Sunday, July 3, 2016

Why Are You Here?

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:1-16, NRSV).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Why are you here? 

No, really. Why are you here today? What is it that makes you come each Sunday, week after week, year after year, to this place?

Now, you can rest easy today, because I won’t make you share! But, I think this is an important question for each one of us to think about.  And, after you’ve thought about it, I’m sure that, if I did ask you to share, the list would probably be endless. 

That’s how it would be for me. There would be many reasons. That, here every Sunday, I am re-centered or re-grounded in my faith and in my life. That, here, I hear God’s Word--Word that always seems to speak to me just the right thing at just the right moment. That, here, in the ritual of our liturgy that has, for the most part, been unchanged for nearly 2,000 years, I am connected to the whole church--past, present, and future. That, here, as I receive communion I feel Christ’s presence, not only in the bread and wine, but also through all of you.

Perhaps, communion is the single best explanation. Communion with God. Communion with the whole church. Communion with you.

Why are you here? 

I think that often we forget that God has not intended us to live out our life of faith alone. So, often we talk about "my faith," or "my church," or "my beliefs," or, even, "my God."  But, this is not God’s intent for us. The nature of faith is communal. It is about learning and growing together, about embarking upon a journey of faith that is not individualized or isolationist, but that is lived out communally, within a body of believers, in a congregation. People of faith who are joined together in the body of Christ. We say the words with each baptism--”We welcome you into the body of Christ…”

It is here, in this community of believers, that we learn what it means to be Christ’s disciples. Where we begin to experience what “faith working through love” really is. Where we learn to freely live out in faith the whole law as contained in the single command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Here, in this place, we love, we laugh, we grow. And, we make mistakes.

Yes, we make mistakes.  We do. We are not perfect. None of us. There is not one of us able to keep the law, even as hard as we might try.  We make mistakes.

When this happens, when we or when someone else makes a mistake, what is to be our response? I know what is our response often is. And I’m not pointing any fingers here, because, I am as guilty as anyone. Often, our response is to judge. To either tell that person that they are wrong, that they have sinned, or, even more likely, to talk about that person among ourselves, to gossip about them over coffee. Either way, to judge them. 

When I was in my early twenties, I was a member of a small church in the southern part of Los Angeles County. The congregation there was very warm and welcoming and one family, in particular, led the way. They were a large family--ten kids. And, as large families do, they immediately brought newcomers into the fold and welcomed you as one of their own.  All of them--adults and children--belonged to this congregation.  All of them, except one.  One of them, a daughter, had gone through a divorce. She had divorced her husband because she had refused to remain in her marriage--a marriage marked by both verbal and physical abuse. The congregation insisted she remain in her marriage. Yet, in trying to protect both herself and her children, she refused.  And, in response, the congregation, led by her own father as council president, stood in judgment of her and, eventually, excommunicated her. She stopped attending that church. In fact, she stopped attending any church.

There is a better way. A way that is modeled on the servanthood of Christ. A way that seeks to build people up, instead of tearing them down. A way that restores community, rather than dividing. It is a way suggested by Paul in the opening verses of the last chapter in Galatians--a letter written to congregations that were themselves divided. “...[Y]ou who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”

“You, who have received the spirit…”. It is no accident that the paragraph just preceding this is that listing the fruits of the Spirit--the text we read last week: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

When someone makes a mistake, it is not our place to judge. It is never our place to judge. This is what is meant by Paul with the very next sentence, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.” The temptation for us is not that we might fall into the same sin as the other, but that we would be tempted to become arrogant. To think that we are better than that other person. To think that we even have a right to judge that person.

Instead, when someone makes a mistake, we are called to enter into their burden. To exhibit the fruits of the Spirit: to take their burden upon ourselves--to reach out to that person and to share it with them. No judging. No gossip. No distancing ourselves from them. But entering in. Entering into their burden and, in so doing, fulfilling the law of Christ.  The Law selflessly fulfilled by Christ in his life and death, when he gave himself for us and all people by embracing the commandment to love another as oneself. This is the law of Christ. It is the law of love.

Over these past six weeks, as we have dwelt in Galatians, I hope you have more fully understood and more fully accepted the freedom that Christ has given us--freedom from the shackles of the law. Yet, a freedom that leads us back to the law. To do the law of Christ, the law of love. Servants to none and, yet, servants to all.

So, once again, why are you here? 

My hope is that you are here because it is here, in this place, that you experience Christ. Not only in the Word we have heard or in the bread and wine we are about to receive. But that you experience Christ in each other, here in this community.  A place that gathers us and all believers in.  A place that lives into the law of love, that restores us when we stumble, that leads us deeper into discipleship, and that prepares us to go out into the world in mission, to do the law of love--knowing that we are not alone. Knowing that Christ is with us and that we have each other, now and into all eternity. 

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Preached July 3, 2016, at Chatfield Lutheran Church.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Psalm 66:1-9, Galatians 6:1-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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