The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
Dwelling in the Spirit
A Homily for Trinity 14
September 14, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Galatians 5:16-24
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
This week we are going to look at the works of the flesh verses the fruit of the spirit and what it looks like to be led by the spirit. It is important that we study this earnestly because working of the spirit is often misunderstood in our culture, and as such we need to be aware and be on guard of bad theology and teaching. Bad ideas can lead to destruction of life, destroy our walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and most tragically ruin our walk with the Lord.
Saint Paul often uses a rhetorical device where he takes something bad, in this case the works of the flesh, and presents it before he shows the good, the good in this lesson the works of the Spirit. He shows his readers the ugly thing that can happen, shows how it is against God, and reminds them how these actions destroy. He then holds up the good, the thing we are to strive for, or in this case the thing that God is working in us as a light and a beacon of hope.
Today he shows us the works of the flesh because they are sins that we may be familiar with. Sins we have probably even taken part in and struggled with. Yet, we are endued with the spirit, why is it that we still partake in these sins?
Sanctification doesn’t happen overnight, but it is a long, slow process. This is why we confess our sins every time we worship together and why the office of confession exists within the church; we all have struggles, we all have trials that we sometimes succeed in trusting in the Lord in and sometimes fail.
It is easy to say, “this is what you should do, go and do it.” It is much harder to say, “these are the things you are to strive for, but you will fail, as I have failed, come and struggle with me.” So, as we talk about what we are to strive for we are talking about the ideal. For every failure in our walk with the Lord, we are invited to come running home again, and again, and again.
First, let us look at the bad – these are the working of the flesh: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.
At first glance we can easily say “no, no that isn’t me.” But let’s think critically about these things for a few minutes. In Jesus sermon on the mount he broke down various sins, including adultery and murder. It was as he talked about these things that we realize that what happens in our hearts and mind is as bad as a physical action. Hopefully, no one here has had an affair, but have our eyes wandered and lingered too long? The same with murder – you’ve never killed anyone, but is there anyone you hate? If we think about Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, we realize that we have all been tarnished with life altering sin.
As we look at the Saints list, he sets up for a similar argument. Perhaps we haven’t committed adultery, or inappropriate sexual acts, perhaps we’ve never literally bowed down before the altar of a false god, or casted a hex upon an enemy, but what about hatred?
We see that the Saint wants us to not tune out, to not think that our sin isn’t all that bad if we haven’t done these things, because do you not hate? I know that I have hated people, hated them for the dumbest of reasons. This hatred is terrible for our souls, because it puts us above others. It takes hold of our heart and makes us think “hey, this person sinned against me, in my heart I will justify hating him because I feel pain.” It makes us think we don’t have to forgive them.
I am telling you for the sake of your soul, in God’s grace strive to forgive. This hatred, no matter how just it may seem, will ruin you. It is in forgiving that you will find freedom. In forgiving you are reminded all that God has forgiven you.
You may find this a hard thing, and I promise you that you are not alone. There was someone in my life who I struggled to love and forgive for his actions for several years. I wrestled with this, I felt guilty for my harden heart, I tried desperately to justify my dislike of him, and then one night I was reading C.S. Lewis’s “Letter’s to Malcolm” and came across the following:
I really must digress to tell you a bit of good news. Last week, while at prayer, I suddenly discovered--or felt as if I did--that I had forgiven someone I have been trying to forgive for over thirty years. Trying, and praying that I might. When the thing actually happened--sudden as the longed-for cessation of one's neighbour's radio--my feeling was "But it's so easy. Why didn't you do it ages ago?" So many things are done easily the moment you can do them at all. But till then, sheerly impossible, like learning to swim. There are months during which no efforts will keep you up; then comes the day and hour and minute after which, and ever after, it becomes almost impossible to sink. It also seemed to me that forgiving (that man's cruelty) and being forgiven (my resentment) were the very same thing.
It was in the reading of these words that I realized that I needed to pray that my heart would forgive him, it was in God working through my prayers and submission to him that I was finally able to let go of the pain I was struggling with. When hatred creeps in, prayer is the answer. Prayer that we would forgive, that we would love and that we would have a closer walk with the Lord, and trust that He will work out the rest.
The saints list goes on to other thoughts and emotions that perhaps we have dabbled in. Strife, envying, or drunkenness are things we may have experienced, and yet we ought to flee. Reveling is similar – not that having a good time is bad – but when we lose control of ourselves because we’ve gotten so absorbed in seeking the next emotional high, chasing a feeling of happiness, that is no good.
Saint Paul has harsh words for those who participate in these fleshly desires unrepentantly. They shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven, so flee these desires, flee them with all the might of the spirit.
On the reverse side is the fruit of the Spirit. These are much more pleasant sounding, aren’t they? They are: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
Let us take a moment to talk about what each of these are.
Let us first dismiss the idea that love is an emotion. Certainly, emotions are a part of love, but emotions can only take you so far. When we speak of love as a fruit of the spirit – we are talking about the Greek word agape – an unconditional love for the receiver a love that would carry us to our own death that those we love might live. Our model for Love is Christ on the cross. When we talk about the Christian ethos of love we begin at the cross. We desire what is best for the other, for the receiver of that love.
Joy - is the glad heartedness that faith produces. Not only a joy in being in the company of other Christians, but a genuine lightheartedness that comes from dwelling in the spirit. It isn’t flippant, but the freedom that comes from being grateful to dwell in the richness that God has given us.
We are promised hardship and sorrow in our walk in this world, and when we mourn we aren’t expected to paper over that sorrow with a cheap happiness, but to enjoy God’s mercy even in the darkest of days.
Upon the great puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards’s death, his wife Sarah, wrote one of their daughters “A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.” This is a hard example of Christian Joy and gratitude. She did not deny God’s goodness, but recognized the dark cloud that was passing over, but even in that God was good and holy.
Peace – cannot be separated from Christian joy. When we talk about peace we are talking about that peace of knowing that we are dwelling in the will of the Lord and submitting to His sovereignty. It is this peace that allows us to adopt the attitude of Sarah Edwards.
Long-suffering, gentleness, and goodness are three inseparable traits of a Christian. They are the works of love. It is in patience, and gentleness that we can forgive that neighbor who sins against us time and time again, it is in goodness that we strive to do the best for those around us.
Perhaps if we use the more modern words for long-suffering and gentleness we might understand a little better. Long-suffering is often translated as patience, while gentleness is translated as kindness. We can see how these are good virtues to strive for.
Faith – here is referring to a belief in the Gospel, to dwell in knowing that we have strayed from the goodness of God, that we have fallen short of his glory, but that Christ has died, Christ is risen for us and Christ will come again. Faith is knowing that we are invited to put on Christ’s righteousness and trust in Him. Faith, is to trust the Lord and obey.
Meekness – this, I think is a hard one for us. It requires humility and submission to the will of God – it requires that we do not trust in our own self-reliance, our own strength and our own righteousness instead that we trust in the mercy of God. We are trained from a young age to rely upon ourselves, but we cannot for our salvation or for our faith. Instead, we humbly submit to the will of the Lord. Seeking his strength in our meekness.
Finally – temperance – or self-control. We are called to be in control of ourselves when we are alone with someone of the opposite sex, when we are drinking, when we are eating, when we are speaking. This is a hard thing, yet it is our call and what we strive for. Self-control leads us away from choices that will hurt our bodies or souls and leads us to the Lord.
Do not grow sorrowful because the calling is too hard. Instead, rejoice because the Holy Spirit is working in you, he is making you perfect, giving you these fruit, slowly, perhaps one by one. Yet, when we exemplify then and dwell richly in Him, there is no evil or wrongness in that. There is only goodness.
St. Paul’s final thought reminds us that our natural affections and lusts are crucified with Christ. We are to let them die, that we might live truly with God.
I want to finish with a thought about following the will of God because there is a profoundly dangerous teaching that is pervasive the church in America. The thought is a desire to look at every one of our whimsies and wills and call it the will of God. It is a Christianized version of “if it feels good, then do it.”
We have seen how destructive this feel-good sentiment has been in the secular world and the Christianized version has been just as destructive. To be clear, what we are about to discuss about doesn’t apply to picking out socks, or what kind of coffee you’re going to order at the coffee shop, but to major life choices. When we make major decisions, we need to ask these four questions:
Is this Biblical?
Do my fellow Christians say this is a good idea?
Is this wise?
Can I do it in good faith?
If the answer is no to any of these questions then we should think serious about proceeding.
An example from my own life was my decision to come here to be your rector. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, it was the second cross country move in less than a year, which as you might imagine is less than ideal. It was, as it turns out a good thing and my heart is glad to be here. I am telling you this, not because I’m particularly good at discerning, but because I think it is a decent example of how discernment works and I can point to examples of how discernment worked in this situation.
Let us break it down. Certainly, accepting a call to an Anglican church that values the Gospel of Jesus Christ was Biblical. Likewise, all the wise Christians in my life, even ones who had stood against me in similar circumstances, thought this would be a good move. Of course, as a presbyter who had yet to hold a full-time cure, moving into a full-time position, in a place that would value a young priest was a wise choice for me. Finally, I spent time fasting and praying – it was then that peace overcame me, and I knew that I could take this position in good faith.
God is not going to call us to something unholy, and the Holy Spirit isn’t going to tell us to do something that isn’t Biblical or foolish. Instead, it is in dwelling richly in the word of God, fellowshipping with like believers, being thoughtful, and earnestly praying to seek the Lord’s will that we can walk forward with confidence in all our decisions.
It is important that we have a firm understanding of what the fruits of the spirit are and what it looks like to dwell in the will of the Lord. It is important for us to see how we are to follow his direction. There are a lot of false teachings out there that will tell us to behave differently and so be on guard.
Let us, therefore, flee from our sins and dwell rightly in the spirit that we may exemplify: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance for there is a great goodness in these things and when we truly exemplify them God is glorified.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen