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03.18.12 Fruit of the Spirit Gentleness, 1 Peter 5:1-11 Sermon Summary

by on March 19, 2012

Everybody has a narrative. You have one; so do I. God also has a narrative, and you are a part of it. God’s narrative sometimes conflicts with our own. This is good but challenging news.

Summary Points

  • The narrative of the American male
  • The contrasting biblical narrative
  • Jesus Christ, the protagonist in both narratives
  • Beginning to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit that is gentleness
  • Questions for Reflection and Discussion

My personal narrative as that of an American Male. It runs something like this. Everyone is in competition with one another, so I have to rely upon myself. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there where only the fittest survive. Ours is a nation that overcomes the odds, conquering hostile nature and natives. Strength and power are masculine traits; boys and men don’t show emotion or need. By contrast, gentleness is a feminine trait.

By contrast, here are some excerpts from the narrative Jesus tells: “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5); not the strong shall have dominion over it. “The last shall be first; the greatest among you shall be the slave of all” (Mark 9:35, etc.), not the most important is served by everyone else. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:6), not God helps those who help themselves.

The reason there are conflicts between our personal narratives and the one the Bible tells is because the Bible calls us to a narrative larger than our individual ones: the Bible calls us to be God’s people. This is good news if your personal narrative is one of victimization or other hardship, for God folds us into God’s narrative, and the ending promises to be a better one.

There are three major scenes in God’s narrative. Scene 1: People without God. In this scene, the people go their own way and make their own gods. Stephen summarizes this scene by describing the people as, “Stiff-necked and opposing the Spirit” (Stephen, Acts 7:51). Scene 2: People of no account. Going their own way leads the people into slavery in Egypt, exile in Babylon, and Roman occupancy in the Land of Promise.

Scene 3 is where the Bible, and Christ in particular, has been leading us: The People of God. God comes to claim a people for God’s own. In political terms, God comes as “king” and “lord,” but since this is God’s narrative, God is not “king and lord” in the conventional sense. Instead, God comes to lead God’s people as a shepherd.

This is why 1 Peter 5:1-11 urges the elders of the church to lead God’s people as a shepherd—and refers to the entire congregation as a flock—because we are all followers of the “Chief Shepherd,” Jesus Christ.

It was Christ who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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.” (Matthew 11:28-29) The image of the yoke runs counter to the image of being stiff-necked. Yokes only work on animals whose necks can be turned. Jesus the Chief Shepherd is calling us out of Scene 2 and into Scene 3. But he does so not as “king and lord” (despite our confession of him as such—an understandable, however misleading, merging of the secular and sacred), but as a shepherd.

A shepherd is loving, especially manifest in the willingness to be self-sacrificing. A shepherd is strong enough . . . to be meek. What a contrast to the “strength” typically on display! People in mental health professions will attest that many individuals asserting their “strength” are in fact compensating for weakness. Not the shepherd. The shepherd is truly strong, strong enough to be meek—even gentle, which is the eighth fruit of the Spirit.

Consider Jesus the Chief Shepherd’s narrative as summarized by Philip Kenneson.

When we look for a king born of royalty, we find instead a baby wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a manger, born to a peasant girl of no account. When Jesus’ time has come to begin his ministry and we look for him to put John the Baptizer in his place, we find instead a Jesus who humbly approaches John in order to be baptized by him. When we look for Jesus to take the world by storm, to win over those who have power, influence and prestige in order to advance his kingdom more efficiently, we find instead an itinerant preacher and healer who spends much of his time with the weak and outcast of society: children, lepers, prostitutes and tax-collectors. When we see Jesus rejected by the Samaritans, we look for him to do what his disciples wanted done—to rain fire down upon them—but instead he rebukes us. When we look for the conquering hero to make his move, to enter into the royal city on his white charger to signal to the people that the time has come to establish his kingdom, we find instead a Jesus who enters into Jerusalem astride a humble donkey. When we gather with him for the last time in that upper room, expecting to get our marching orders and to honor him by pledging our allegiance to him, we find instead that he honors us by washing our feet and by calling us his friends. When Jesus is arrested and taken before the authorities, we look for him to set those authorities straight, to proclaim proudly and defiantly that he is God’s anointed one; instead we find him strangely silent, showing no need to justify himself. When we look for a deliverer who will crush the opposition by superior force, we find instead a servant-messiah who allows himself to be crushed and bruised for us. What kind of God is this? (Kenneson, pp. 205-206)

The answer is the God of the Bible, the God of Christ, the God of whom we are called to be God’s people. First Peter 2:9-10 says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.”

As the people of God, as followers of Christ the Chief Shepherd, as people led by God’s Spirit, we are called to bear the fruit of this Spirit, one of which is gentleness. Contrary to our personal narratives, this is the narrative God is telling and of which we are a part. And though this fruit of the Spirit and this part of God’s narrative runs so contrary to our cultural programming, it nonetheless is our calling, and God can and will accomplish it by God’s Spirit.

We can begin to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit that is gentleness by rejecting the conventional narrative of our culture. It is narrative that keeps us from participating fully in our roles within God’s narrative. Part of this is remembering that meekness is not weakness. Instead, the ability to be gentle is a demonstration of strength, security, trust in God, and maturity of Spirit. By practicing gentleness, not avoiding it, we will grow in gentleness.

One way we can practice gentleness is by controlling our tongues. Sarcasm, ridicule, put-downs, and the like are contrary to gentleness. Sometimes we use these for humor, but many times, often unconsciously, we use them to assert ourselves over others—the very opposite of shepherd living.

Finally, as people of God called into Christ’s light, we can make a greater effort to be a candle instead of a flare. Flares explode and bring attention to themselves, whereas a candle quietly shines light for those looking for it. The biblical narrative is that God’s light has come into the darkness of the world, a darkness that cannot overcome it. Our part in that narrative is to let that light shine before others, that they may see our good works, recognize God’s presence, and give thanks.

Thoughts for Reflection and Discussion

  • What are the major plot turns in your narrative? How have you seen God’s handwriting in your life? What are some things you can do to live into God’s narrative?
  • What difference would it make if you substituted the shepherd for king and lord in your primary vision of God?
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