Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Hand Up

Galatians 6:1-10 Common English Bible (CEB)

6 Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. 2 Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. 4 Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. 5 Each person will have to carry their own load.

6 Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. 7 Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. 8 Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. 9 Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 10 So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.


The process of writing Sunday morning’s message begins with the selection of the Scripture reading.  Since Dee Anne wants the Scripture and sermon title in plenty of time to publish in the Caller for that month, sometimes a significant period of time passes between the passage selection and the actual writing.  I do try, by means of title, Hymn of Commitment, and often a piece of art for the slide, to remind myself what I was thinking when I picked the reading to focus on.  However, some weeks I look at the passage and say to myself, “What on earth was I thinking?”  This is one of those weeks.  

Admittedly, it has been a kind of full week.  A busy with so many things I forgot where I was heading with this kind of week.  A lot of things happened this week that took my attention away - surgeries and leave takings and hospitalizations and brilliant ideas hitting my inbox.   It has been another of those weeks that I was grateful in full measure for serving this particular congregation, where people pull together and do whatever is necessary to make sure everything that has to happen, happens, and that everyone who needs something gets what they need.  On top of that, it’s a holiday weekend.   There will be fireworks and parties and celebrations of all kinds.  So many distractions . . . and I am so easily distracted.

“Beloved, if anyone does something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore them with a spirit of gentleness.”   The churches in Galatia were going through some conflict or other.  People who were totally focused on obeying the Law in its entirety were accusing the others of not being real Christians, while the people who were totally focused on doing as Jesus commanded and not the Law so much made the same accusation back at them.  Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?    Not that there are many Christians today who are totally focused on obedience to all the Law . . . this particular argument was over whether one must be circumcised in order to be baptized, which hasn’t been an issue for a long time now.  There are other Law based issues we argue over today, but circumcision isn’t one of them.   One the one hand, it’s nice to know that some things never change.  On the other hand, it’s kind of a pain that some things never change.  We never seem to learn no matter how many times we repeat the same lessons.  Kind of like my friend who has flunked math every semester for the last 4 years.  She just can’t seem to learn it.

The lesson here, I think, was more in lines of “quit arguing and love one another” than anything else.  Quit judging and love one another.  Disagreement doesn’t mean you have to hate each other, or talk trash about each other.  It just means you hold different opinions and that’s perfectly ok.   I believe that Paul was trying to get the two factions to be willing to just worship together, study together, and stop letting the little things get in the way of community.  

You notice he is very careful not to call out either side as right or wrong.  He is very careful not to choose sides or name names.  He simply says, “those of you who are spiritual should restore them with a spirit of gentleness.”   Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  Paul is calling upon the calmer heads in the congregations to be the peacemakers, to bring the others back into wholeness by gently reminding them of their purpose, which is to heal the world.   I hope we would all agree that anger is not spiritual.  Hatred is not spiritual.  Judgmentalism is not spiritual.  Speaking ill of one another is not spiritual.  Willingness to work together, openness to other opinions and points of view, focusing on caring for the least of our brothers and sisters, coming together in the name of Jesus to worship and pray - these are the things that are spiritual.  That is what the spiritual folks in Galatia were asked to restore in their congregation.  

Help people, even when you know they can’t help you back.  When I saw that on Facebook earlier in the week I knew that this is what I wanted to say this morning.  I knew I wanted to say it. I even believed that it touched on what Paul was saying.  But I wasn’t sure how to get there.   And then I started getting emails about the Block Party coming up next Saturday.  Some of you may not know what that is.  

Selma’s Chief of Police believes strongly that if the faith community and the Police Department work together, we can heal our city.  So he came to the Ministerial Alliance with the idea of Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life.    On most Thursdays I sit in a group composed of the Chief of Police, pastors and other leaders of faith based and not for profit agencies in Selma.  Our theologies are very different.  Our understandings of what it means to be Christian are different.  Some of us preach much different things on Sunday mornings and have a vastly different focus for our ministries. But all of us agree on one thing - that our purpose is to heal the world, beginning in this city.  And that means we come together to make opportunities available to heal individuals and groups within our community.  We hold Block Parties all summer long, bringing all kinds of churches and help agencies into at risk neighborhoods to help heal the problems there.  

There are those who don’t understand what we do or why we do it.  There are some in our community who don’t understand why we reach out to gang members and people who may or may not be properly documented and people who live in chronic poverty.  They think aggressive policing will solve all the city’s problems.   But we believe that healing the underlying problems is a better solution.  We believe that reaching out in love and compassion is a better solution.  We know that none of the differences in our beliefs and doctrines matter in the face of the great need for healing and wholeness that faces our community and our world.  And I believe that Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life is one example of the way Paul would have the Church exist.  It certainly seems to do a good job of following Jesus’ commandment to his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and comfort the comfortless.   Help people, even if you know they can’t help you back.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July - Independence Day.  This entire weekend we will celebrate with fireworks and picnics and family gatherings.  Our houses and public buildings are draped with red, white and blue.  Flags wave everywhere.  Songs about America and her beauty fill the air.  As a nation it is our most important holiday, the anniversary of our freedom from England’s Colonial rule.  

But every day, we celebrate our liberation from sin in Christ.  Every day we find ways to demonstrate how significantly our belief impacts our daily life, our actions, our words, and our attitudes.  Our freedom in Christ brings with it responsibility for our sisters and brothers.  Our freedom in Christ brings with it the necessity to live in such a way that we can be an example of how following Jesus’ teachings can heal the world around us.   Our freedom brings with it responsibility for the welfare of others.  Remember that Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
They asked, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ and he said, ’I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’”  (Matthew 25:35-40)

Whether you agree or disagree, whether or not you believe in exactly the same things and in exactly the same way, all of us who follow Jesus the Christ are responsible to care for one another, to help one another when we face temptation and sin, to reach out a helping hand to anyone who needs that hand.  For it is our job to save the world, to heal the world, to bring wholeness into a fragmented world.   For although each of us is responsible for our own work, our own attitude, our own actions and words,  each of us is also responsible for making sure our sisters and brothers have a hand to grab in times of need.  All of them.  No matter how different.  For whenever we have done good for another, we have done it for Jesus.  

Help people, even if you know they can’t help you back.  Do to others as you would have others do to you.  Treat everyone you meet as if they are Jesus.   Everyone will harvest what they plant.  Carry each other’s burdens and you will fulfill the law of Christ.    

When we go from this place today, may we be filled with a Spirit of independence from the sins and artificial differences that separate us.  May we go out accepting each other, even as Jesus has accepted each of us just as we are.  May we go out seeing with new eyes, hearing with new ears, and loving with new hearts, that we may fully share in the Spirit’s harvest of healing, wholeness and eternal life.    

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