(1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62)
On Wednesday evening this past week, Tula graduated from Cheshire High School. All went well and was celebratory until she discovered she had lost her beloved sunglasses. Brian, Kiran, Tula, Luke (her boyfriend), and I scoured the football field where the celebration took place, but we could not find the sunglasses. Finally, Tula had to let go of the upset about losing her sunglasses and move on to continue the graduation celebrations at the All Night Grad Party at the high school. She went off to the party and had a great time. The next day, though, she continued her search for her lost sunglasses. She called the school and was told that a pair of sunglasses had been spotted on the football field. Tula, Brian, and I were all working, so Kiran headed to the football field to search for the sunglasses, but they were not to be found. Later that evening, while Brian and I were taking a walk, we made a detour to the football field and searched again for the sunglasses. There were some high school students tossing a football and we asked them if they’d seen a pair of sunglasses. They hadn’t, but they had found a stem from a pair of broken sunglasses. We sent a photo to Tula of the broken stem, but she confirmed it was not from her sunglasses. We all figured the sunglasses were lost for good. However, the next morning, Tula was woken up with a call from the high school. Her sunglasses had been found! She went off to get them and texted us a victory photo of her holding her sunglasses as she headed home. Tula’s sunglasses had been lost and then found.
During the drama of the lost sunglasses, Tula and I had some conversations about how to handle losing something important to us. We can get upset and frantically try to find the thing. We can get upset and frantically try to find a replacement immediately. We can let go and move on for the time being. And, we can add God into the process and pray about it, do what we can, then let go and let God handle the rest. Tula went through all of these in the space of about 12 hours! The one that felt the best, though, was the last one: pray about it, do what we can, then let go and let God handle the rest. If the thing we’ve lost is meant to be found, it will be found and returned to us, but if the thing we’ve lost is meant to stay lost, then we can trust that God is in the picture and it’s okay we’ve lost that thing. Something different will be found, something better for us at that time in our lives, something God will provide to move us forward in our development as human beings and disciples.
This process of doing what we can and then letting go and letting God handle the rest is explored in the passage from the Letter to the Galatians read today. Paul contrasts life lived by the Spirit with life lived by the flesh, writing, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other . . .” (5:16-17). Paul is contrasting a way of thinking or behaving that is confined to the human sphere (living by the flesh) with a way of thinking or behaving that is inspired and guided by the Spirit of God (living by the Spirit. Obviously, while we live on the earth, we are flesh and blood creatures doing flesh and blood things. We can, however, do flesh and blood things while inspired and guided by the Spirit, and this is what Paul is advocating. When we do so, we experience the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (22-23). When we don’t do so, we experience the fruit of the flesh, which is “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (19-21).
The journey to the fruit of the Spirit, though, requires that we lose whatever it is that is in the way of living the life of the Spirit. The things in the way that we are required to lose are different for every person. For some, anger is in the way; for others, greed is in the way; for others, fear is in the way; for others, jealousy is in the way; for others, self-righteousness is in the way; for others, addiction is in the way; and so on. For all of us, more than one thing is in the way. Basically, living life by the Spirit is a process of sanctification. Here is a definition to clarify what is meant by the word sanctification: “’[S]anctification’ is a translation of the Greek word hagiasmos, meaning ‘holiness’ or ‘a separation.’ In the past, God granted us justification, a once-for-all, positional holiness in Christ. Now, God guides us to maturity, a practical, progressive holiness. In the future, God will give us glorification, a permanent, ultimate holiness. These three phases of sanctification separate the believer from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (maturity), and the presence of sin (glorification).” A life lived by the Spirit is a life guided by God to spiritual maturity, a practical, progressive holiness. So, one would move from the fruit of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit: from hate to love, from sorrow to joy, from upset to peace, from impatience to patience, from cruelty to kindness, from selfishness to generosity, from faithlessness to faithfulness, from harshness to gentleness, and from self-indulgence to self-control.
Losing whatever it is that is in the way of living the life of the Spirit is scary because it requires us to let go of those things that have made us feel safe or comfortable or in control. It requires us to face our demons. For example, underneath anger is grief or fear. If we let go of our anger, then we must feel the grief or or fear that underlies it and work through those feelings in order to heal. Underneath self-righteousness is a feeling of unworthiness. If we let go of our self-righteousness, then we must feel unworthy and work through those feelings in order to heal. Underneath impatience with others is impatience with ourselves, a lack of love for ourselves. If we let go of our impatience with others, then we must feel the lack of love for ourselves and work through those feelings in order to heal. Sanctification, then, is the process of letting go of all that ails us so that God can heal us and we can bear the fruit of the Spirit and work with God to create heaven on earth.
Of course, it isn’t easy to lose the things that have made us feel safe or comfortable or in control. We will, likely, go through the stages Tula went through when she lost her sunglasses. We will get upset and frantically try to hold onto whatever it is we are losing. We will get upset and frantically try to find a replacement immediately. We will let go and move on for the time being. Finally, we will add God into the process and pray about it, do what we can, then let go and let God handle the rest. This final stage will deliver us into God’s hands and God will carry us from dis-ease to ease, from illness to health, from sinner to saint through the sanctification process.
Jesus said, “[W]hoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever wants to lose their life for me will find it” (Mt 16:25). The life of faith asks us to lose our lives in order to find them in Christ. The quote from C. S. Lewis on the back page of the bulletin says it all: “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” It is for this freedom that Christ has set us free. May it be so. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, June 19, 2022, the Second Sunday After Pentecost (using the lectionary passages for the Third Sunday After Pentecost due to the change of date for Children & Youth Sunday).
 Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year C, p. 407.