Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sermon: Galatians 6: 7-10 Not Growing Weary

As you can probably tell, I’ve never ran a marathon. But I have friends who have run part or all of the Belfast marathon. Seemingly when you’re running such a big distance, you can hit the wall - each stride is difficult; the pain is increasing; your body is screaming for you to stop; it would be easier to give up and lie down somewhere. All my friends have said that what kept them going was first of all getting to the finish line; but second the crowd cheering them on willing them to keep going and running.

Tucked away at the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul does something similar. It’s as if he dons a cheerleader outfit, grabs his pompoms, to urge us to keep going. We’re not running a race; we’re not playing a sport; but we need the encouragement to keep going. If you’ve ever wondered if you should keep coming to Mothers Union; if you’ve ever been tempted to think, och, I’ll not bother tonight, I’m sure somebody else will go; if you’ve ever thought that you should just forget about church or Bible reading or giving to charity or loving and serving in a multitude of ways, then you need to hear the word that God has for us tonight from the lip and pen of Paul.

We hear his cheerleading in verse 9: ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.’

In this section of Galatians, Paul is showing the Christians that everybody is investing towards something. Everybody is building a future of one kind or another. We’re all working towards a future outcome. It’s a readymade illustration for a rural community, because he talks about sowing and reaping.

We all know how sowing and reaping works. Whatever you sow, that is what you will reap. If a farmer sows barley seed, he will reap barley. If he wants to grow potatoes, then he needs to plant potatoes. It’s obvious in your garden and on the farm. But when it comes to spiritual things, we somehow think that it’ll work differently. But look at verse 7. Paul spells it out: ‘Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.’ Whatever we sow is what we will eventually reap.

In spiritual things, there are only two options open to us. We can either sow to our own flesh (the sinful nature NIV) or we can sow to the Spirit. These are the two categories that Paul has been talking about the whole way through the letter to the Galatians. We can either decide to follow our sinful nature, to go the way of the flesh, to sow to please ourselves in selfishness. Or we can sow to please the Spirit.

It’s like a farmer who has to decide which seed he’ll sow. When he pays his money and makes his choice, that’s what he is working towards. The crop is what he’s looking for.

Paul says we are sowing every moment of every day. In the things that we think - what we dwell upon, what we focus on; in what we say - how we use our tongue, the words we speak; in what we look at; what we do with our hands; how we spend our time, money, all these and much more - everything that we do, we are sowing towards one or the other - the flesh or the Spirit.

So often we can breeze through life, not really thinking about the consequences of our decisions. In a way, that’s what the hard-hitting road safety adverts are trying to confront. There’s the one which simply repeats over and over again: ‘Every drink increases your risk of crashing.’ The message is clear - if you decide to drink and drive, if that’s the choice you make, then there could well be consequences.

Paul shows us the results of our sowing. The two seeds have very different outcomes - ‘For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.’ Corruption or eternal life. Both are within our grasp. Both lie at the end of the choices that we make.

The world around is sowing to the flesh. You only have to watch the news or open a paper to discover that most people are living to please themselves - in many ingenious and varied ways - but all for themselves, whether it’s the pursuit of fame and fortune; power, sexual pleasure or whatever it might be.

The Galatian Christians had come across another type of flesh sowing - legalistic religion. After Paul had come and preached the gospel, another crowd of religious teachers had arrived. They tried to claim that in order to be real true proper Christians, the Gentile converts would have to submit to the full law of Moses, including circumcision. They tried to claim that you could work hard at religious practice and get in with God that way. If you gave enough or fasted enough or prayed enough, then you would get a step up the ladder.

But it’s just another kind of sowing to the flesh - if our religion is all about what we’re doing, then it’s just that - selfish, sowing to the flesh religion.

Throughout the letter, Paul has been helping the Galatians see that Christianity isn’t about law-keeping (because we can’t do it); Christianity is all about faith in Jesus who kept the law and became a curse for us who were cursed. We have been set free from law-keeping to instead walk by the Spirit.

This is what we’re called to. This is the Christian life: to sow to the Spirit, doing the things that please the Spirit. It’s what Paul is urging the Galatians Christians to do, more and more. But he knows, and you know, that to choose to do the right thing is hard. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, to keep choosing to follow the Spirit each day. Just like my marathon mates, the flesh is arguing back, trying to get them to give up.

Ever had days like that? You know what you should be doing, but deep within you suddenly think - but I won’t! Or you come up with a thousand and one reasons why you can’t go to church, or so many things you’d prefer to do rather than help out. It’s at moments like these that we need to hear the voice of the cheerleader: ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good [sowing to the Spirit], for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.’

Imagine a farmer who decides he’ll not bother sowing. He can’t be bothered to do any more. He’s maybe done half a field but then he got a bit bored. He remembered that it was nearly time for The Chase or Pointless or whatever. Could he expect to reap a whole field when he’s only sown half a field?

Don’t give up following the Spirit, doing those things that are good - not to win God’s favour and be saved, but because we are saved already by God’s favour - now is the time of sowing. The time of reaping is coming. Keep going and keep growing.

The work of Mothers’ Union in this parish is so vitally important, as you do so much in so many ways. Now, it can be hard to see the benefit if you’re up to your elbows in suds, but be assured - the harvest is coming. Nothing done for the Lord is wasted or unseen.

This sermon was preached at the Mothers' Union Holy Communion service in Aghavea Parish Church on Tuesday 14th January 2014.

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