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Lombard CRC

Gentleness

Kids – do you know the story of Ferdinand the bull?

Ferdinand the ferocious?

It’s a movie showing over the Christmas season

and maybe you’ll see it

with your friends or family over the holidays.

What you probably don’t know

is that the story of Ferdinand is not a new story.

Not just your parents,

but probably your grandparents,

and even your great-grandparents

know the story of Ferdinand.

They read it as a children’s book.

They watched it when it was a cartoon

on Saturday morning TV,

if you know about such things.

Is that still a thing?

 

Ferdinand is the story of being gentle

in a world that expects you to be fierce.

It’s the story about trying to understand gentleness

after we’ve committed to honoring what’s strong.

Tell me about it if you get the chance to see it.

Today, we’re going to talk about gentleness,

not quite being like Ferdinand,

but sort of.

Learning to be gentle in a fierce world.

Last week we talked about living powerfully:

not something we usually think of

when we think of living by faith.

 

When we talk about living powerfully

as God’s people,

remember, we follow Jesus the crucified One

by denying ourselves and taking up our cross.

We have to be careful what we think we want

when it comes to power.

 

God’s power is not like the power of human beings.

Because God’s power is the power of the cross.

1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified . . .

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

There is much that happens that will frustrate you,

or make you angry,

or bitter,

hurts that victimizes you,

even causing you to suffer abuse or injustice.

And the curses of those harmful things

can lead to so many bad responses

that will break what is bent inside us

or snuff out what is smoldering in our souls.

But because God’s power is given us in Jesus,

the one who was falsely accused,

bullied and mocked,

the one who suffered injustice

and died for the sin of the world,

then rose again as Lord and King,

that power can guide you to blessed choices instead:

to hope or to forgive,

to pray instead of seeking revenge,

to bless instead of curse,

to be patient leaving room for God’s wrath,

all because of the power of God.

That’s one way we await the coming of the king,

living in the power of the crucified one.

 

But power isn’t the whole story.

We not only follow Jesus in the power of

the gospel, resurrection to eternal life, and prayer,

we also follow Jesus

when we choose to be gentle.

 

Look at Isaiah 40:10-11

speaking of the coming Messiah

verse 10 speaks of power -

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

    and his recompense accompanies him.

But verse 11 speaks of gentleness -

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

    He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

    he gently leads those that have young.

 

In Luke 1,

We hear Zechariah praise the Lord

for the gift of his son, John,

and what that will mean

for the coming of the Messiah,

and he talks about gentleness –

“Praise be the Lord because he has come . . .

because of the tender mercy of our God,

    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

to shine on those living in darkness

    and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

. . . he gently leads  . . . tender mercy . . . peace . . .

Gentleness.

 

Jesus is powerful enough

to take away the sin of the world,

he is gentle enough

to bring rest to your restless soul.

He comes as a promise kept.

His coming is announced to Joseph in a dream.

God comes in human flesh as a baby.

The Mighty One totally dependent

on the love of mother and father.

Compare the baby Jesus

with Caesar and his roman legions,

with Herod the Great and his fotresses,

with the Pharisees and all their laws,

and see that God comes in a manger,

Jesus, God’s gentle One,

is the true Ruler and Deliverer.

 

As soon as we realize that we have to

make sure our thoughts and images of gentleness

match what the Bible means be gentleness.

What does it mean to be gentle?

We confess we have to learn to live gently.

Gary Thomas says,

When my daughter was young,

she used to love to squeeze my hand

as hard as she could, trying to make it hurt.

She could squeeze with all her might,

but it never hurt.

She didn't need to be gentle

because she lacked the power

to cause me any pain.

Then, just for fun,

I'd give her hand a tight little squeeze

until she yelped.

It's the strong hand, not the weak one,

that must learn to be gentle.

 

The Bible writers understood gentleness as

strength that accommodates to another’s weakness,

consideration and patience given another

even in difficult circumstances.

To be gentle does not mean to be weak and wimpy.

It means to have strength –

but to have it under control.

So it’s not about when to be strong

and when to be gentle,

but to be both at the same time.

 

Think of gentleness applying to

our relationships and responses to others:

being gentle means

making sure to do no harm to another

by one’s thoughts, words or actions.

Not just think you’re doing no harm,

but actually doing no harm to another,

to another relationship,

don’t make a situation worse,

don’t harm another person.

 

Gentleness is a willingness

to accept human limitations and shortcomings

without taking out our aggravation on others.

It shows gratitude for the smallest service rendered and tolerance for those who do not serve us well.

It puts up with bothersome people.

It can be silent; for calm, unruffled silence

is often the most eloquent response to unkind words.

How often haven’t we said:

I didn’t mean anything by it.

I didn’t mean any harm.

It was just for fun.

We’re laughing with you, not at you.

Don’t be so sensitive.

We realize we were NOT gentle

but only after causing harm.

 

So the Bible gives us gentle Jesus,

and says, be gentle,

choose gentleness,

be careful to do no harm.

 

Jesus was perfect gentleness.

Over and over the gospels highlight

the gentleness of Jesus,

and the difference that made.

In Matthew 12 Jesus has his life threatened.

His response is to continue to heal people,

but to also tell them to keep it a secret.

Matthew applies Isaiah’s words

because he sees a gentleness in Jesus:

17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

19 He will not quarrel or cry out;

    no one will hear his voice in the streets.

20 A bruised reed he will not break,

    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

till he has brought justice through to victory.

21     In his name the nations will put their hope.

 

Jesus chooses to be gentle here.

He withdraws himself from the potential violence.

He doesn’t lash out.

He doesn’t put others in harm’s way either.

He heals, but he keeps it secret,

so as to preserve peace in the neighborhood.

 

Jesus has been gentle like this to you:

to put you back together again.

Matthew 11:29

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.

 

The cross was God’s ultimate gentle act.

It took great strength.

He bore the heaviest burden.

He cried it is finished,

completing the grace of salvation.

How does John 3 put it?

For God so  loved the world he gave his One and Only Son . . . God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Not harm, but wholeness.

The manger and the cross show us that

gentleness is a life-giving, life-saving blessing.

So it’s no wonder those who profess to be Christian

should be gentle also:

Philippians 4:5 echoes other New Testament verses:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

 

I know life is not gentle.

So it takes faith to choose to be gentle.

But faithful people will act in gentleness.

Let your gentleness be evident to ALL,

not just to some,

not just when you feel like it,

not just when others are gentle towards you.

 

Gentleness doesn’t even register to us

as something important or godly,

so we have to try to practice it

before we’ll get it or value it.

What practices might help us learn

to value gentleness, helping us to live more gently

towards others?

 

I think some of us could start with our driving.

As I said, life is hard,

and without knowing it little things

like our daily commute

can form and shape us to value harshness

in order to protect ourselves and those we love.

So I’m thinking if you drive more gently,

stop tailgating,

slow down, that shortcut you’re taking to save time

is thru someone else’s neighborhood,

and your speed brings danger and excessive noise

to their neighborhood.

Can you go one week without using your horn?

And some of us have to face the difficult decision

to give up our keys and stop driving.

We think we do okay behind the wheel

and we hate to give up our freedom,

but we may be unaware

of our physical limitations that bring danger

to the road.

But Jesus calls us to be gentle even

in difficult decisions like this.

If we drive more gently,

maybe we’ll be able to see how we can

choose to be gentle.

 

One mom told the story

about taking her young boy to school.

Dad usually did it,

but he had a day off,

so mom drove her son instead.

When they got to school mom asked her son,

Did you like mom taking you to school for once?

The son said, it was fine,

but he had a question.

Mom, he asked, where are all the idiots?

Mom was puzzled,

till her son said,

when dad drives he always sees so many idiots.

 

Practice driving more gently

and perhaps the Spirit will help you

learn to be gentle.

 

Maybe you could practice gentleness on Facebook.

Are some of you just trying to pick a fight?

Do you secretly enjoy mocking and bullying people?

Are you really that expert in politics and government

that all your fellow citizens are, well, idiots to you?

Do you join in bullying other classmates on Twitter?

Don’t you know

that your friends on Facebook or Twitter

know you say you are a Christian?

You belong to a church?

I wonder what they think of the church of Jesus

based on how and what you post

on social media?

 

Choose to be gentle on social media,

and the Spirit may lead you

to confession and repentance

on the way to the gentleness of Jesus.

 

How about your speech?

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,

but a harsh word stirs up anger.

This takes strength, like we said last week:

When you decide not to respond an eye for an eye,

a bitter word for a bitter word.

When you get shouted at

you stop yourself from just shouting louder.

When you feel threatened

you resist threatening back.

When you repay evil with a good word.

And of course, the first and best way

to learn to be gentle in our speech,

is to listen twice as much as we talk.

After all, you have two ears and only one mouth.

That’s grace.

 

Our default is to defend ourselves.

To receive every comment or question as judgment.

Choose a soft answer.

Pledge to bring no harm.

Trust the Spirit

and the spirit of Jesus who,

1 Peter 2 –

23 When they hurled their insults at him,

he did not retaliate;

when he suffered,

he made no threats.

Instead, he entrusted himself

to him who judges justly.

 

Why is that better?

Because a gentle answer turns away wrath.

To lash out is just to add more anger.

It brings no blessing.

It shows no trust.

It leaves no room for God

and the saving presence of Jesus.

It shows no confidence in Jesus and his cross.

 

Now be gentle with your own body.

Examine your life right now.

Are you being gentle with it?

With your eating and drinking?

Do you make impulsive choices

that only compromise your values

and lead to anxiety?

How about with your sexuality?

Temptations to substance abuse?

Pornography?

Do you find you justify your choices?

Are you letting the joys of gratitude

and generosity bless your life?

Or have you chosen selfishness and being stingy?

Asking these questions

of the way we treat our bodies

may help us choose to be gentle with our lives.

 

Are you gentle in your relationships?

Clinging to resentment

or trying to change another person

can bring harm.

As can asking for inappropriate things.

Here again social media

can be harsh on your relationships.

Get off of Tinder and other sites like that

which only endanger your relationships,

teach you to judge by appearances,

and tempt you with false thrills.

 

Last, take time to be gentle with your soul.

‘Soul’ is a word we use to speak of

our connection to the Triune God.

We spend time on self-care.

But how about time for your soul?

A once a week worship service isn’t enough.

Most of the time, the worship service

blesses you in proportion to

time you’ve given to your own

praying, giving, serving, praise and gratitude.

Keep the Sabbath.

Be still and know that the Lord is God.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

So let us take time for our souls,

and be gentle with them,

in order to be gentle also with

the souls of those around us.

 

Once we start with gentle habits

in these areas of our lives,

the Spirit leads us to identify people

we have not been gentle towards.

So that we may desire repentance and change.

Maybe for you it is people of color,

or immigrants or refugees,

or the poor

or those with a different religion.

Let your gentleness be evident to all . . .

Think again of our savior who came gently,

and brought deliverance by his tender mercy.

Is this your prayer?

Christmas gives us this desire

that because my Savior is gentle,

maybe I can be gentle too.

We want to live this way

because choosing to be gentle praises the Lord God.

 

Let’s end with a gentle prayer:

(say together out loud)

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you

does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though

I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

We come in prayer to you,

gentle Jesus,

to learn from you,

for you are gentle and humble in heart,

and through you we find rest for our souls. Amen.

 

 

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