Sermon

For the Benefit of All

July, 7, 2019

This is our third Sunday dipping into Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I wasn’t here last Sunday, but I read Trip’s beautiful sermon on freedom, based on Galatians 5 – how in Christ we are freed from the old selfish ways of life, and freed into a new way of life – to love and serve others. 

 

This week we turn to the end of the letter, Galatians, 6, where Paul spells out a little more what that looks like. Let’s listen for the Word of God again. 

 

Galatians 6:1-10                               

 

Dear brothers and sisters, if someone falls into sin, you who have received the Spirit should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. Be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself!Carry each other’s burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are only fooling yourself; nobody’s that important.

 

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself, or compare yourself with others. Take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life; we each have to carry our own loads. 

 

You who have been taught the word of God, share with those who have trained you.Make no mistake: No one makes a fool of God. You reap what you sow. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant in response to the Spirit will harvest real life, everlasting life.  

 

So let’s not get tired of doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up. So every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

 

* * * * *

 

Everybody knows we should care about people, right? I mean, we’re not jerks. At least I’d like to think we’re not. If you’ve been in church any time at all, you’ve heard the message over and over again: love your neighbor as yourself. Love God, love each other. We love because God first loved us. The idea that we should care for other people is not news. Even if you’re not a Christian, that’s basic humanity, right? 

 

Well, it may be obvious, but that’s not to say it’s easy. If it were easy, this world would be a whole lot better place. We wouldn’t hear constant horror stories about how people are mistreated, or neglected, or used. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have so many battles with our kids, or our spouses, or our coworkers or neighbors or even our friends. We would just love, love, love. If it were easy, we sure wouldn’t have the political battles the way we do these days. It was decades ago Rodney King pleaded during the LA riots, “Can’t we all just get along?”

 

Well, no, apparently not. We can’t seem to do even that, let alone actually care about each other. 

 

It isn’t easy. If it were, we wouldn’t need Jesus to tell us stories like the Good Samaritan. 

 

But we do. At least, I do. It is really, really hard to get this right. To know when to care, and who to care for, and how to do it well. What’s my business and what’s not my business and the wisdom to tell the difference. 

 

So I for one am grateful for Paul’s attempt to help us get this straight - what it means for a Christian to care. What Paul offers us here is not just encouragement, but coaching, on how to do good that really is good – for ourselves, for others, for the world.

                      

When I was reading the passage from Galatians, I kept thinking about another place that offers that kind of coaching – and that’s our Stephen Ministry training. If you’re not familiar with it, Stephen Ministry trains church members to offer 1:1 individual care for people who hurting. The goal is to equip and empower these caregivers to provide high-quality, Christ-centered care. This church has been part of Stephen Ministry for about thirty years now, I think – how many of you here have been Stephen Ministers, or are now?I truly believe that’s part of the reason this is such a caring congregation. Whether you’re a Stephen Minister or not, it’s just part of the culture of this place. 

 

The picture on the front of the bulletin comes straight out of Stephen Ministry training. It’s called ‘the mud hole,’ and it’s a way of understanding different approaches people can take when they realize somebody else is in trouble. It’s when you know someone is hurting – you see them – and you want to respond. It’s not like in the story of the Good Samaritan, when the people just walk on by and ignore the problem. But there are a lot of ways to respond, and some are more helpful than others.

 

One way is to look down and try to figure out how they got there, and then point out what they’ve done wrong. “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. I tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen. Didn’t I tell you this would happen? Why do you do this to yourself?” Have you ever heard something like that? How did it feel? And if you every offered that kind of response, how well did thatwork? 

 

Another is to look down at the person in the mud-hole and offer sympathy, but not much else. “Oh, gosh, it’s so sad you’re there! I’m so sorry to hear that.” That’s kind, but it doesn’t do much to get the person out of the hole that they’re stuck in. You go on your way and go about your business, and they’re still there. You take zero responsibility for making anything different. You leave, and nothing has changed. 

 

And that might be OK, if they’re getting help somewhere else – or if there really is nothing you can do.  But if you’re the one in the mud hole and that’s all you get, it’s little comfort.

 

At the opposite end of the spectrum is to be so worried about the other person that you crawl down in the mud hole yourself, get down there with them, and get just as stuck as they are. Then you’re both down there, helpless. You identify so much with the person who’s hurting, your life gets wrapped up in their pain. They may have company now, but it doesn’t help them get out of the hole that they’re in – and now they have you to worry about, too. You’re so enmeshed it’s hard to tell whose problem it really is. 

 

Which serves no one well. 

 

What helps is empathy – connection with boundaries, is how I’ve heard it described. Stephen Ministry describes it as “feeling another’s problems as if they were your own without actually taking them on yourself.” You may feel some of their pain, but you keep your own identity separate. 

 

[Y]ou may even shed tears, but you firmly hang on to your own reality and sense of self. You are fully involved, but at the same time you are a stable support as they work through their problems and challenges.[i]

 

Connected, but separate. 

 

Like Jesus was for us. 

 

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Paul writes, “If someone falls, gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. Be careful not to fall into the same hole yourself!Carry each other’s burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.”

 

In his commentary on Galatians, Eugene Peterson talks about how hard it is to walk this middle path. We all want to be independent. We don’t want to feel helpless, or doubt our capacity to do things for ourselves. And if we do feel independent and self-sufficient, we think everybody else should be that way, too. And judgment of others starts rolling in.

 

Meddling and enabling are not the answer. They are not empowering, but disabling. But pretending everybody can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is a myth, and a cruel one at that. 

 

Compassionate, generous, spontaneous mutuality develops when we realize two things: there is no even distribution of burdens in this life; there is no even distribution of strengths. The curses and the blessings are unevenly distributed. Some have heavier loads put on them than others – burdens of illness, work, family, emotional trauma. Some of these burdens we take on ourselves; some are dumped on us; some we get through sin or stupidity; some come our way through accident or mishap. But however we get them, they are not fairly or evenly distributed. And not all of us get equal strengths. Some of us are born with strong bodies and fragile emotions, others with robust emotions and weak bodies. Some acquire great strength in their homes and others have it leeched away by their families. Some have exceptional intelligence and others barely adequate minds. There is not equality in the distribution of strengths. 

 

Once we understand this, we will not arrogantly separate ourselves from others when we find ourselves strong, nor will we withdraw in… self-pity when we find ourselves weak. We will give ourselves in mutuality.[ii]

 

“Freedom,” he says, “freedom is not self-sufficiency but a shared life.” [iii]

 

I think of the story Trip told in his sermon last week, about the teenage girl who noticed another teen at her school who was always alone. I think about the way she responded – with such wisdom, and so much compassion. She did not take him on as a “project” to be fixed or a “problem” to be solved. She did not take on his identity as if it were her own. Instead, she asked, “If I were him, what would I want someone to do for me? What might I do, in my life, to show this kid God’s love?”

 

Slowly, she began a relationship. First with a ‘good morning,’ until she got a “Hi!” back. And when her overture was received, eventually, they started a conversation, and a friendship. She began to learn about his life, his interests, his loneliness. 

 

In time, they formed a new Club at their school. Together. A Gaming Club, that was welcome and well-attended. She didn’t love gaming, and she didn’t need another group to belong to. But she saw him, really saw him. Saw the hole of loneliness he was in. Knew the difference relationships make. She didn’t blame him for who he was or for being different or for having a need she didn’t have. Instead, she walked alongside him, and offered the strengths that she had: the ability to connect to people easily, and to organize people well. She shared what she had, willingly, respectfully, and faithfully. 

 

So let’s not get tired of doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up. So every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

 

 

 


[i]Stephen Ministry, “Feelings: Yours, Mine, and Ours,” Leader Training Manual, T-2.

[ii]Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light: Modern Meditations on St. Paul’s Letter of Freedom, (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1988), 176-77. 

[iii]Peterson, 175.

Not My Freedom, But Ours

Not My Freedom, But Ours

We are freed from the old selfish ways of life but Christ frees us into a new way.
We are freed to love and serve others.

Friends, you too have found a specific kind of Freedom through your faith in Christ. May your faith draw you outward towards others… in service and in love.  Because it is outwards that the Spirit is moving. It is outwards, in love and in service, that this Spirit is at work.

Star or No Star, Doesn’t Matter at All

Star or No Star, Doesn’t Matter at All

I learned that we all had things that made us laugh and things that hurt our feelings and families that were complicated and things that made us proud and raging insecurity and curiosity and hunger. And over time I learned some of the secrets different people carried, that were hard. And hopes that they had, that were wonderful. 

I learned that the stars on our bellies didn’t matter at all. The stars don’t matter one whit in God’s kingdom. And don’t let anybody – ever – tell you otherwise. Because you are a child of God.

The Strong Name of the Trinity

The Strong Name of the Trinity

You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories. God just refuses to fit. Which may be the whole point, after all.

It’s not even like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, or a round peg in a square hole. It’s that the peg and the hole keep changing shape, and we are not going to be able to pin them down.

So maybe understanding the Trinity isn’t even the right goal. Maybe it’s not about explanations at all. Maybe the only way to approach God is with awe. Or curiosity. Or gratitude.

Or silence.

We can’t think our way into this. But maybe, just maybe, we can feel it. Sense it. Live inside it.

When the Day of Pentecost Had Come

When the Day of Pentecost Had Come

But let’s not forget, the Spirit required something of the disciples, too. Actually, it required a lot. Courage. Open-heartedness. Trust. The willingness to form a whole new community - and take responsibility for it. The willingness to be part of a movement that would have a life of its own – and to sacrifice everything they had for it.