’t want to, can indeed enable us to do the right thing next time with a bit more of a smile.