Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Part 9/10) Gentleness: meek not weak

Gentleness is the eighth fruit of the Holy Spirit the virtues that Paul says develop and ripen in our lives as we walk with the Holy Spirit. It is says Gordon Fee ‘the one fruit more than the others for which one has difficulty finding an adequate English word. Whatever else it carries the sense of Humility (A proper estimation of one’s self over against God) and considerateness towards others.

In the older translations the word used was Meek. Sadly gentle and meek have become associated in our culture with weak.

In classical Greek thought gentleness was also a valued virtue, Aristotle defined it as the mean between the extremes of “excessive anger” and the “Inability to be angry”: A right way to treat others between those most basic instincts of fight and flight.

Perhaps the best way to enter into looking at gentleness is not through the words we use but through pictures and ideas that they describe.

The word has the sense of an animal that has been domesticated or well trained, able to harness all their strength to a common purpose or good. Sorry about the product placement but these are the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, they are amazing animals incredibly strong, powerful animals. Breed to pull immense weights. These days they only get to do it in ceremonies and shows and parades. Around them is the cheer of the crowd, fireworks and other loud noises, flash bulbs going off, people wanting to touch them, they are so meek, well disciplined, that they are able to calmly continue doing what they are trained to do in that chaotic environment, they don’t freeze they don’t react negatively, and you could imagine the damage they could do if they go spooked and stampeded. They are blinkered and focused. Their strength is in check and used appropriately, harnessed for a common goal.

I could have spoken of Elephants in the same way they are another amazing example.

Here is another example of gentleness and meekness this time in the face of conflict and strife.

On February 1 1960 four students walked into the Woolworth’s in Greensboro North Carolina. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr and David Richmond. They bought stationary for their studies, they were scholarship students at North Carolina A&T state University. On the way out of the store they decided that as they had bought stuff from the store they should also be able to buy and eat food at the stores lunch bar. They sat down and ordered sodas, coffee and doughnuts. Because they were black they were refused service, the dinner was segregated. The four decided they would stay seated until they were served. They didn’t protest or complain or get angry they simply sat and waited. The store owner is recorded as saying “They can sit there all they want, it’s nothing to me”. Next day twenty black students came and sat at the lunch counter and asked to be served. Crowds came and they were harassed by pro-segregationists. The day after over 300 turned up, many were arrested for disturbing the peace and their place was taken by another student. The movement spread through the South and in the North picket lines appeared outside Woolworths and other chain stores segregated in the south. The students were always dressed in Sunday best in Nashville the rules for sit-ins were

“Do show yourself friendly on the counter at all times. Do sit straight and always face the counter. Don't strike back, or curse back if attacked. Don't laugh out. Don't hold conversations. Don't block entrances. They were to think of the non-violent teaching of Jesus Christ Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr "

Well over 70,000 people participated in the sit-ins and they generated over 3,000 arrests, the house of a prominent black lawyer defending students in court in Nashville was bombed. Woolworths had to change its policy because of the impact it had on their profits and the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 declared such segregation illegal. A section of the Greensboro lunch bar is now preserved in the Smithsonian Institute of American History in Washington DC.

Gentleness or meekness says Paul is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

We shouldn’t be surprised of that because Gentleness is a characteristic of God. God is the all-powerful all mighty, yet in the Old Testament we always see God acting in a right manner towards his people, never with unrestrained anger, but rather laced with justice, patience and love. In the passage we had read out to us this morning from Matthew’s gospel we see that Jesus describes himself as gentle and it correlates to his burned, his yoke being light.

This year we’ve seen some images of new kings or governments coming into existence.
With the royal wedding we saw the future king of England honoured with pomp and circumstance. In a much publicised trip back to their residence to change into less formal gear, they managed to achieve a common touch, driving through the crowds of well wishes in Prince Harry’s Austin Martin.

Or in the last two weeks we saw these pictures of rebels in Libya finally breaking into Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli and here parading with a rather ironic statue of defiance that Gadhafi has commissioned to show his victory over previous NATO bombings.

But the Kingdom of God scripture tells us comes differently gently, like seed. It comes as people hear the words of Jesus and respond, In the parable of the sower it comes like a man who went out to sow seed, scattering it on the ground. Even then we read it only grows and bears fruit in good soil that was receptive to hear it. It does not force its way in. Its king rode into Jerusalem, not as a conquering hero, but humbly on a donkey, his coronation was not filled with fanfare and glamour, but a crucifixion. We are called to develop the same attitude, the same gentleness.
What does that look like in our lives?

Gentleness in Romans 12 is seen in the humble worship of God, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice and in not thinking of ourselves to highly, but being willing to serve one another with the gifts and grace God has given us.

IN Paul’s list of the work of the flesh that he contrasts with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the word that is contrast with gentleness is selfish ambition. Wanting it our way, working for our best interest, taking everything personally, as against us, or in our favour. Gentleness is willing to forgive others and not let slights, perceived or real, insult or injury put us off from the goal of loving one another and being one in Christ< working as the Holy Spirit does for the common good.

I recently watched a youtube clip about people who had been mis-treated by church and Christians which was the antithesis of what Paul was talking about. AS they shared about broken marriages and past mistakes they’d made they talked of being ostracized by their church family or condemned and made to feel guiltier for their actions rather than heard, and gently lead back to God and fellowship with God’s people. Paul uses the virtue of gentleness in Galatians 6:1 to talk about how to deal with people who is caught in sin. They are not to be written off or turned away or ripped into but, cared for and restored, if possible. The rational that is given is because it is important; their eternity is at stake, they matter to God, but also because we too need to be aware that we face similar temptations. Gentleness is not about or reactions to what someone has done, but how we act in responding correctly and loving them.

Gentleness is teachable, is willing to learn to respond to people and situations not in a way that the book the trauma of transparency calls hurling or hiding, that is lashing out or withdrawing, but a consistent determination to work for the others good.

I want to finish this morning by focusing on a very practical way that gentleness is an important virtue for nurturing Christian community and witnessing Christ like love to the world around us. That is because Gentleness is a virtue we need when it comes to dealing with conflict. And Christian are not very good at dealing with conflict. Right. In fact in one book I read back when I was training for the ministry said that the church needs to be trained to fight like Christians’. Because the reality is that any group will have to deal with conflict, will have to deal with differences and disagreements. Paul was writing to the church at Galatia because there was a group called the Judaizers who had come saying don’t listen to Paul, you need to become Jews and follow the law to follow Christ. Jews don’t fraternise with gentiles. You just have to look at the church at Corinth to see that the church has conflict. Even that wonderful first church in Jerusalem wrestled with conflict.

How we deal with conflict says a lot about who we are in Christ. Sadly many of us simply get angry, go off and then go off and leave. Or we avoid it right, we simply say we are not going to deal with it or we give in to the loudest voice. The problem is when we sweep things under the carpet is that often we find ourselves tripping over the big lump of stuff we hid under the carpet. Or we equate gentle with that wonderfully descriptive word “pussyfooting”, we tread softly round people or subjects and they never get dealt with.

We need to learn how to deal with conflicts. How many people here have read the book ‘the five languages of love?’ It’s a great book about how we give and receive love. We can be verbal people; we need the words, or wired for touch; we need to feel theb love to feel loved, or gift givers or acts of serve people or quality time people. Well we also have default was in which we manage conflict as well. I’ll confess up I’m a natural avoider, I’ll avoid conflict, then if I can’t avoid it I’ll become a forcer, I’ll try and win. Others are naturally wired to be appeasers, they give in to keep the peace and others will compromise and others will cooperate for a win-win situation. I’ve found it helpful to know which of these is my natural default setting so I can ask myself am I just reacting how I normally do or am I acting in the right way for this situation. The Mennonite church have put out a great tool for helping people realise what their conflict management style is. Like most things it’s on the web Or I’ve got a copy of it here. I give it to couple who I’m marrying to help them understand each other and work on good conflict resolution processes for their relationship.

We also need to be able to put the issues on the lunch counter in front of us, and not place them between us. Gentleness means realising that it’s not about us as an individual and that we can discuss and disagree, without it becoming personal, and between us. Can I just say it’s not always easy, I tend to take things personally. It why gentleness develops as we walk with the spirit as God makes us more and more whole as people. It’s why it’s good to have processes in place for dealing with conflict, rules you could say, even boxing has rules. Simple ones like listening when someone puts their perspective, not interrupting, reflecting back what you’ve heard before you say what you think. Dealing with the issue at hand, not the retinue of past issues or the ‘but you lawaysess’ that we sort of keep on each other. I could go on.

We are called to be a gentle people, not a weak people, but meek. Not over reacting or not reacting at all to others and what they do but to be gentle act in aright manner, harnessing our strength not to defend ourselves or force our views on to others but to act in the right way, n love to seek the common good and best for others. We need to remember that Jesus said that it is the meek who will inherit the earth, because they will not be put off achieving the higher good by slight, or wrong, or rejection, or distraction, persecution or even death, as they walk and are led by the Holy Spirit.

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