Philippians 4:5
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 2, 2019

A married couple loved each other deeply and dearly, and had enjoyed 60 years of happiness together. Mutually supportive, they shared in everything and had no secrets between them – except for a small shoebox the wife kept on the top shelf of her closet. When they were first married, she’d asked her husband never to look inside of it or even to ask about its contents – a request he’d honored the length of their life.

The man had come to forget all about the box, until his elderly wife fell gravely ill. Remembering the box and wondering if it might contain something that would encourage her in a battle the doctors weren’t sure she could win, the husband got it out of the closet and brought it to her in the hospital. He suggested that they then open it together. She agreed. When he lifted the lid, he was astonished to see two crocheted dolls and a roll of money totaling about $50,000.

His wife explained. The day they married, her grandmother told her that, when she and her husband got into a bad fight, they should do their best to reconcile; but, if they couldn’t do so right away, she should drop the subject for a while and work off her frustration by crocheting a doll. The man was touched by this, because there were only two crocheted dolls in the box. He felt proud they’d gotten along so well and only gotten crossways like that twice in 60 years of marriage.

Blinking back tears of gratitude, he changed the subject and asked about the big roll of money. “Oh,” she replied. “Every time I would crochet a doll, I’d sell it at the local craft fair for five dollars.”

To keep any kind of good relationship going, it takes a lot of patience, a lot of putting up with what you can’t immediately fix, and a lot of gentle acceptance of one another as imperfect people in a long, slow process of maturation.

Everybody exasperates us at some time or another. Spouses disappoint us. Friends hurt us. Bosses offend us. Children disrespect us. Parents demean us. Fellow believers fall short in their imitation of Jesus. And we are to love them anyway – keeping the relationship going and, if possible, growing despite the ups and downs of their progress, and of course of our own!

“Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” the Bible says here. To be gentle is to express the graciousness of God. It is to bear with people who aren’t yet all they’re meant to be, to cut them some slack as folks still in transition, to be patiently accepting. It is to let go of being harshly judgmental and of trying to bully them into becoming better. It is to be enduringly kind, considerate, respectful and even hopeful.

We hear too many stories of law enforcement officers being anything but gentle. But one of them, a Los Angeles County Deputy Sherriff named Elton Simmons, is the very model of gentleness.

Complaints are frequently filed against officers. Yet, Simmons – after twenty years on the job and after having made over 25,000 traffic stops and writing thousands of citations – has never received a complaint. When his supervisor Captain Pat Maxwell reviewed his personnel file, he was stunned, that while it was packed with commendations it contained not a single complaint.

It was such a shocking accomplishment that a CBS News crew followed Simmons on patrol in an attempt to learn his secret. They noticed his “pitch-perfect mix of authority and diplomacy” without a trace of roughness, arrogance or self-righteousness. Simmons handed out a standard number of tickets, but he never threw his weight around or made much of his being in the position of power. He always treated people with kind and courteous gentleness.

Here’s how Simmons described his approach to the reporters: “I’m here with you. I’m not up here,” he said motioning his arm up toward the sky. “One thing I hate is to be looked down on – I can’t stand it – so I’m not going to look down on you.” That humble and respectful gentleness, that commitment to treat others as he himself would like to be treated, has defused many a tense situation and often called out of otherwise hostile people a reciprocal courtesy and gentleness.

Simmons is a powerful person, under control. He radiates a formidable but gentle strength that positively impacts his interactions and makes him a force for good.

God calls Christians to exert a potent influence upon their neighborhood and larger culture. We can only do that if we, like Officer Simmons, maintain a kind and respectful gentleness even when we’re met with sharp and aggressive animosity.

How do we become gentle? The Bible gives us the key. Our scripture today says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”

The Lord is near, not foremost as the stern Judge who holds us accountable to standards; but near, as the gentle Helper who puts His strength into us and suffuses our souls with His gentle grace and love.

In other words, we become gentle as we take in God’s gentleness. Gentleness is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is then, not a quality we generate out of ourselves, but one we gain as a gift from God by staying closely connected to Christ and drinking in the flow of His life – just as, He says, a grape branch drinks in the sap of the vine in which it abides and from which it receives a power beyond its own.

Gentleness arises in us as a result of our coming close to Christ and staying close to Christ. He is already near, eager to connect with us. If today we draw near to Him, and day after day draw in the grace of Him, our gentleness will be known to everyone. Let us pray.

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