Proper 9C – July 3, 2022
St. Paul’s, Bellingham – Proper 9C – July 3, 2022
Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16
The Rev. Rachel Endicott
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Did you notice that in the bulletin a portion of the New Testament reading today was in brackets? In spite this reading not being as long as the Old Testament reading from 2nd Kings (now that’s a long reading!), the Revised Common Lectionary – a cycle of readings used by a number of churches – gives us the option to do a longer or shorter version. So for today’s Galatian’s reading, the first six verses may be omitted.
Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find myself especially intrigued by what may be left out. I’m intrigued by the “add on”, by the other part. This week, I find it especially so. And not just because Paul is writing to a community that was in turmoil, struggling with how to BE community, how to come together when their backgrounds were very different, and how to share in a joint understanding of ministry they were called to do.
Hm. Maybe that’s also true for us today. I know that here at St. Paul’s, we have people who come from all sorts of different backgrounds and points of view. We have people who grew up in evangelical church circles, folks who formerly defined themselves as Roman Catholic, people who are what we would call “cradle Episcopalians”, and folks who earlier put themselves squarely as “nones”, those who checked the box “none” when asked for religious affiliation. If I haven’t said it before, I love being part of a church that welcomes all.
And as individuals, I know that we have Republicans and Democrats among us. Possibly a few socialists and maybe a Green party person or two. Perhaps even some apolitical folks. And again, if I haven’t said it before, I love being part of a church that welcomes all.
And we could go on with how we might be different. And that appears to have been true with the group Paul was writing to. They had a hard time coming to consensus about right practice and being in community, religiously and otherwise. And so he writes to them, and today we follow last week’s passage which focused on the freedom we find through Christ. With the Spirit resting upon us, we are indeed to find commonality through our worship of God and in our serving others, so basically what our Collect of the Day proclaimed: we are to keep God’s commandments by loving God and loving our neighbor.
And the bracketed part of today’s Galatians reading, verses one through six, talks about how we are called to work together. At first it may seem to be a confusing set of directions. We may not think that the mention of transgressions fits at all alongside the other charge to bear one another’s burdens and then the final exhortation that we should all do our own work. Hmmm. What does this mean?
So I’m wondering how many of you are part of organizations or went to schools that have alumni magazines, emails, or other communications? How many of you read about people either from your graduating class or years that overlapped? So and so published a new book. So and so is now living in Prague (after recently having lived in Hong Kong, Sydney, and Rio). And perhaps for many of us, so and so has 2.4 lovely, talented, exceptional kids who they’ve raised perfectly and who just won gold at the Olympics. OK, now I’m exaggerating. But I wonder if it doesn’t seem like whatever we do, others are doing more, getting more kudos, are changing the world in a way that we might not be able to accomplish.
And I confess, I get sucked into weighing myself against others. For a variety of reasons, I compare myself against one seminary classmate from two years ahead of me who is now a bishop of a large diocese. I compare myself to several who’ve become deans or cardinal rectors, so rectors of large, influential churches. I compare myself to several who have won awards or had significant work published. In your industry or life, how does this play out? I’m guessing there this is tendency to compare ourselves against others happens in many of our lives.
And this is part of what is discussed in the text today. Rather than making comparisons, we are to do our best in our own work, that which is given to us, that to which we are called. Rather than what we heard, that “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride”; several translations of these verses say that people are to “be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others” (CEB) or “without comparing themselves to someone else” (NIV). Martin Buber is quoted as saying the following: “Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: “Why were you not Moses?” They will ask me: “Why were you not Zusya?”
And whatever our vocation, not only our paying jobs, but in our working for God’s kingdom, it is to be done also to the best of our ability, ‘though not necessarily as anyone else would do it or perhaps as another is called to do. Paul is clear about this.
The passage also has two other points. First, sometimes we transgress (don’t do what is right). The others in community are called to point it out, but to do so with gentleness. So, being totally conflict averse is not the answer, but pointing out shortcomings or errors to aggrandize yourself or in a nasty way is not the answer. We do so with kindness for the ongoing health of the whole community.
Secondly, we hear the exhortation to bear one another’s burdens, and in doing so fulfilling the law of Christ. It says that sometimes others need help. They can not do it alone. I think of communities that have really intentional ways in which they bear one another’s burdens: the Amish with barn-raisings, meal-trains within churches, scholarships so all kids can go to camp, and so-on.
And sometimes this bearing of one another’s burdens is done by an individual or two, a more personal reaching out. I think of the situation when my husband’s first wife died a number of years ago at the end of March 2008. As you might imagine, for a CPA, and one who only recently had gone out as a solo practitioner, having a terminally ill wife dying on March 30th was the worst timing possible. So, he would work during the day and spend the evening and night at the hospice with her. And yet, some of his burdens were lightened. As well as His church community providing food for his three daughters, two of his CPA friends, with the wonderful Biblical names of Jim and John, actually took some of his most important work to complete in spite of the fact that they had their own clients and were already pushed to the brink. They bore Gary’s burdens.
So, I want to encourage us to sit with these three charges Paul makes:
- Kindly and gently approach those who are transgressing, and be open to it if others approach us in that same way
- Help others out when they need it – help make their burdens lighter
- And do the best in the work you are called to do, without comparing yourself to others and their work or accomplishments.
Friends, this might not be an easy time. But we are a community of faith, and as such, we are uniquely called as individuals within that community. May we, the People of St. Paul’s, come with grace and peace to follow Christ’s rule and always be thankful for the peace, grace and mercy which is showered upon us.