Sermon for 26 June – Mary Bowden

Galatians 5.1, 13 – 25

Luke 9.51 – 62

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Never since the Second World War have we needed these virtues so much in our national life. The bitterness that has been exposed by the referendum campaign and the bewilderment that the results has caused, even in places where one might have expected preparation and swift action, need to be met by a resolution to seek a new depth of understanding and trust within our society. The vote has revealed a level of division between different parts of the country and different sections of the population which, rightly or wrongly, have left many people shocked and reeling.

I spoke last week about the way that language can be twisted and made into a weapon, and how careful we need to be in the way that we speak of other people. I was careful to say that I wasn’t being political, and I say it again. Many of you will know or guess which way I voted in the referendum but the simple fact is that whatever the outcome had been, almost exactly half of those who voted were going to feel deeply hurt by the outcome. So now we have to find a way forward. I hope you have seen Friday’s statement by the archbishops of York and Canterbury. It’s on our website and was circulated by email on Friday. They said

As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers.

To do that we will need all the fruits of the spirit and another that Paul doesn’t mention here: endurance.  And perhaps even self-denial and self-sacrifice: the kind that Jesus is talking about and modelling in the gospel passage, which doesn’t make comfortable reading as a description of what following him is like.

The passage explores the day to day implications of Jesus’ familiar and poetic words about foxes and birds as Luke recounts a series of encounters between Jesus and would be followers. Remember how the first disciples “got up and left their nets and followed him”. Contrast that with this. Lord, first let me go and bury my father.

And I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus doesn’t respond sympathetically: ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

 ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

These sayings are hard for us – to us it seems only reasonable that these duties and responsibilities should be fulfilled so that the new disciples can begin following Jesus in an orderly, sorted, way. But by this stage of his ministry Jesus is driven, aware about all of the limited time left to him and the urgency of his mission – he has set his face towards Jerusalem – he can’t wait, or take the time to deal with the semi committed. These are times that demand whole heartedness, commitment, sacrifice. And the image of putting a hand to the plough carries more meaning than we may recognise . Today, ploughing as a metaphor for discipleship has rather lost its power. In those days, everyone knew that it was arduous gruelling work, demanding undivided attention as you pressed down hard and evenly on the blade of the plough, constantly watching where you were going behind the oxen pulling it forward. They were responsible for the forward movement but the depth and evenness of the furrow were your job to ensure as ploughman. If you looked back, your furrow would not be straight and you would release the pressure on the plough so it wouldn’t be deep enough either. So looking back was not only a sign of lack of determination, of commitment: it jeopardised the whole operation.

None of us, from the most senior politician to the newest voter in the most remote parts of the UK, know with any certainty what will happen next as a result of Thursday’s vote. None of us know what will be required of us as a nation, or as individuals, to arrive at the prosperity and stability and new national identity that we hope awaits us. What we are beginning to realise is that it’s going to be different and that getting there may well be difficult. And what we as Christians can be absolutely sure of is that the challenges we face will be no different from any others in one important way: the right way to meet them will be by keeping committed and faithful, staying with the plough, following the will of God as well as we can, praying for the gifts of the spirit, praying for the strength to keep the great commandments: that we should love God with every fibre of our being and our neighbours as ourselves. Such a continual, constant turning to God, depending on God to give us the resources we need in every situation will enrich our daily lives and draw us closer to him. Not only that, as we allow these gifts to flourish in our souls and in our lives the people around us will flourish a little or even a lot more. So in this difficult time, even if we can’t see what the future will hold for our country, Scripture offers each one of us a way forward, just as it always does: and it’s a way that can lead us towards an answer to the archbishops’ prayer: that we may turn our backs on bitterness, rebuild the bonds of trust amongst ourselves and work together for the dignity and flourishing of all.

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If we live by the spirit let us also be guided by the spirit.

Print your tickets