“Living By The Spirit”
Galatians 5: 6-26
6 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 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.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Living by the Spirit! We continue going through various devotions by Kate Bowler in her book “Good Enough” and this morning we are looking at a chapter titled Too Few Sparrows. Because of this title I thought I should learn a little bit about Sparrows. From the website All About Birds, I found out that many people regard House Sparrows as undesirable in their yards. It seems Sparrows don’t play well with other birds. Here is why they are considered a menace: Sparrows cause problems for people who want to have a variety of birds coming to their feeders, these sparrows scare off other more desirable birds. They compete for nesting sites of other birds, even killing adult birds, hatchlings, and eggs. It won’t surprise you that I found several websites that talk about how to get rid of Sparrows. You will find out a bit later a story about “too few Sparrows” that has a connection to how we live by the spirit together in community; how we live together in community especially with those who think differently than us is requires living by the spirit.
Thomas Aquinas a philosopher and theologian in the 13th century said this, “Beware the man of a single book.” Now what must this mean? Beware of the man of a single book. Kate Bowler goes on to explain, beware of the person who has a totalizing view. Don’t simply watch out for people who seem to be narrow minded or look for the person who thinks they have a single explanation for everything. After all, we must consider the sparrows. Now what about sparrows? This “too few sparrows” takes us to 1958, to a real story about the Chinese government. The Chinese government declared war on the sparrows because the birds were eating up precious seed grains. They formulated a solution to this problem, one solution. To stop this loss of grains they started a massive campaign of noise to overwhelm the sparrows. Throughout the region in the cities and in the fields, drums were ceaselessly pounded upon, pots and pans were beaten, fireworks were set off…the noise was relentless. The birds became exhausted and fell from the sky. The campaign of war on the sparrows had worked. The number of live birds had reached near extinction levels. Problem solved, right? The sparrows eat the grain and now that the sparrows are gone the seeds will increase in number, right? Kate Bowler goes on to tell more about this problem that was supposedly solved. “Within two years, however, it was noted that the rice harvest had actually decreased. In the absence of sparrows, the insects they had fed upon had multiplied and attacked crops. Plagues of locusts went unchecked and exacerbated a horrible famine that ended up killing tens of millions of Chinese citizens. They failed to see that sparrows not only ate the seeds, but also the insects. In the end they had to import sparrows back into their country to revive the sparrow population. Perhaps there were too many sparrows. But a single solution was not a solution at all.” This gets to the very core of our sermon today. A single solution was not a solution at all!
Kate Bowler brings this back to today and its significance to our own lives. She says so often we are people of a single book. We may think we have considered all the options, but, more and more, we associate with people who are in “mental lockstep”. You know what she means, we associate we people who think exactly like we think…at least about important things. We do less listening and more browbeating other arguments into submission. Or I might add we simply don’t engage in conversations at all. This is where “living by the spirit” comes into play. Kate Bowler says, “We can do better; we can break out of our monocausal accounts of the world and events.” Really is there ever one cause and one solution? Life is so much more complex than we’d like to admit, and we can be open to considering many options. Kate affirms this change, she says “we must recommit to a larger vision of life together without much agreement.” Do you hear what she is saying here? Being together in community even when we don’t agree with each other. I don’t think we can cultivate this larger vision on our own. I believe this larger vision and the ability to move out of our narrowly focused perspectives can only come when we live by the spirit; live by the spirit as Paul urges the people of Galatia to live.
Paul speaks about the fruit of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You’ll notice he didn’t say the fruit of you or the fruit of me…no Paul says the fruit of the spirit. These are the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This larger vision is what the Holy Spirit brings to us as the fruit of the spirit become alive in us. One might look at that list of characteristics and give up…there is no way to have all of these, I’ll never be good enough. Oh, but remember Kate Bowler’s overall theme of every devotion, we are good enough! But there is a difference between saying we are good enough and we have no more work to do, we are good enough and I’m the best I can be right now. Remember the words Paul spoke to the people of Galatia, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Oh, so maybe the Holy Spirit is not done working in our lives. We are to be guided by the Spirit, every day in every encounter we have with one another. How does really happen though? I believe it has to do with being self-aware. It’s one thing to say I’m not a patient person and let it go at rather than saying I’m not a patient person and please Holy Spirit help me to become more patient. Or help me to be more kind or generous or peaceful…We live by the Spirit my friends and even though we are good enough just the way we are, the Spirit gives us the ability to be guided by God’s presence, be transformed throughout our life. Come Holy Spirit live in me and let me be guided by you! Amen