Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon for 9/23/12

Sermon “Sow Peace, Harvest Righteousness”

Our merciful Lord, let us delight in you, drawing from you all the mercy and grace that we will ever need, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Garbage in, garbage out. You reap what you sow. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, not coffee. We understand there is a relationship between the resources we have and use and our outcomes. Handsome is as handsome does. We can look for this relationship to be active almost everywhere. After all, when I planted green beans in the garden this year I knew if I got anything from the plants it would be green beans. I expected my tomato plants to give me tomatoes, not plums. We put the potato sets in the ground so we expect to find potatoes, not radishes there. Yet in our reading from James we have a slightly different pattern. It’s related, but just a little different. We sow peace but we harvest righteousness. We plant one item but the harvest is more of a finished product. Consider for instance, planting cucumbers but harvesting pickles. The righteousness we harvest is the polished version of peace. It is peace not only with ourselves, not only with our neighbors, but also with God.

As we saw last week, it’s very difficult to plant peace. Strife seems to be all around us. We are conflict magnets. Some of us attract more conflict than others. Yet God in His Word says to sow peace and look for a harvest of righteousness. It is no coincidence, then, that James goes on to tell us where conflict comes from. It comes from our selfish desires. It comes about when someone tries to get something at any cost. It comes about when we decide that we want what we want when we want it and we are either willing to sin to get it or to sin if we don’t get it. When we cross that line, when we want something that badly, we are betraying that we have set it up as an idol. It’s something that we are going to love and serve no matter what. Those sinful desires grow, they take root, and they bear their fruit - thorns and thistles that bring harm to us and to all around us. We sow in strife and we reap all manner of trouble.

What happens when we plant peace instead? Remember, peace is not the absence of strife. It’s not the absence of anything. It is a very real thing itself. When we act in peace, when we are messengers of peace, when we speak God’s words of peace and comfort, approaching our situations with Jesus’ attitude of peace, like our Savior considering ourselves as nothing but considering our neighbors as more important than ourselves, when we sow the seeds of peace we will find a harvest of righteousness. We have done what is right. We have acted as God’s blessing to others. We have been giving out a precious gift. And whether we see those we treat with God’s kindness or mercy change in any way is really not the issue. You may act in peace and kindness toward the worst, most evil person in town. That person might not change. But you will change. The people you treat with kindness may brush it off. Or they may be unaware of what just happened to them. But you are aware that you have been God’s instrument of blessing. You will change as you realize what it cost Jesus to give himself for you. You will change as you count the cost of caring for others and do it anyway. You will change as your reward for your kindness done in secret is given to you in secret by your Lord who smiles upon you with pleasure. This is the harvest of righteousness.

This brings us to our Gospel passage for the day, doesn’t it? Sowing peace is a lot like what Jesus did. When the people were arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus took a little child and pointed to him as God’s favored person. The little kids are the ones who get lost in the shuffle. They come last. But when we consider the last to be first, when we prefer others to ourselves, when we seek their good instead of our own, that’s when we are sowing peace. That’s when we can expect to see a harvest of righteousness.

I wonder if some of us have been realizing that we are not sowing peace, but that we’re planting strife instead. Maybe you’ve been pursuing your own selfish desires. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. But there’s always going to be a trail of rubble. There will always be hurt feelings, crushed dreams, and broken relationships on that pathway. You get some of what you want but it doesn’t really satisfy. You see the collateral damage. And, truth be told, you’d be furious if anyone treated you or someone you love that way. Today is the day for repentance. Today is the day to confess that selfishness before the Lord. Today is the day to turn your dreams over to Jesus and to ask him to give you his dreams instead.

I wonder if some of us have been sowing peace, at least we think we have, for a long time. But we wonder where the harvest is. Life seems to go on and we don’t get the reward we were hoping for. Do you remember Romans 8:29? Jesus is working in you to make you into his image. But sometimes that polishing is difficult. Sometimes it hurts. He’s rubbing our rough edges off. And he uses abrasive people and situations to do it. Be strong and courageous! He is able to use you wherever you are, planting peace. It may bear fruit for the other person in your conflicts. We don’t know. But it will bear fruit in your life, in the time the Lord has appointed.

But what of those of us who are despairing. We are afraid that God’s peace is meaningless. We think of it as something that’s so far away from our reality that we may as well give up. Let me tell you once again that Jesus, by his perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection on your behalf has broken down the wall of enmity between God and man. He has made peace, breaking down the sin that separates us from God. And in his resurrection his desire is to be the firstborn among many brethren. He is the one who will bring all his people to God the Father by faith in the name of Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins. And he has made that promise for you and for me, for all who call on his name. We walk by faith, which is a confidence that God’s promise are true. We don’t walk by sight. Trust in the Lord! He has purchased your salvation.

So what are we sowing this year? Are we going to sow peace? We can look for a great and glorious harvest. Stand with me if you can, as we pray.

Our Lord, you have purchased peace with God through your perfect death on our behalf. Grant that we may receive your peace, the peace that passes all understanding, to guard our hearts and minds. Use us as your instruments planting peace, that is your Word, the living Word, Jesus Christ, through all your gracious promises, in our world. Bring forth the increase, a great harvest of righteousness, as you bring many to glory, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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