Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - Living by the Spirit in Bizzaro World

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 11, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the first message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

This morning we’re starting on a series of messages that’ll take all the way through the summer. And our focus will be on what it means to live by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we’re going to look at how we can choose to show the world  that the Spirit is alive and well and resting upon us, and I’m saying “us” as both individuals and as a church. And to do this, we’re going to use a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as a guide and talk about what he called the Fruit of the Spirit. He wrote, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. [Galatians 5:22-23] But all that positive stuff, well, we’ll consider that starting next week.

This morning, though, we’re going to focus on what Paul had just talked about you know, that caused him to write “by contrast.” In other words, this morning we’re going to look at the opposite of all these wonderful fruits, the stuff, we’re not suppose to do, something Paul calls the desires of the flesh. And you know, since it really is the opposite of what he wants us to do, it’s actually like living by the Spirit in a place called the Bizzaro World. Now, does anyone know what I’m talking about? Well, if you don’t, just check this out, because I think this little video explains Bizzaro World better than I could.

Of course, if you’ve seen this episode or know anything about Seinfeld, you understand exactly what’s going on. Elaine has met three new friends. And since they’re dependable and sensitive and intellectual, Kevin, Gene and Feldman are the Bizzaro World’s version of Jerry, George and Kramer. In other words, they’re the exact opposite.

And in a real way, I think that’s what Paul was warning the Galatians and us when he wrote, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” [Galatians 5:16-21] You see, doing this kind of stuff is the exact opposite of what Paul thought Christians should be doing. And in that way, it really is like living by the Spirit in Bizzaro world.

But even though this life-style is diametrically opposed to the kind of lives we’ve been called to lived, it’s not only tempting but really easy to do. And I’ll tell you, I think the Apostle Paul would agree with both. You see, for him, the reason it happens, especially to Christians, well, it all started when Jesus died on the cross. I mean, just listen to what Paul wrote to the Romans, and I’m reading this from the Contemporary English Version: “That is how it is with you, my friends. You are now part of the body of Christ and (listen to this) are dead to the power of the Law. You are free to belong to Christ, who was raised to life so that we could serve God. When we thought only of ourselves, the Law made us have sinful desires. It made every part of our bodies into slaves who are doomed to die. But the Law no longer rules over us. We are like dead people, and it cannot have any power over us. Now we can serve God in a new way by obeying his Spirit, and not in the old way by obeying the written Law.” [Romans 7:4-6] Now that what he wrote.

And just think about what that means. Through Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from the Law, and I’m talking about all those rules and regulations that folks believe will make them O.K. in the sight of God. As he wrote a little later in Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” [Romans 8:1-2] You see, thanks to the cross, we’re free; that’s our condition; therefore, Paul meant it when he wrote right before our passage, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  [Galatians 5:1] Now I don’t care how you cut it, this is good news. Man, we are free, free at last, thank Almighty God we’re free at last.

But right here’s the problem. Since we’re free from the law that kept us on a short leash when we were bound, we’re now free to make some really bad decisions. In other words, we’re absolutely free to misuse the freedom that we now have. It’s sort of like a new scooper at an ice cream parlor, who’s told that he can eat as much ice cream as he wants. And he eats so much he throws up. That’s the kind of freedom we have. And I think that’s what Paul understood when he wrote about standing firm and not become slaves again. In fact, this is the very thing he talked about just a little later in Galatians. He wrote, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” [Galatians 5:13-15] You see, Paul recognized that, as free men and women, we can take this precious, this wonderful freedom we have, and we can pervert it. We can misuse it. Man, we can turn and distort it in order to indulge ourselves, you know, to make ourselves happy, something that, doggone it, sinners just love to do. And you know, that’s exactly why he, after all this freedom stuff, Paul warned the Galatians to “live by the Spirit ...and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” [Galatians 5:16-18] You see, it’s our abuse of the freedom we’ve been given, I’m telling you, that’s the reason we drift into this spiritual Bizzaro World.

And how can we know it’s happening? Well, that becomes obvious in the lives we’re living, something that Paul made crystal clear when he wrote, and again, this is from the Contemporary English translation: “People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom.” [Galatians 5:19-21] Now, that’s a pretty good list. Or just your average day at a Rudiger family reunion. Just kidding. In fact, this is a lot like another list Paul offered, this time to the Romans, and if you thought what he said to the Galatians was bad, get a load of this. “Since these people refused even to think about God, he let their useless minds rule over them. That’s why they do all sorts of indecent things. They are evil, wicked, and greedy, as well as mean in every possible way. They want what others have, and they murder, argue, cheat, and are hard to get along with. They gossip, say cruel things about others, and hate God. They are proud, conceited, and boastful, always thinking up new ways to do evil. These people don’t respect their parents. They are stupid, unreliable, and don’t have any love or pity for others. They know God has said that anyone who acts this way deserves to die. But they keep on doing evil things, and they even encourage others to do them.” [Romans 1:28-32]

Now if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I’ve never practiced witchcraft or committed murder, and so I must be OK,” think again. Now don’t get me wrong, even if we do all this crazy stuff, I believe we’re still loved by God, because remember nothing can separate us from his love, including our misuse of the freedom we’ve been given. But if you found yourself drawing a line through some of these characteristics and then trying to come up with reasons why some others don’t technically apply (I mean, technically it wasn’t a lie, not technically) if that’s what you started to do, well, I think you’re probably showing some pretty strong signs that, in spiritual terms, you should start your prayers by saying “amen” because, I’ll tell you, that’s the kind of world in which you live, Bizzaro.

And you know, if these signs aren’t bad enough, the results of this kind of life, man, they’re even worst. You see, if we’ve made up our minds to take this freedom that God has given us and to misuse it and if we end up showing all these signs that comes from our choice to live in the flesh and not by the Spirit, I’m telling you, this decision always carries two consequences. I mean, first, we’re going to experience a separation from God. Now before I go any farther, I want to be clear about this. God never separates himself from us. He’s always present and he always loves. And there’s nothing we can do to change that. But you know, we can separate ourselves from him or maybe better, we can feel separated from his love and his grace. And I’ll tell you, that’s a pretty lonely place to be. In fact, this was how Paul described it in his letter to the Romans, and now I’m reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. So God said, in effect, ‘If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.’ It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them – the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!” [Romans 1:18-25] You see, the first result of chasing after the flesh is separation from God.

And second, there’s also a break in the relationships we have with one another. I mean, just consider most of the signs offered in Paul’s list, and I’m thinking about actions, you know like arguing and cheating, gossiping and bragging; and attitudes, like being jealous and selfish, conceited and unreliable. Now you tell me, how can you have a genuine relationship with a person who’s always saying cruel things about others and who doesn’t have any love or pity for those around them? I’ll tell you, I think the result of living this kind of life will always lead to separation from God and others.

And I believe that’s the reason why the Apostle Paul, before he started talking about what life by the Spirit was all about, you know, the kind of lives he wanted his people to live, he was very clear about the life-style they should avoid, something he called the desires of the flesh. And for him, the reason folks tend to drift in this direction involved an abuse of the freedom that God has given them and the signs that it’s happening are universally negative and the results always involve broken relationships, first with God but also with one another. That was his message to them and through them, it’s his message to us. And for that reason, he told the Galatians and he tells us to “live by the Spirit, ...and do not gratify the desires of the flesh,” unless that is, you’re living by the Spirit in Bizarro World.

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