Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
April 9, 2017
Palm Sunday is a difficult day to preach. We hear about the glorious parade of Jesus entering Jerusalem. It sounds like a time to celebrate, yet we know what’s going to happen. The people who showed up with palm branches, all excited, are some of the same folks who show up on Friday and call for Jesus’ crucifixion. Palm Sunday is a reminder, maybe even a warning, a situation can deteriorate quickly, people are mostly interested in themselves, and no one likes to go against a crowd. It’s still a problem today, just as it was in the first century. Are we willing to stand with our Savior in good times and bad? Do we trust him that much?
Paul has a problem, as we’ve seen over the past six weeks as we’ve explored his Epistle to the Galatians. Today, instead of focusing on Palm Sunday, I’m finishing up our journey through this letter. Paul needs to help these folks get back on track. He has refuted the teachings of the false preachers whose work within these churches have caused confusion. Again and again, Paul emphasizes grace over the law. But just because you are not saved by the law doesn’t mean you can do what you want. Toward the end of the fifth chapter, he warns his readers of the dangerous work of the flesh. Then, as he comes toward his conclusion of this letter, he realizes that some might take what he said and use it as an opportunity to deal with the sins of others. So Paul offers a few suggestions about how Christians should correct someone caught in sin. We should consider, from this passage, how we, as a body of believers, are to live graciously and in a way that encourages one another to strive for holiness. And to bring this back to Palm Sunday. How would Jesus want the early church to deal with those believers who waved Palm Branches and then shouted for crucifixion? Would they have been welcomed into the Upper Room before Pentecost? Should they be? READ GALATIANS 6:1-10
There are two themes in this passage: restoring the sinner and humbly doing the work assigned.
In a way, the Roman world was an “anything goes” world as much as our own society seems to be that way. But that’s not the world in which Paul lives. He’s not some post-modern, politically correct philosopher who thinks everything is relative and that there are no absolute standards. That’s our world; it was, to some extent, the Roman World (or at least the Corinthian World as Paul was certainly upset at their “anything goes” attitude). But in this letter, Paul seems to understand the church in Galatia will do its part and encourage their members to live righteously even though that’s not how they are made right with God.
Yet, even here, dangers lurk. Paul understand human nature. He knows there are some who will enjoy pointing out the faults of others. There are people who have the mistaken notion that it makes them look good when another person falls. Such people relish in their own self-righteousness. As Mark Twain often quipped, “nothing needs reforming as much as someone else’s bad habit.” It’s this tendency, reforming another’s bad habits while ignoring their own, that Paul’s trying to nip in the bud.
Paul tells those who have the Spirit of God within them to restore those who have fallen away from the church. You know, the church and society in general aren’t very good at restoring the fallen. We’re real good at shooting the wounded, but we fail when it comes to reforming people. Two examples: First, look at churches and consider what generally happens after a church fight? Most often, one party and maybe even both parties leave. The sin of American Protestantism is that we find it easier to go somewhere else than to stick it out and mend fences or lift up fallen brethren. The church is to exhibit the Kingdom of God, but do we?
And if you think church is bad at reforming people, society is even worse. Consider the recidivism rates in our prisons. But Paul isn’t addressing society’s failures here; he’s focusing on the church. The church is to be a community that takes seriously the reformation of individuals. We’re to be a community that instead of shooting the wounded, we bind them up and restore them to wholeness.
If we who make up the church are to fulfill our calling to restore those who have fallen away, we’re going to have to be gentle and humble and gracious. It’s a dangerous task as Lesslie Newbigin, a former missionary to India notes, when commenting on human efforts to bring about the kingdom of God. “The project of bringing heaven down to earth,” he writes, “always results in bringing hell up from below.” Being a legalist, pointing out the faults of others in a heavy-handed way, don’t cut it. Self-righteous attitudes drive wedges between people, making those in power look good while offending parties are set up for ridicule.
But more than that, such attitudes also contain the seeds for destruction of the righteous whom succumb to the sin of pride. That’s why Paul tells us in the fourth verse to test our own work on its merits and not to rate ourselves by what our neighbor has and hasn’t done. Jesus is our example and model, not our neighbors. If we want to compare ourselves to another person, we should stand next to our Savior and see how far we fall short of the standard. Standing next to him, we’ll get a crick in our necks looking up. When compared to Jesus, we’re all humbled. But the human preference is for us to pick out some ax murderer to judge ourselves against them and then be misled into thinking we’re doing a good job because we’ve refrained from bashing heads in.
Jesus’ comments, in the Sermon on the Mount, come to mind. Before we go operating on our brother’s eyes, we should make sure our own eyes are free from obstruction. The only way for us to be clean and free is to accept the forgiveness of the one who washes us in his blood. And we must realize that Jesus don’t clean us up so that we can become an agent for the moral Gestapo. The gentle way God deals with us becomes our model for dealing with one another.
If we’re to seriously take to heart this passage, we should understand several things: We who are believers are called to help each other live better and godlier lives. This is a part of our calling as disciples. But in fulfilling this task, we have to be careful. We’re to be gentle and humble, realizing that even when we’ve dedicated ourselves to righteousness living, the temptation to think more highly of ourselves than we should is present. As Christians, we’ve been saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, not by our own hands. As Christians, we’re to share and show such grace to one another. Only then will the church be the community we’re called to be.
The second theme is pleasantly doing the work God has assigned us and not letting it go to our head or to spend all our time focused on and worried about what others are doing.
In the first sermon on Galatians, I told you a story about Jayber and Troy in Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, set in Port Williams, Kentucky. Berry uses his novels to give a glimpse into how a community can exist and function in a way that will be beneficial to the all its residents as well as for the land and the environment. One of the problems with Troy, in his novel, is his impatience. He’s one of the younger farmers in town and is impressed with power and machinery and isn’t worried about debt, which he considers a part of doing business, nor is he particularly concerned about the land. He doesn’t even consider himself a farmer, he wants to be thought of as an agri-businessman. Many of the older farmers around Port Williams think Troy is foolish, but he has such a high opinion of himself, that he doesn’t care.
Troy receives a great gift. His wife, an only child, is heir to one of the larger farms in the township. When her parents retire Troy takes over and immediately begins to do things that worries his wife and his in-laws. He rips out the hedgerows between fields so he can grow more crops. He leverages the land to buy more land and then, because he can’t do all the farming with his old equipment, he borrows for larger tractors and larger implements. He’s always running, trying to keep up with a larger and larger operation. Always behind, he no longer enjoys the cycle of the seasons, the periods of hard work and the times of rest. The farm, which would have given him and his wife a good life, becomes a burden. Its land is depleted and he loses it all to the bank. By focusing on his own need to be important, by constantly wanting more, he squanders the gift.
We’ve all been given gifts; we’ve all been given a packet of seeds. Do we sow them only for ourselves? If so, we’ll join Troy and countless others in squandering what we’ve been given. But if we use our gifts in a way that will bring honor and glory to our Creator, to sow them in the Spirit, others will benefit and in the long run, we’ll find dividends stored up eternally for us. Work is not a bad thing. Work is good. Our labor connects us to God and should connect us to others. It’s through what we do in our world, our daily tasks that we live out our Christian faith. Paul assumes we are working and therefore in danger of weariness. I’m sure if the Galatians were not doing anything and therefore were in no danger of becoming weary, Paul’s letter would have reflected to different concerns than the ones he’s talking about here. But here, he’s concerned about them wearing themselves out and how we might take measures to avoid allowing our work to lead us into weariness or for it to become drudgery, something that we despise.
This Epistle to the Galatians is about grace, and grace should lead to gratitude. We’re not here to work in order to earn our salvation, we’re to receive it as a gift and then use it to live making this world a better place. What Jesus did for us this week, which we call Holy, changed the world. We are now living in a new world, one of forgiveness and love, grace and abundance. Live in this new world, not the old! Accept what Jesus has done for us and then let him live in you so that your life might bear fruit. Amen.
 From Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 117; as quoted by Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 234.
 Matthew 7:3-5.
 Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (Washington DC: Counterpoint, 2000)