This week’s sermon passage: Galatians 6:1-5.
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
Who would have thought that the notion of being a loving, concerned community that carried each other’s burdens would actually be considered an intrusive lifestyle? I afear it is true today. In the quest for individualism there is a desperate claim on personal privatism and in the advance of koinonia and purity there has been cultic hegemony. The net result is a continued isolation from loving, laughing and shared communalism.
One example of this revolves around my status as a single pastor. I do not like sharing such personal AND professional examples but it is a small moment which points to the difficulty of these verses of Galatians.In this adult retirement community, the aging process exhibits a wide variety of consequences. One such consequence is that there are many more single women living here in Oakmont than there are men. In the course of visiting the sick, my visitations are often a tender experience of sharing, praying and crying. For many of the women here, this is a small gift of tender mercy that many have not experienced since their mates have died. They often interpret this closeness in romantic terms and thus consequently they express the need for more attention and affection.
When this impression is not shared, but, in truth, clarified or even rebuffed, there is often embarassment and disappointment. We must work hard to get over the shame that this causes some people and often they turn down future efforts to visit because they are too humiliated by their own emotional responses. Instead of holy, supportive moments during their recovery, they are isolated even further. Our only church response is to send only other women to visit them.
This gender divide is only part of the schism that keeps us from being a full blown community. This example is certainly not a moment when someone is acting sinfully, as per Galatians, but speaks to the challenges of helping people stay independent and yet connected in every way. You can imagine how much more difficult it is when someone is actively trapped in “sinful” behavior and when they require the gentle correction that this passage envisages.
My only recourse is to humbly offer myself to a congregation and allow them free access to challenge my motivations or to point out weaknesses in my own lifestyle. By doing so, I can give them opportunities to see how admonition should work. After all the Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, peace, patience…etc. (Galatians 5:22-26)