Working for the Good of All

On July 7, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Working for the Good of All Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Galatians 6.2-10 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The Apostle Paul’s letter to a Galatian community is only 6 chapters […]

Working for the Good of All
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Galatians 6.2-10

Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a Galatian community is only 6 chapters long, and we heard from the final chapter this morning. The letter talks very frankly about anatomy. Paul had created a controversy in his circle by declaring himself the apostle to the uncircumcised. What? Who talks like that? The Apostle Paul.

Paul has recently gone to meet with a council of church leaders in Jerusalem headed by James, the brother of Jesus. The council members tend to agree with James that followers of Jesus should be or become Jewish, and for men, that will require circumcision.

Paul disagrees with them. So, he says Jewish members of the movement should honor their Jewish heritage and observe the traditions, but gentiles who want to follow the Jesus way shouldn’t have to observe every Jewish tradition, such as circumcision. He discerns that if men have to have elective surgery on their nether regions to join the movement, that’s going to be a deal breaker for a lot of guys.

Now, notice, religious people are arguing over people’s bodies. What should people do with their bodies? What should they not do with their bodies? Who is in charge of their bodies, specifically, their genitalia? Oh thank God we are so far beyond that today!

When Paul goes to Jerusalem he takes Barnabas and Titus for moral support, and he brags in Galatians 2 that even though Titus is an uncircumcised Greek, the council didn’t insist he be circumcised. And if Titus gets a pass, why require it of anyone?

Paul says also in chapter 2 that he thinks of Peter as the apostle to the circumcised and himself as the apostle to the uncircumcised.

Paul values his religious traditions, he just doesn’t think all of them have to be imposed on people from beyond his religious background who want to follow Jesus. Why set up a lot of roadblocks?

In chapter 4 Paul reminds the Galatians of the story of Abraham having a child with his slave, Hagar, and another child with his wife, Sarah.

Now, Paul doesn’t seem to realize that slavery is evil, or that Hagar was abused when she was forced by Abraham to have his child (a son whom he abandons when his wife finally conceives).

When people use the Bible to condemn women’s autonomy over their bodies, or transgender expression, or same-gender love and attraction, they seem to forget about Abraham having slaves, forcing one of them to be a surrogate mother for his wife (whom he earlier sold to a regional potentate and then reclaimed). And that’s before he attempted to murder the son that he didn’t abandon. It is ridiculous to use the Bible to condemn people. But I digress.

Paul uses the story of Abraham and Hagar and Sarah an allegory. He says those trapped in legalism and condemnation and religious rigidity are children of bondage, Hagar. But those who freely, joyously follow Jesus without all the fetters of legalism are children of freedom, of Sarah.

And then in chapter 5 Paul tells the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set you free.”

Reject bondage (I’m not talking about your social life, that’s your business). Reject religious bondage, and embrace spiritual freedom.

And in verse 14 he says, “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The people who use tradition and dogma to control, condemn, and exclude are missing the whole point. For freedom Christ has set us free, and instead of straining at gnats, just love yourself and loves others as much as you love yourself and you’ll be in good shape.

In verse 22 of chapter 5, Paul says, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such,” Paul says, “there is no law.”

You are not being faithful when you toss the Queer kid out of the house, or when you ignore the violence toward transgender people, or when you demonize desperate asylum seekers, or engage in Isalmaphobia…that isn’t faithful, it’s cruel, but the law of Christ is love of neighbor…welcome, compassion, kindness and there is no faithful reason to withhold compassion to the hurting or endangered, whoever they might be.

Paul says in chapter 6 as we heard today, “Bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Paul isn’t seeking doctrinal purity or compliance with tradition, he’s focusing on the law of Christ whose burden is easy and whose yoke is light. And what is the law of Christ?

Paul says it’s to bear one another’s burdens.
He says it’s to love your neighbor as yourself.
He later wrote to a house church in Rome, “…the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The law is to LOVE.
His frenemy James said, “If you fulfill the divine law, which is ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
Jesus quoted the Torah when he said the greatest of all commandments were to love God and neighbor, and he told a story about people that you condemn or hate might be the best neighbors of all.
And of course we read in 1 John 4.16, “God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”

Legalism is usually just an excuse to beat up people, figuratively, and sometimes literally. But the law of Christ is love, compassion, kindness, justice, generosity. Bear someone’s burden and thus fulfill the law of Christ.

Paul tells us, “Let us not grow weary in doing good.” Indeed, he exhorts us, “Work for the good of all…especially your friends, but not just your friends.” Work for the good of all.

If someone tells us that they are afraid to come out,
or they are having doubts about God,
or they are marrying outside their faith,
or they are struggling with an addiction,
or they are battling depression,
or they are burdened by profound grief…they are not asking us for a bible verse, a lecture, or an opinion. They are asking us to hear them, to love them, to sit with them. They are giving us an opportunity to share their burden, not to add to it with our own bigotry and baggage.

People’s pain is not an opportunity to defend our beliefs;
their pain is an opportunity to help them bear their burdens.

“If the church were Christian,” a wise Quaker pastor tells us, “gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.”

If the church were truly following Jesus and his kin-dom of God message, we would bear the burdens of others rather than trying to add to them, we would love our neighbor while realizing all of God’s children are our neighbors; if the Church were following Jesus, it would work for the good of all.

And this church will; and this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God, as a disciple of Jesus I pray,
bless me to be a blessing.
Give me joy and peace,
And for the sake of your love,
give me the grace to share those gifts.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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