Pentecost 7, 2016, Bunker Hill, Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18
The Tuesday Family Circle cartoon in the Post-Dispatch featured little Jeffy sneezing on his sister in an up close and personal manner. She cried out, “Jeffy sneezed on me! Do I still hafta ‘God bless him’ him?” Good question.
A few years ago a woman attending a national church convention in St. Louis was at a barbecue. She got some spare ribs stuck in her esophagus. According to an emergency room nurse at BJC the woman apparently tried to push the stuck meat through by stuffing in more meat. She was in serious trouble when she reached the emergency room. Here was a sister in Christ, one made alive in the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit who in a moment of weakness was overtaken by the sin of gluttony. We tend to react to those kinds of stories with headshaking and a question, “How could she be so dumb?”
However, the apostle Paul writes, “Brother, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Now if we move out from sneezing Jeffy and the barbecue stuffing woman, we might think of some person we know. Some person who has put on Christ in baptism, was made alive in the Holy Spirit and walking in a Spirit led life suddenly caught unaware in a situation and slips into a sin. That person may well be our self at one point.
Paul writes “You who are spiritual…?” Well, that’s you and me. We are spiritual, since “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death…since we have put on Christ and have been made alive in the Holy Spirit…since we are led to walk in life by the Spirit to live a new life, since we are new creations living in the new age of God’s reign through Christ.”
The person is to be restored. The word restored has a medical background, meaning to set a bone in place so that proper healing might take place. Luther says, “Run to him and reaching out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words and embrace him with motherly arms.” The Old Testament lesson ties in with Luther’s words. When Jerusalem is restored it will be a place, like the church, where one finds love and comfort. “You shall nurse and be satisfied at her consoling breast…you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced on her knees.” God will comfort the people through His people; “as one whom his mother comforts so I will comfort you.” Show a mother’s love by enfolding in your arms those who have mistepped into sin.
A campus pastor tells of a college student who had slipped off the path of Christ, neglecting the leading of the Holy Spirit. The person went to the pastor wondering, “How am I to be restored to God’s kingdom, having this mark against me?” The pastor knew the student’s family. He asked, “Your family makes fine handcrafted furniture, right?” “Yes,” replied the student. The Pastor continued, “If a piece of furniture has a scratch or a mar in it, do you throw out the whole piece?” “No,” said the student, “We sand and buff the wood until the imperfection is gone.” “Well,” said the pastor, “God, in Jesus’ death on the cross has removed the imperfections from your life. We will simply use the good news of Christ to gently sand and buff the sin that mars your life, and it will be gone.”
We are to restore the person gently. Gentleness is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for gentleness is difficult to translate. It means to use consideration for the person and not to give great attention to the sin. The goal is not to emphasize the misstep, but to restore the person in their walk in the Spirit as they follow Christ.
Martin Luther lectured on this passage in 1519 saying that, “we should be more ready to extenuate than to exaggerate.” In other words, give the person a break, or give him the benefit of the doubt. He continues that to “exaggerate the sin” is characteristic of the devil and slanderers.” Luther cites St. Augustine, “Nothing so demonstrates the spiritual man as his treatment of someone else’s sin, when he plans how to set him free rather than how to deride him, how to help him rather than how to revile him.”
Again, Luther, “when our conscience accuses us, the Holy Spirit protects us in the presence of God and comforts us by giving a good testimony to our conscience and to our trust in God’s mercy. He excuses, extenuates, and completely covers our sins. On the other hand, He magnifies our faith and good works.” What the Holy Spirit does in our life St. Paul urges us to do likewise in the lives of our brothers and sisters in the family of Christ.
Having urged us to act as spiritual people, Paul has a warning for us. “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Part of the reason any misstep by a candidate for public office is enlarged for all to see is that it works. We are attracted to that sort of negative thing.
But Paul reminds us, “For anyone who thinks he is something.” Anyone who believes he can stand on his own two feet before God, has taken a misstep with serious consequences for a great fall is in store. We are nothing without Christ. We have nothing without Christ. We are deceiving ourselves. For in the judgment, we will have to be accountable for our own actions. It does us no good to compare ourselves to our brother and sister in Christ. We may not be inclined to the same misstep they are, but we each have our own potholes and divots we are inclined to step in. More than that, having restored someone in the spirit of gentleness, we may take pride in how spiritual and humble we are. “I did well,” our inner self, informs us.
Therefore, St. Paul leads us once more to the cross. We do not ever seem to get away from the cross, do we? Thank God for that. Paul reminds us, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He invites us also to lift high the cross. For only in the story of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave do we find the means and the power to restore the brother or sister who has slipped. We glory in the story of the cross for from the cross comes the message that the Holy Spirit uses to stand us also on our two feet when we have slipped.
Now let me give you something to think about. Remember sneezing Jeffy at the beginning of the sermon? How would you handle his sister’s cry, “Do I hafta God bless him?” And the barbecue stuffing woman, how might her friends have welcomed her back from her ordeal? What can we learn from the apostle Paul about how we deal with each other in love in the times we sin against each other at Zion, in Bunker Hill.