Two weeks left and today's throwback sermon deals with old sermon titles and topics. This was my plan and then when I read today's epistle it served as a kind of outline with a list for topics-- the fruit of the Spirit. This list has been covered from this pulpit over the years by many in many ways. So without great ado, here are nine blasts from the past, sermons that were memorable for me... but probably long forgotten by most.
I will use the list of fruit from the screen hung in the choir loft, first one, Love. And I share now the opening paragraph of one of my favorites, Another John 3: 16, “Most all of us have memorized at least partially the most famous verse in the bible, John 3: 16. And while various translations change the words a bit, the the basic verse goes like this: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” A wonderful verse of a God who gives, a verse of welcome and promise and invitation. But if we stop and consider what it meant for God to “give” his son, it becomes a much more challenging word. And so I want us to look at another John 3: 16; 1 John 3: 16 tells us what that gift cost. “We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us.” That gift of love was not free, it cost the life of Jesus Christ.
The next one is Joy. And I'm going away from my own memorable sermons and remembering a special sermon given by Judy Holmes. The title was I Am Five. She described the wonder and joy in celebrating a five year old's birthday. Our granddaughter Ariel, who turns 16 next week, has a fourth of July birthday and we had a get-together at our farm place. Judy tells how she was witness to little Ariel sitting by herself repeating, kind of like a mantra, “I am five, I am five.” Judy described the joy in that simple statement. And we all are reminded that God gives us joy in this life. We know not every experience is joyful, but there is joy in the simple things in life; an anniversary, a hug, visiting an old friend, making a new friend, a good joke, a birthday. Recognize and embrace the moments of joy in your life.
Peace. This one is a little different in that you all didn't hear. it. This sermon came on a day when church was canceled due to a winter storm. Amy Levinski preached at Ecumen that day and Julie and I attended there. I can't tell you the title because Amy doesn't title her sermons. I can't even tell you what passages she preached on. All I know is God's word as presented that day brought a peace to my spirit that I too often miss in the busy-ness of leading a worship service. A reminder to us all, this time together worshiping our God is a time to let go of the worries and concerns of the world and give them to God and let the peace that passes understanding can guard your hearts and minds. Peace is one of God's great gifts to us but we can block it by letting the cares and concerns of this world overwhelm us.
Kindness. Five years ago we sponsored an appearance by Patti Wetterling and I followed that up with a series of sermons. I introduced the series this way, “Ever since we hosted Patty Wetterling last fall, I've kept in the back of my mind the idea to do a sermon series on “Jacob's 11”. “Jacob's 11” is a simple list of traits or actions that we can follow to make this world a better place in which to live.” Be Kind was the title of one of those sermons, and here is a portion of that sermon: “A woman was on her way home to see her father for the first time in 3 years. His health had taken a turn for the worse and she so wanted to see him before he died. Just as the plane was about to depart, her father’s physician called to inform her that her dad had rather suddenly passed away. For the 3 hour plane ride, she sat in stunned silence around strangers.
When she arrived to the airport in Arizona, she walked to the nearest wall, sat down, and cried. For 2 hours she sat and wept while thousands walked to and fro in the airport. Helga explained, “Not a single person stopped and asked if I was okay that day. Not one person. It was that day that I realized how much we need each other. It was that day I realized that Kindness Isn’t Normal.”
Kindness isn't normal. It is up to us to make kindness a normal part of our lives.
I concluded that sermon with a quote from William Penn, the Quaker colonist who founded the colony of Pennsylvania, “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow-being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
Generosity. I was a little surprised, I struggled to recall or even find a sermon that dealt specifically with generosity. I haven't done many sermons on giving to the church, I've not played the guilt card to get you all to give more. And so I went with Jacob Wetterling's list again. The sermon Be Generous was about this fruit of the Spirit. From that sermon, “The purpose of this sermon is not about growing the funds of the church. The purpose is to examine what our spirit of generosity looks like in all of life. You have probably heard the term “tithe” in regards to stewardship. The tithe is a ten percent offering that was commanded in the Old Testament. Ten percent of the first fruits, the gross pay we might say today, belonged to the Lord. But under the new covenant, we are no longer bound by that “law”. And we are not to be giving under compulsion, as the apostle Paul makes clear. But he makes the case for giving out of a spirit of gratefulness. We give out of gratitude for what God has given us, and with generous hearts. In 2 Corinthians Paul twrote, Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9: 7) Give eagerly, give cheerfully...not always the easiest thing to do. “A mother wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson so she gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church: "Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself," she told the girl. When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. "Well," said the little girl, "I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the pastor said that we should all be cheerful givers and I knew I'd be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did." (Children’s message/Bits & Pieces, February 4, 1993, p. 23)
That hits pretty close to home, doesn't it. It is easier to cheerfully give a small amount that we won't miss than an amount that will affect our lives. And when finances get tighter, it is even harder to be generous. But Paul covers this situation as well, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-- not according to what one does not have... it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need. We are asked to give sacrificially; we are not asked to give beyond our means. That includes the church, but it includes all of our giving. It includes our money, but it includes our time and talents as well.
I have to keep going to get through all nine fruit, Faithfulness. You probably won't be surprised that there were many sermons that ran through my head for this topic, but I want to briefly mention a memorable sermon from Pastor Truman titled Treasures in the Attic. He talked about what kinds of things can be found kept in an attic and used that to remind us that God has many treasures stored up for us. And while our faithfulness is important, we can look back through the attics of our minds and recognize that God has given us gifts in our experiences that are reminders of God's faithfulness to us. From time to time we should go into those attics and search through those treasures to remind us of God's great faithfulness.
My message on Gentleness comes from the sermon Donkeys, Elephants, and the Lamb. It took place during the 2016 presidential election. Here was my opening “We are in the middle of an incredibly divisive presidential campaign. That's not news to anyone here. I'm going to try to address this campaign in my sermon this morning, not to convince anyone of who to vote for because I don't even pretend to know the answer to that; but because we can get so caught up in the negativism that's going on around us, we can forget just who is ultimately in control.”
And a bit later, “Our society as a whole has become more base, more coarse and less civil in our conversing and our general respect for one another; especially those with whom we disagree. And I realize that is a sweeping statement and it doesn't apply to each person here. But it seems especially evident in this presidential contest.”
I never said the word gentleness in the sermon, but there was great contrast between our civil discourse and the gentleness the Spirit brings.
Finally, Self-control. From the sermon Flowers Before the Funeral, I shared this story, It is a story from the wonderful story-teller Max Lucado in his book The Applause of Heaven. “The legends of the Taj Mahal. They all fascinate, but there is one that haunts.
The favorite wife of the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan died. Devastated, he resolved to honor her by constructing a temple that would serve as her tomb. Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land, and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared to make her final resting place magnificent.
But as the weeks turned into months, the Shah's grief was eclipsed by his passion for the project. He no longer mourned her absence. The construction consumed him. One day, while walking from one side of the construction site to the other, his leg bumped against a wooden box. The prince brushed the dust off his leg and ordered the worker to throw the box out.
Shah Jahan didn't (realize) he had ordered the disposal of the coffin—now forgotten—hidden beneath layers of dust and time.
The one the temple was intended to honor was forgotten, but the temple was erected anyway.
Difficult to believe? Perhaps. But eerie nonetheless.
Could someone build a temple and forget why? Could someone construct a palace and yet forget the king? Could someone sculpt a tribute and forget the hero?”1 End quote.
Here are some more questions this brought to my mind: Could someone give faithfully to their church and forget who they are really giving to? Could we get so caught up in doing things for the king that we forget about spending time in the king's presence? Can we know the prince of peace and live our lives in turmoil? Could we be loved fully be God and fail to reciprocate? Could we be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, 150 plus years of history, family and friends and miss the joy in the journey?
Nine traits, nine sermons, infinite possible questions. But one point to be made: God is faithful and so we should be fully aware of and practice these fruit in the name of and to the glory of God. Amen.
Hymn: Spirit of God, Descend Upon my Heart 326 PH
1Lucado, Max The Applause of Heaven pg 121-122