Medmenham Village Service: Self-Control

Medmenham Village Service

James 3:1-12 – Self-Control

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Again, many thanks for John MacKenzie for throwing out the suggestion of self-control for this Sunday!

On the list of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, which is the guiding verse for our services at this time, self-control is last. This is no accident or oversight. We might be tempted to think that because it is on the bottom of the list that it does not matter as much as the other. Surely it is more important to be kind or loving than self-controlled?! f you were here in June and heard Sue & Pete’s interview, the focus was on love and God’s love for us. Love keeps us afloat. This morning I want to suggest that self-control keeps us anchored.

Self-control is the constant balancing act of motivations and actions; it provides form and structure for us to operate in. Any person without self-control is either an accident looking for a place to happen or a slave in chains. We can go to the extremes and both are unhealthy for us.

A lack of self-control kills self respect, friendships, marriages, careers and relationships. Many of us will struggle with this for much of our lives. Self-control is not about living with guilt and misery or being so contained that we lose all pleasure in life; it is about living within healthy boundaries where we can live in freedom and without fear. It is being able to say ‘that is enough!’ and being comfortable in that decision.

Paul in his letters to the Corinthians puts it rather well as he wrote, ‘Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me – but I will not be mastered by anything.’

The key to self-control is the refusal to allow our enemies (the flesh, the world or Satan) to rule or hold us captive in any way. Self-control is as much about saying ‘yes’ and ‘not right now’ as it is about saying ‘no’. It is not always about ‘what’ but ‘how much’ and no ‘when’ but ‘why’. Self-control is ultimately an issue of mastery, of authority, and of boundaries.

Why do I need it!? There is a pithy little verse in Proverbs: like a city whose walls are broken down is a person who lacks self-control. Sounds like something from a fortune cookie! Broken walls let anything in! In ancient architecture a city was only as secure as the walls which surround it. The walls protected the people inside. In cities like Babylon, the walls gave the reputation that the cities were impenetrable.

Self-control is our wall of protection! It fortifies all that is within us; it secures our freedom to love, to experience joy, to know peace, to respond with patience, to have a kind disposition, to act out of goodness, to step out in faithfulness and to agree with gentleness. Self-control is the ability to make choices and decisions to remain within the boundaries.

James 3: James is writing his letter to followers of Jesus who had to leave Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus. They had been sent to spread the Good News of the Gospel. His letter is full of instructions on how they should operate and get on with people. James had learned a few things the hard way, he missed the message of Jesus while he was alive. Now James is urgently wanting his audience to get it and do it better than he did!

James has a unique insight into human behaviour; he knows the dangers and damage the tongue and the words that roll off it can do! If he was speaking to a modern audience, he might also include our thumbs and the send button! From the same mouth, or thumbs, come blessing and cursing.

James is pointing out our condition! Inconsistency and carelessness. This is where the need for self-control is most evident. We need boundaries and guidelines to help us live in peace and freedom with other people.

Think before you speak or text.
Think about what it is you really want to say and why.
Don’t speak in haste or anger.
Don’t criticise the crocodile before you cross the river.
Consider that you might actually be wrong!

I will finish with Ephesians 4:29 – Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Self-control is about freedom for everyone; it is living in love and being anchored so that we can live fruitful lives. It is about living in freedom and confidence to say that is enough for me. Self-control means giving serious thought to how we use our words and thumbs for building up and not tearing down. However right we think we might be.

Trinity 2: The Fruitful Battle

Trinity 2/Proper 8

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

I have repeated myself over the last few weeks that we are now in a season of teaching. We celebrated Pentecost (the sending of the Holy Spirit) along with the Queen’s Jubilee at the beginning of June. This morning, in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians we see what it is to be led and to live in the Spirit.

The first thing to say is that it is really difficult! We are constantly in a battle between good and evil, right and wrong, moving forward and looking back.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (in modern day Turkey) he is addressing many of the questions of the early church and like many of his other letters, he includes lists of things to be avoided. He is telling the Galatians basically to work against their natural desires, to not gratify themselves with the fleshy things of this world. The list in Galatians 5 is rather extensive: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and carousing.

Without making too much eye contact, it can be assumed that many of us here today have done some/many of the things on this list. Some of these things are against our own physical body and some are against the bodies and wills of other other people. None of these are ideals that we should be striving for. Paul is calling the Galatians and us to a different standard of living.

Paul is also clear that it is an ongoing battle for which we need help. There is a better way and that is the way of the Spirit. This is not about following more rules or just behaving ourselves. Jesus came to bring freedom and not slavery.

To have freedom in Christ, means that we are not bound to old ways, however comfortable they might be. Paul’s list is negative and depressing; none of those things bring life and love. The fix is always temporary. A life lived in the Spirit is enriching, nourishing. It does not have time for the petty and temporary gratification that the world offers. Part of our problem is that we try to balance the Spirit and the flesh; we try to make them work together. It is impossible because they are opposites.

To live by the flesh it to satisfy the self first, be inward looking. Living by Spirit means that we look outward first, to the needs of those around us. It is a continual battle to put the needs of another first, especially if they are not in our family or tribe.

It is slow work. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the supernatural outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit and the living proof that the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is one fruit with nine different qualities. Think for a moment about your favourite kinds of fruit.

Imagine one, incredibly perfect fruit that combines all the best characteristics of your favourite kinds of fruit. Maybe a seedless fruit like a banana, nice and crisp like an apple, bursting with the flavours of strawberry and nectarine, the tang of pineapple and raspberry. You get the idea. God is developing a fruit in all his children. The fruit that has characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

Who does not need any more of these in their lives right now?! Could you be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, faithful. These are lifelong work friends. The more we grow and develop, the freer we become. Freedom always comes with a cost though. It means we cannot go backwards.

The reading from Luke’s Gospel is harsh and uncomfortable; it sets out the call to look ahead. This is not a friendly version of Jesus. He is hard, unyielding, his face is set to go to Jerusalem, to his death. He is impatient, inconvenient, intense, confusing.

First, Jesus is offering rejection and forbearance. The Samaritan villagers did not receive Jesus, he was ready to heal, teach, spend time with them but they refused. This rejection angered John and James and their reaction was to burn the place to the ground! Jesus took his would-be fire-starters to task over their offer. The lesson here is: how in danger are we of leading with anger rather than love the people we disagree with?

A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook that said: Survival Tip: If you get lost in the woods, start talking about politics and someone will show up to argue with you. Arguing our opinions is a way of life. Everyone is sharing opinions. Why do we get worked up over perfect strangers and their opinions?! Does it matter? Really??

People get so worked up over the opinions of others over things that don’t really matter! Let’s get worked up over things that matter. Humans that are dying in the world! Injustice and hate and racism! Famine in Africa. War in Ukraine. Cost of living. Strikes. It happened then and it happens now.
Are we letting resentment over-take kindness when our feelings get hurt or egos bruised? The call here is to bring life and not death even to those who reject and insult us.

Second, Jesus is selling inconvenience and hardship. I don’t think that person who offered to follow Jesus wherever he was going really had any idea what was meant! Jesus’ reply about foxes having holes and birds having nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. What is he saying?

One reading is that Jesus was homeless. Inconvenient. He travelled around, no mention of a home address. This is more an advertisement for inconvenience, there is no promise of the fat bank account, easy life, nice things. Jesus instead offered a reprioritization of possessions, finance and geography, a dependence on the kindness and generosity of others.

In the final encounter, Jesus again seems rather harsh towards a chap who wants to say goodbye to his family. As someone who has to say goodbye to her family frequently – I don’t like this! This, I think, is about hesitation. We can always find an excuse not to do something.

There is an urgency to the Gospel message that we sometimes forget. I think that we like to think we have more time and control than we actually do! The time is now, not later.

Where does this leave us this morning?! This is a hard Gospel reading that doesn’t leave us much room for compromise. Jesus is asking us to give up everything for him, even those things that we hold most dear. To follow him despite the inconvenience that it brings and those things we will have to miss out on.

Jesus is hard on us because he knows that our hearts cry out for transformation. For renewal. For resurrection. Nothing else we buy will suffice. Nothing else the world sells can compare. So Jesus bids us to come and die so that his fruit of love, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control can take root and then and only then will we truly live in freedom.