Monday, March 3, 2008

The Desire for Transformation: Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit

(Read Matthew 12: 33, 34b-36 (the New Living translation), Galatians 5:13-25 (the New Living translation), Ephesians 4:1-7, 11b-16 (the Message translation)

The Scriptures that we hear this morning are of cosmic importance. They are intense. They are more than stories; they tell us that God is doing something in this world. We, as God’s children, are not simply here to drink and eat (although those things are given for our survival and pleasure). We, as God’s children, are not simply here to go to work and pay bills (although these things are necessary in our culture and can even be helpful for our development). Nor are we here merely to reproduce (although this too benefits God’s plan). We exist, we are here to further God’s kingdom on earth. God has plans for each of us as individuals, and for all of us together, to become more holy, more loving, more united in the hopes of creating a better world, a world where all people experience the abundant life that Jesus embodied and proclaimed. Ultimately, we are all here to become one with each other and one with our God.

The more I decide to live by my faith, the more I want in on what God is doing. I want to help, to co-create, and not out of selfish desire, but because I believe that this is God’s intention for me, and for you. We are all active players in the evolution of God’s kingdom. With this great privilege comes great responsibility. Certainly, we do not want to do anything that would harm or hinder God’s will.

Therefore today, I will speak about where God is in this life of ours, how our Living Lord is present, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, how God is working to make all things new.

This sermon is a stepping stone in a bigger project I feel called to proclaim. The working title is: The Desire for Transformation: Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit. This Sunday, I am going to talk about the first steps: which are to become familiar with God’s intentions for God’s children, and for us to accept, dare I say, embrace God’s plan. To say “yes” to what God is doing in the world. Very simply speaking, becoming comfortable with change and transformation, desiring it as a part of our maturation as disciples of Jesus Christ, is our learning for today. Next week, I will describe the process of becoming more fully.

Today’s Scripture readings tell us of God’s plan, and thus, call you and I to action. But, before we can act, there are some things we must first understand.

Based on my understanding of the Gospel and today’s readings, here are three things God hopes for us as children, disciples, and co-creators with our Lord:

1. We are meant to live in freedom (Galatians 5:13). Oppression, captivity, slavery to corruption and evil, all these things are conquered for both the individual and the collective through Christ. But this requires that people and the world be transformed through God’s Spirit. Freedom is a heavy responsibility because we must learn to be free in ways that serve God’s purposes. God hopes we will use our freedom not simply to fall into a pleasure trap that leads to destruction and death, but that we will use our freedom to love God, ourselves and to love one another. To live in freedom requires a transformation of the human heart.

2. God also hopes that we will live our lives guided by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). As I’m sure you are all aware, human beings are susceptible to live by a much lower, less Godly influence. The new life that emerges through following God’s Spirit is the very freedom God desires for us. But, you and I have a choice. We can choose to live our lives by and with the Spirit or not. It takes desire and discernment to follow the way of Jesus.

3. God wants us to become “fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ” (Ephesians 4: 13). Here we are not simply talking about wearing grown up clothing and having grown up responsibilities. We are talking about being men and women of character and virtue. Ephesians, chapter 1 says, “Long before [God] laid down earth's foundations, [God] had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.” (Ephesians 1:4, the Message).

With these three ideas in mind, how can you and I get on board with what God is already trying to do in the world?

The first truth that we must accept regards the impermanence of all things. Everything is transitory. Everything changes. You. Me. The world. The Church. The first step on the road to maturity, to holiness, to happiness is making friends with this reality.

On this day, can we all accept that change is a part of life? To live is to change.

Because if we do not, if we resist change, which we all do to some degree or another, we set ourselves up to be hurt, to be frustrated, to be angry. When life happens to us, we say, “Why is this happening to me?” We dig our heals into the earth and resist moving forward. Yet, change happens to everyone. Sometimes we like what happens, sometimes we do not. In either case, when we resist change, it is like being torn in two. Life is moving us one way; meanwhile, we fight to remain where we are. All this does is tear us apart.

Not only do we have to accept that change is a fact of life, but I think the best thing we can do for ourselves, the best way that we can live by our faith is to actually desire change. It makes things easier. I am not suggesting we desire change that will lead to our harm or someone else’s, but we can desire change for our good. There is a scripture in which God says something to the effect of: I have plans for them. Plans for their good and not for their harm.

So ask yourself, “Do I desire transformation in my life?”

First, we must say “yes” to God, “yes” to discipleship, “yes” to awakening, “yes” to transformation, “yes” to walking the spiritual path that God is orchestrating in our lives.

Hear these words from Romans: “God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, ‘What's next, Papa?’” (Romans 8:14-15).

Once we have opened our hearts and our lives to God, it is time to get specific. To start a conversation with our Maker. A conversation that includes both listening to what God has in mind for each of us, and a conversation in which we tell God what we desire for our lives. The hope is that what we desire is also what God desires, that our desires come from the divine within us because God’s Spirit is in you as surely as it was in Christ Jesus.

Ask yourself, “In what area of my life do I desire transformation?” In your actions, thoughts, emotions, relationships, physical health, mental health, spiritual health?

This requires self-examination and personal reflection on your part. Self-examination and personal reflection are “things” we can do, practices, tools, whose purpose is to help us gain insight into our own lives and what God is doing.

Each of us is different, so what is it for you? What have you had enough of? Is it being angry, yelling, hitting? Being sad, crying, drowning your sorrows in a bottle? Being afraid, being bored, living a life you never intended?

The more accurately you can name what you want to change, the easier it will be for you to see change when it happens

And then, once you name the problem, name the solution.

I find the list of the fruits of the Spirit very helpful at this point. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Who does not want such things?

When we live by God’s Spirit, these wonderful ways of being in the world blossom in our lives. Or as the Scripture says, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, [the Spirit] will produce this kind of fruit in us” (Galatians 5:22).

We are on this quest of becoming for at least two reasons. One, so that we might be the children God intended us to be, so that we might reach our full potential and be righteous, holy and just. People of character and integrity. Kind people. Good people. For just as a tree is identified by its fruit, so are we. As it is written, “A tree is identified by its fruit. Make a tree good, and its fruit will be good. Make a tree bad, and its fruit will be bad” (Mathew 12:33).

Two, so that we might “serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5: 13-14). When we live by the Spirit, we also love by the Spirit. But not until you have learned to love can you love another. Not until you have found peace can you spread peace. That is why personal transformation is essential for the betterment of the entire world.

So the last question for reflection (at least for today) is: “Of the fruits of the Spirit and other virtues, other positive ways of being in the world, which do I desire God to cultivate in me?” Cultivate meaning to nurture, foster, or refine.

Once you have decided, it is time for you to strike up your end of the conversation. God is already waiting for you, listening. As Ephesians 4 proclaims: “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love - like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love” (Ephesians 4: 15-16, the Message).

Or again, as Ephesians 3 proclaims: “God can do anything, you know - far more than you could ever imagine…in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit [working] deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20, the Message).

So I ask you, do you desire “a life renewed from the inside” (Ephesians 4:23) that will work its way outward into the world? Do you hope for God’s character to be in you?

First, we must say “yes” to God, “yes” to discipleship, “yes” to awakening, “yes” to transformation, “yes” to walking the spiritual path that God is orchestrating in our lives.

And in doing so, we give God the opportunity to say “yes” to us in return.

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