Fruit of the Spirit - Gentleness
7/30/23 - 1 Peter 3: 8-16 The Fruit of Gentleness by Pastor Jenn
Presidential debates begin the end of August, discerning who will represent their party. But let’s face it, they are not always pretty to watch. Each candidate will have their style in answering questions, calling other candidates out, rarely will you hear any of them offer a kind word to each other. But they’re not the only ones who find themselves in a hot debate. In fact, in the Northeast there are two cities who have a serious and at time ferocious debate over this question: Who really wrote “Mary had a Little Lamb”? Sterling, Massachusetts (north of Worcester) claims the poem was written by a schoolboy, named John Roulstone, who witnessed in 1815 an incident involving a girl named Mary Sawyer and her pet lamb. Newport, New Hampshire (in the southwest corner of the state) insists it was written by a prominent writer and editor native named, Sarah Joseph Hale. She wrote 20 books and hundreds of poems. She wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and published it in 1830 under her name, in a collection called "Poems for Our Children".
Supporters from both sides have produced what they say is definitive evidence for their case. Insults have been exchanged, allegations of plagiarism and lying have been tossed about. No one is backing down; because for both towns, being known as the birthplace of the poem is a primary draw for tourists.
Go to the website for Sterling Massachusetts and the first picture you see is this commemorating Mary Sawyer.
And yet in Newport News, NH you will see this: It’s a park dedicated to Sarah Joseph Hale, including the fact that she wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb.
Now if you look it up, it is Sarah Joseph Hale who gets credit for writing it the poem, although to this day the debate continues. "I've seen people go livid over this," says Lee Swanson, a New England historian, "They actually get red in the face." Isn’t interesting to have two towns fighting over a song that teaches children to be nice and gentle to their pets?
We are getting closer to wrapping up our sermon series on Fruit of the Spirit, and by now you understand that each fruit is given to us by way of God’s Spirit, so that we can be more like Christ. It’s God gift for the followers of Jesus to have these abilities to show Christ in the world. So, we talked about the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, today we will look at gentleness, and wrap up the series next week with self-control. Gentleness is the ability to endure certain things without aggression. It is the ability to control one’s temper and one’s tongue. Pastor Christopher Wright explained gentleness like this, in his book, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit: Growing in Christlikeness, “Gentleness means being very aware that the other person is a human being with feelings too. And maybe that person, even the one who is being very nasty, is just as hurt as I am by whatever is going on between us. So, if I fight back with matching or increasing aggression, it will only make things worse. We will hurt each other even more, and what’s the point in that?” p127
In the Old Testament we see a God who is, at times, gentle. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, God comes on a bit strong in many stories of the Hebrew Bible, but God is also quite gentle. Consider how David likens God to a caring shepherd, that in whom, nothing is needed in Psalm 23. In 1 Kings 19, we see how God cared for Elijah by bringing him bread from the ravens. God saved Hagar and her son after they were banished and hungry. In Genesis 21: we read: 17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” And last week we spoke of
Gideon’s faithfulness in God to lead him and small army against the mighty Midianites. Gideon knew God as faithful, but also gentle because God was at work to bring peace to the Israelites, involving as few of soldiers as possible. In fact in Judges 6:23 we read that on the night before the battle, “the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you, fear not, you shall not die”. And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there, and he called it, “Lord (who bestows upon us) peace.
A few weeks ago, I spoke about shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. And since then I have learned that the Hebrew tradition holds that because of that altar, the Jewish people greet one another with the term shalom, which means peace, which is also God’s name, Lord peace, as Gideon wrote. So, according to the Talmud, a commentary on the Hebrew Bible, Hebrews will offer the word “shalom” meaning “peace be to you” and in response the other person will say “aleichem shalom”, which means “unto you peace”, because “when two individuals who are spiritually connected to God through their souls, greet each other with Peace—i.e., God’s name—they bring Godliness into our physical world with their words.1
In other words, the difference between the fruits of peace and gentleness are, gentleness comes from peace. It is how we convey God’s peace. The ancient Israelites obviously viewed God as gentle, a God of peace, shalom, the One to call upon in interactions with others, so they can be gentle with their words, with others, despite any conflicts.
That’s what our lesson encourages. You heard him write at the beginning of our passage: Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. The “blessing” would refer to inviting God’s shalom into the interactions they have with others.
Then Peter quotes Psalm 34, a psalm of David stating the direction of this passage, which is to use good to overcome evil. 10 For “Those who desire to love life and to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; 11 let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. And then the lesson states, 13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Here Peter is reminding the Christians how not even death could overcome the goodness of Jesus, and so that is the hope they know of and trust. Therefore he adds, Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect.
Peter learned from Jesus, that gentleness is an important quality as a disciple, especially when one speaks to people who are not believers and have questions about our faith, or even challenge it.
Like when Jesus fed the 4,000 at the Decapolis (an area that was non-Jewish), or spoke to the Syro Phoenecian woman, or the centurion. All non-believers, but all received Christ’s blessing. And fortunately such is a fruit of the Spirit, of gentleness that leads us to see that those we disagree or dispute with us, have feelings that we need to recognize, as much as we recognize our own, and with the fruit of gentleness we can call upon God to be at work in and through us, to be like Christ, who says in Matthew 11:28 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Going back to the ancient Hebrew tradition of “shalom”, Hebrew scholars also say that when a person says those words to a person they have had a disagreement with, “the person asking states that he or she is ready to make unity between the two of them. Then the second person needs to respond that he or she agrees and also wants unity.”2 So if you offer a greeting of “shalom” to someone you are trying to be gentle with in your disagreements, and you hope to hear “alechim shalom” to see if the other will reciprocate with gentleness and respect. Could you imagine for every disagreement we may have, be it with family, co-workers, friends, fellow neighbors, began with a greeting of calling upon God’s name of peace, offering an opportunity of understanding with gentleness and respect? Further, we would end the discussion, sending each other with God’s shalom?
2 See the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory’s talk from December 14, 1973.
That could certainly change the presidential debates. It could also change our communities.
So this is our good news for the week, as well as a challenge, when we find ourselves at odds regarding what someone else says or does, or they take issue with something we say or do, may we call upon the God of Shalom, and allow the humility of Christ to guide our part in the disagreement, because to do such, is to welcome the Spirit of gentleness, that is a spirit of openness, understanding, and respect.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we come before you with gratitude for all that you are, for all that you have given us, for your mercy and grace towards us, for your presence and faithfulness. You created and loved us and in doing so, ask that we center on your glory.
We confess to you that we often fail to do this, every day, we fall short. In our words, our actions, and in our thoughts, we lift up ourselves and created things instead of you. Thank you for your unfailing patience with us. Thank you for your gentleness with our stubborn and rebellious hearts.
And thank you for Jesus who modeled gentleness and humility here on earth. Help us to learn from him and follow his example of meekness from strength.
We recognize that so many people need a kind word, an act of compassion, a quiet voice of reason, a softly spoken encouragement, a tender touch. Help us, to be mild mannered. Help us to be careful with our responses and interactions with others. Help us to be those who bring calm to the storms raging in this world, so that we may reflect your gentleness and in doing so bring you the glory as our Our Father who art in heaven…
Talk about gentleness in the midst of strife. This week we were blessed to hear from one of our missionaries from Ukraine to share with us God’s work in the midst of war, and how they are working with so many others to meet the needs of refugees, soldiers, and communities.
And here is a picture of their day camp, their VBS, where they had 110 children join them to learn how God is monumental. One child expressed to one of the volunteers “Thank you for your Jesus”. A portion of your gifts goes to support their crucial ministry.