A sermon based on Galatians 6:1-10, preached on November 10, 2013.
Brian McLaren is a writer, pastor, and Christian activist who lives up near Baltimore, Maryland. He’s been called one of the founders of the Emerging Church movement. Brian is interested in how to be Christian in our post-modern, post-Christian society. The Emerging Church, McLaren says, isn’t a new denomination but a new conversation that the Church is having.
Brian McLaren is interested in how, in our post-Christian and post-modern world, the Church can return to its roots and practice our faith like the earliest followers of Jesus. McLaren envisions a church who throws out dogma—this idea that to be Christian we have to believe in the right things. Instead McLaren hopes for a church that discovers what they believe together by dialoguing with one another and sharing our whole selves with each other—doubts and scars, shortcomings and flaws.
Instead of subscribing to a big batch of beliefs from the beginning, I wonder what could happen if we as followers of Jesus came together to hear each other wrestle out our faith and our doubt, being each other’s listening ear and tossing aside judgment.
What if church was a place where we came not so much to proclaim to each other what we confident in already, but rather gathered together to wrestle with our faith in community? –rather than gathering to gain all the right answers, we gathered instead to love and support each other through our questions?
Yes, that’s the kind of church that I want to be a part of.
In a world full of churches who simply want to fill their pews up on Sunday mornings, whose preachers simply have a message to sell to whoever shows up, whose members come to play their passive role as mere consumers of a sermon—Church, real church, is a community of people who huddle together to care for one another.
In a world full of churches who would like to attract new members and up their numbers, we should have something else in mind—like the early church, we should focus on welcoming not increased numbers but enfolding new friends into the rich community that we share together.
Real Christian community happens not when a bunch of individuals come to church to soak in whatever wisdom is handed out. Real Christian community happens when we as a church enfold each other into mutual relationship, when we see each other not as individuals who make our member’s and visitor’s roles longer, but as people with rich stories to share and embodied spirits who lend to the ever unfolding narrative of our church.
We are community because we are a part of God’s story and we belong to each other and to God.
The Galatians were fighting amongst themselves. Paul writes to them in the midst of what must have been a serious conflict, and people in this church in Galatia must have written to Paul out of desperation for an answer to their struggles.
The Galatians were struggling over whether or not they, as followers of Jesus, needed to observe Jewish law. We don’t have the letter that the church in Galatia wrote to Paul, but from Paul’s response back we can piece together a few things. It seems like there were some members among the Galatians who fancied themselves better or more spiritual than other members.
These more fancy members were thinking about admonishing the others, even censoring them—shutting them up somehow—giving them less of a role inside the faith community just because they had different thoughts about how to live out their faith in Christ.
These words to the Galatians from Paul are swift and direct. Paul tells them to abandon all of this divisiveness, to drop any attitude they had toward each other that would separate or bring any extra division between the warring sides.
Paul urges them instead to adopt a new attitude, the attitude of Christ. Whatever correction one side offered to the other would be done in a spirit of gentleness, and all the boasting and comparing themselves to each other that they were doing—the oneupsmanship they were caught in–needed to stop, and in its place Paul pleads for the Galatians to carry each others burdens, and rather than comparing themselves with each other and boasting to each other, they should each look inwardly to see themselves as they really are and keep their boasting to themselves.
It is really important to Paul that faith becomes embodied, that we take on the loving character of Christ and see to it that our brothers and sisters in the faith do so also.
We are bound to one another, and the character of each of our brothers and sisters in the faith is tied with the entire community’s character. As church, we are inextricably woven together. Woven together by the promises of Christ.
Our lives are not our own. We belong to each other and we belong to God.
This morning, I got up out of bed, a mattress put together in New Jersey by a factory full of workers. I picked out clothes probably stitched together by a couple of underpaid ladies in China and sold to me by a nice man at Men’s Wearhouse who didn’t seem to mind taking the measurement of my inseam right after we introduced ourselves to each other.
The hot shower I took was brought to me by a water heater assembled in Missouri, probably by a couple of employees in some factory just trying to put food on the table for their families.
I sat at a kitchen table handed down to me by Roger and Pam Nicholson, a retired Presbyterian minister and his wife who were moving back to Richmond after years of pastoring a church in Seattle. While I sat at that table, I ate 4 slices of bacon, provided to me by a pig farmer in Iowa.
I also had a bowl of Chobani yogurt, made from the milk of a farm full of cows in California, delivered to our local grocery store by at least seven different refrigerated trucks all with drivers who spend weeks away from their families in order to keep up with their kids’ college tuition, or maybe to pay for their 7 year-old’s ballerina classes.
I turned on the TV and watched a couple of anchors who all got up probably around 4 this morning, maybe earlier, to get to work on time to go on air and give me the sports scores I expect to hear whenever I tune into ESPN.
By the time I left the house this morning, I had depended on 100’s, maybe even thousands of people who work hard, every day of their lives to provide me with the stuff of my livelihood. Food to eat, clothes to wear, clean water in which to bathe, a way to entertain myself. And that’s just the in the first hour and a half of my day.
Our lives are not our own. They are woven together in this huge web of interdependence. We do indeed belong to each other.
In Jesus Christ, our entire identity is wrapped up in community. Like the Galatians we too are being called by God to be a people who are shaped by the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit that descended among the crowd of early believers gathered together on that first Pentecost.
It’s the same Holy Spirit that blows among us and through us and in us, and is calling us to bear each other’s burdens, be each other’s strength in times of weakness, to be gentle with each other’s hearts, to practice sharing, to live together, and to be people who are woven together in a relationship of interdependence.
Life lived in the Spirit is not a life of lonely striving, not a life restricted to a zone of privacy. It is a life lived in community.
It would be easier for us to live as autonomous, self-directed individuals who went about our lives like most other Americans in the 21st century—only taking care of what’s my own while you took care of what’s your own.
It would be far easier not to have to worry about being responsible for another’s well-being or to forget about helping each other carry the heavy loads that fall upon us once in a while. It would be more convenient if all we had to do was to be stewards of our own households and not have to tend to the ones we lived with in this household we all call Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church. But that kind of individual and self-focused life is not the life that God calls us into. God has called us—continues to call us into life in Christ which is by definition life with and for each other. In Christ, we are servants of one another, bearers of every one of each other’s burdens, cultivators of each other’s faith, responsible for each other’s Spirits.
We are called, each of us, to be stewards of the rich blessings we share together as the Body of Christ.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie “Finding Nemo” is the one where Dory and Nemo’s father are on a boat pier, exasperated with their fruitless search for Nemo, they get a tip from a pelican who knows where to find him. As the fish talk to this pelican, a crowd of seagulls gather around Dory and Nemo’s father, dozens and dozens of seagulls begin crowding around them, seeing in them a good afternoon snack.
One seagull says it first. “Mine.” “Mine.” Then all the seagulls, each one of them left on their own to scavenge for their own food, erupts in a chorus of “Mine. Mine. Mine.” Each one striving for Dori and Nemo’s dad. Dozens of birds chasing after two small fish.
“Mine! Mine! Mine!,” they all shout.
It won’t be long now when we humans engage in something very similar.
Crowds and crowds of people will be swarming the mall and shopping centers in about a week and a half to kick off the crazy shopping craze that Christmas has somehow turned into. There will be lines and lines of cars with loud horns attached to them all streaming into parking lots full of even more cars. All of us at once fighting to get our hands on the same things.
“Mine! Mine! Mine!”
Rather than a celebration of community and the blessings of friendship, sometimes the Christmas season devolves into a microcosmic display of our culture’s emphasis on individualism and greed. Consumerism run amok.
“Mine! Mine! Mine!”
This evening we gather to celebrate the very opposite of that. Tonight we will gather, not as individuals, but as a people of faith to share with each other our commitments to this church.
Tonight is our first opportunity to pledge our gifts, our talents, our time, our tithes, and our offerings to our community of faith. As we gather for our Stewardship Dinner tonight we will come together to celebrate life in community. We will come together and devote ourselves to one another’s well-being. We will pledge to each other once more that we will care for each other and devote ourselves to each other and to the ministry of Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church.
We will pledge to carry each other’s burdens, to live together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to bear each others crosses, to lay down our lives for our neighbors, to offer hospitality to the stranger–to add a leaf to the middle of our table to make room for those who God brings to us, and to once more commit ourselves to be a people who are a part of the vast Body of Christ.
The best definition of stewardship that I’ve heard is “the ability to see and respond to God’s grace.”
God has invited us all to be a part, to play a role, to give our lives away in pursuit of the Kingdom of God.
We are not individuals swarming to church to hear something that will simply get us through the week, but people who pledge to be disciples of Jesus, bearing each other’s burdens, challenging each other to grow, supporting each other in life and in or life of faith.
In a world full of people who live in the singular, we are called to live life in the plural. We are not “I’s” and “Me’s” and “Mine’s”. We are instead “We’s” and “Us’s” and “Our’s”.
This is the calling to which we all have been called. To be people who share life, and of our lives, with and for one another. And as Paul writes,
So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.