Tuesday, July 16, 2013



"The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begin with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for the brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that he not only gives us his word but also lends us his ear. So it is his work that we do for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them." Dietrich Bonhoeffer


“If you did not mention #trayvonmartin in your sermon, you should rethink your vocation.”

This sage advice, and other such pearls, proliferated across social media this past Sunday, along with white pastors’ profile pictures mysteriously morphing into the silhouette of a young black man in a hoodie who was murdered in Florida.  Clearly, we clergy do not want to be found on the wrong side of history on this one.  And of course, our colleagues and congregations and readers should feel as earnestly as we do.  

And yet, for me, this grand (and I am sure, earnest) gesture strikes with all the force of a Princeton student sporting a Che Guevara t-shirt.   But also, because to me, this kind of posturing is everything that is wrong with the church and social media - precisely at a time when the church cannot afford to dabble in trivialities and mere sincerity of emotion. 

One prominent blogger who posted this statement gave as reasoning that a majority of “nones” interviewed stated “the church has nothing to do with the world I live in.”  As a mission developer in one of the least religious cities in America, I sympathize with the desire to want to put forth a different face.  But is putting forth the face of a black youth, and trying to take on the voice of the black community, when I am clearly not of the same hue, really what “nones” need to see of the church?  Is Trayvon Martin now about being relevant?

Putting on this face feels like a mask.  A mask that covers the inescapable fact of our Whiteness.  A mask that hides the disturbing fear within me that, as a white male pastor who looks more like George Zimmerman than Trayvon Martin, I have no clue what to think or what to feel, or what to say, or what to do.  Because had I grown up in George Zimmerman’s shoes, I am not sure I would have thought, felt, said, or done any differently than he did.

Because, as much as I want to put forth the social media mask of sincerity and outrage, the truth is, my first reaction to the rage of white people was to say, “yes, but the court decided.  We can’t just act like children who, playing a game and seeing their opponent gain the upper hand, flip over the table. take their boards, and go home.”  The system worked after all.  The operators of the system - that’s another story.   

But if I’m honest, my outrage is first at myself for not being outraged.  My outrage could recognize that this, as a blogger quoted, “is the most significant civil rights moment” of our time.  And I want to join the picket lines and the sit-ins and the online throwing of stones.  I want to react.  But I cannot.  Because I am a white person.  Of privilege.  I am part of the problem.  I depend on the game board and the rules and the system and the guns.

And besides - did we honestly think we'd receive any other verdict?  I wonder if the reactivity and outrage is a result of faith misplaced - in a justice controlled by just us, and in human progress.  Which has always been the gated community of paler skin.  And our justification of ourself by our works.     

If I were to have preached a sermon on Sunday (I was enjoying a week off), and was given the text of the Good Samaritan, it would have broken my heart.  Because while I would want to call my people to take up the mantle of the Good Samaritan and to wrap the bloody body of the Trayvons and the Alifahs and the Patricks and the Isatahs and the women raped in India and the North Koreans escaping to freedom on the Chinese Underground Railroad - it’s a prophets mantle that is not mine to give or take.  

Because as people of privilege, and as a willing participant in Whiteness, I am not a Samaritan.  I am not an outsider.  On countless occasions, on countless days, in my own neighborhood, on my own block, where cameras and presidents and tweeters do not walk, I pass the victims of our violence.  And I do nothing.  I live in a city where the school system is broken, segregation is rampant, child poverty is out of control - and most of the white people cluster in the paradise of a single quadrant where the hipster can lie down with the boomer, volunteer once in awhile, and feel content that the peaceable kingdom has arrived.   

Every day, here in my own context, Trayvon Martin is branded, and stalked, and ignored, and beaten, and often killed, by police, and gang members, and businesses seeking to “clean up the area,” and by people like me who choose the safety of a blog over the dangers of walking with another human being.  The most significant human rights issue of our day is not Trayvon Martin.  It is the persistent success of the idolatry of the racial caste system of Whiteness to dominate our imaginations, and leaving a Sherman-like trail of destruction and segregation in its well-intentioned, pseudo-progressive wake. 

Because the awful truth is this.  We are not the Samaritan.  We are the bandits who leap out of the shadows to plunder the passerby.  We are the clerics who bustle busily by, worried about our own holiness and self-righteousness and being on the “right side of history,” while passing by the side where the blood and dirt and the truth about ourselves is to be found.  We are not Trayvon Martin, and probably should never sport the hashtag or the profile photo.

For me, the only acceptable hashtag I can post, and the only one white people, however sincerely earnest they may feel, should most, is #IamGeorgeZimmerman.  

If you don't believe me, go out tonight after dark.  Go somewhere where you know you'll run into black folk.  When someone different than you walks by you in the shadows between street lights, see if you can walk by without feeling fear inside.  Without wondering if you're going to be mugged.  Go for it.  Can you be free from fear?  I cannot.  

Because like Mr. Zimmerman, we are safe behind the gated (largely white and privileged) online and ecclesial communities and our pulpits, wielding the fire arms of prophetic fervor, believing we are called to take up an office for which we are not qualified.  Like GZ, we stalk whatever innocents wander this hellish racially charged world, greedily chewing them up in our need to be relevant, to be perceived as part of the solution, to be on the right side of history, to put forward the right face to the world.  And like George Zimmerman, as white folk, we are acquitted.  We get off, literally and figuratively, again and again and again.  With impunity.  The world is on our side.    

#IamGeorgeZimmerman.  And like him, I too am bloodied, I sport wounds from my actions.  My forehead bears the overhyped dramatic scars of having been involved in the scuffle for human rights - except that, in trying to do so, I am only making it worse.  Because at the end of the day, I am free to walk into a coffee shop to write a blog like this, and no one in that shop will look at me with fear because of the color of my skin.  I am free to be afraid of black people and not be seen as culturally aberrant.  I am free to have an opinion on this horrible tragedy, while ignoring the bloody traveler in our neighborhood, and the blood on our own hands.  And so I too am scarred.

But there is truth in the blood.  Because in many ways, I am also the mangled traveler on the ground.  Because our self-righteousness, our need to judge and divide the church because they do not react and feel and blog as earnestly as we do, our need to take on the mask of Trayvon as if we were the black community rather than listening to the laments and the cries and the outrage of that community - this leaves us all chained, and wounded, and immobile, and self-deceived, and helpless, slaves to Whiteness and race.

And as the bloodied traveler, we need a Samaritan to save us.  Satan cannot cast out Satan, as Jesus proclaimed, and Whiteness cannot mask Whiteness.  We need Trayvon, and the black community, to remind us who we are in this battle - we are George Zimmerman too.  And it is time for us to stop trolling the social media world with our judgements and our reactivity and our sincerity, and to shut up.  To start sitting still.  To lay down our weapons.  To be a different kind of leader.  To listen.  

To stop being like Martha, indignant that others are not doing the hard work no one ever asked us to do.  And perhaps, like Mary, to sit where the voice of Christ can be found.  Outside of us.  Challenging us.  For the truth of a power that can cause a revolution of our hearts.  And so, give us a true justice and love - gifts that can never be taken away.  

And let’s start listening.  For once, wordlessness is acceptable.  I have never been the father of a black teenage son who was murdered by a white man.  I have never been a black teenager.  I have much to learn, and I do not yet know how to feel this.  I am helpless and have nothing to say.  And, I pray, that this is the beginning of recovery.  I am as helpless as the man beaten on the road.  And I need to let the Samaritan teach me how to be well.  And, I pray and pray, that this will teach me to repent.  To take off my mask.  To have truth about the way things are.  And so, to learn from others and from the God of the Cross, what it means to be a neighbor.  

Relevant religion begins, not with social media, but with repentance.  If our communities do not start there, then perhaps we should rethink whether Christianity has ever really been relevant.   

We are George Zimmerman.  Let’s stop insulting insulting Trayvon Martin, his family, his community, and the cross, by pretending otherwise.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

St. Paul and the Very Foolish Galatians - The Complete Sermon Series

This past Sunday, we at South Wedge Mission finished our six-week long trek through St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, following the revised common lectionary's given readings with some modifications.  I've included the complete six sermons below in case you missed one or are interested in checking them out.  Included Part 2 on Codependent Peter, which has languished in the editorial stack for weeks and finally sees the light of the blogosphere:)

Thanks for reading/listening/taking the Gospel back with you wherever you may go!

6/2 - Gal. 1.1-24 - "Story, Gospel, Art, Mission: Introducing St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians"

6/9 - Gal. 1.10-12, 2.1-16 - "Chameleons and Mockingjays: The Case of Codependent Peter"

6/16 - Gal 2.15-3.5 - "Justification...on a SPACESHIP! or St. Paul Comes to Call"

6/23 - Gal 3.5-29 - "Notes from Underground (Railroad), or, How Slaves Taught us Freedom from Inclusivity"

6/30 - Gal 5.1, 13-25 - "SARX WARS, or, How the Apocalypse Stole My Fruits"

7/2 - Gal 6.1-16 - "Magna Carta Holy Grail (of Christian Freedom), or, Reborn on the Fourth of July"

Sermon: "Mockingjays and Chameleons, or, the Case of Codependent Peter" (St. Paul and the Very Foolish Galatians Part 2/6)

"Mockingjays and Chameleons, or, the Case of Codependent Peter" (St. Paul and the Very Foolish Galatians Part 2/6)

Preached at South Wedge Mission
Rochester, New York
9 June 2013
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Text: Galatians 1.10-12, 2.1-16


-Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal 1.10)

-Ever since I was a little kid, my mom often told me that I was a “chameleon.”  And not just because of that phase when I bought baggy shorts and started wearing long sleeve t-shirts under short-sleeved ones like all the skater kids – despite not actually owning a skateboard!  Or when, after college I made the horrible mistake germane to young white activist types of trying to dreadlock my hair. 

-No, see, I’ve always been good - am still good - at assimilating the styles of those around me (even if someone else’s cool wallet chain looked ridiculous with my Abercrombie and Fitch khakis!).  On the postivie note, I think I am deeply atuned to particular nuances and stylistic and tonal particularities, which enables some great impressions, creative musical improvisation, and is a virtue when it comes to reading and interpreting texts.  It’s served me well as I’ve always had a diverse group of friends, and can adapt to a number of circumstances and situations.  As St. Paul says elsewhere, “I become all things to all people.”  Being a chameleon is a major asset for ministry.
-And also a major curse.  Because if there’s one thing every pastor knows, if only secretly in their heart, it’s that one of the main incentives for taking on such a challenging and otherwise borderline insane calling is our almost universal need for three things: admiration, affirmation and approval.  Being able to change colors to fit the color scheme at hand is also convenient for giving people what they want to hear – though not always what they need.

-And it’s hard to remember who you are after so many changes.  Redefining myself to achieve other people’s ever-shifting standards of approval ultimately means that I am always allowing myself to be re-defined by what I think are their standards.  The message my life speaks, then, is not something distinctly me – not what God gifted to me in my creation.  I am like that Mockingjay bird in the Hunger Games – a mutation of separate creatures spliced together, able to imitate, but ultimately, easily employable and influenced by the deceptive and destructive forces of the Capital.  I’m still a slave to power outside of myself.

-I share all this because if I’m honest, I really feel for St. Peter in today’s reading from Galatians.  Peter, Jesus’ number one discipline, his right-hand man, the person many believe was commissioned by Christ to be the universal head of the new church movement and beyond – he hasn’t really changed much.  Because in so many ways, it feels like he is a fellow chameleon too.

-Because after being called by Jesus, witnessing the life death and resurrection of Jesus, and performing miracles and preaching in Jesus’ Name, Peter is still, after all that, struggling with his need for approval.  He’s a biblical poster-child for codependency.

-Just look at his bio.  When Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, Peter’s the first to have the right answer – “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”  A few verses later, when Jesus is talking about being crucified, Peter speaks the group’s (understandable) trepidation at being mutilated and killed, only to be called “Satan.”  He’s ready to walk on water to Jesus, but he freaks out when he sees the waves, and calls out to Jesus for help.  At the Last Supper, when Jesus corrects him for trying to avoid having his feet washed, Jesus promptly rebukes him, leading Peter to request a full body washing!  The man can’t hold his own to save his life.

-And then, of course, who could forget Peter’s big low – denying Jesus three times on the night of his darkest trial, because he was afraid of what the guards and servant girls might think about him?  Or, as he and John walk along the seashore with the resurrected Jesus, and Peter is told he will be crucified one day, and Peter promptly asks, “well, what about the other guy?”

-This is the same Peter – the already saint still sinner Peter – we meet in Antioch, who is also the brunt of a major butt-whooping by a very unhappy St. Paul.  Because now, after having approved of Paul’s somewhat unorthodox ministry to the Gentiles (read: non-Jews), a ministry Jesus himself gave and the “watchdogs” at Jerusalem approved, Peter’s at it again.  He’s in Galatia, and instead of backing Paul – instead of making a powerful statement, as the head of the church, of Gospel inclusion, Peter’s decided that it’s best for him to eat with the Jews – the other circumcised folks.  They DO have the power, after all.  And after a lifetime of fearing other people, why should he let go of his codependency now?

-And I wonder – are any of us really that different than Peter?  Have we desired approval and security and a sense of self so badly that we’ve allowed ourselves to be defined, not only by other problematic folks, but also, at the expense of those who are already on the ropes?  Whether in the high school locker room, or in the pseudo-safety of facebook and blog comments, or in our work environments or our families, have you, like Peter and me, betrayed your deepest beliefs and convictions of what you know is just and right…because you were afraid of losing approval?

-And see, I wonder why we really desire approval so much at all.  Aside from the whole being-included-with-the-winning-or-the-cool-side of things,, or the desperate need to be known and accepted and understood, or just the desire to get ahead and find security and safety, I think it gets down to something more.  I think we seek the approval of others because, secretly, we don’t really approve of ourselves.  We deny approval to others as well – get mad when others don’t meet our standards, want to be like us, give us their approval – because, honestly, we are as harsh on ourselves as others are.  Tied to their conditional love, we practice conditional love against ourselves.  And then, turn that on others.

-And it’s because, I think, we forget the Gospel.  That simple, yet profound truth, that we are not justified by any works of the Law or anything we can be or do on our own.  But are claimed by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and given an unshakeable identity, because in through the lens of the cross, we are able to see ourselves for who we truly are: God’s beloved.  God’s always-already claimed children.   Defined by God alone, and God’s work in Jesus Christ.

-Jesus, the one who came, not seeking our approval, but seeking to give us the approval we could never find from one another.  Who was disapproved by us – rejected, because he forced to play our idolatrous codependency games, and placed in a position of utter disregard and scorn: crucified, outside the city walls, in the place of a criminal, a traitor, an outcast.  Jesus, who offered to us and proved to us the original approval, the “it was good!” of God’s original creation.  Jesus, who by the cross, crucified codependency, and gave us back ourselves.

-Jesus was the ultimate chameleon - taking on our humanity and everything with it, and giving to us God's divinity, and everything with it.  Death and disapproval and destitution and codependency - for grace, truth, joy, peace and love.  

-See, that’s why I think it’s so crucial that, as we learned last week, Paul leads with his own story.  Paul has no delusions about needing approval from the Galatians like Peter does.  Because Paul is unafraid to tell his own death and resurrection story.  To share how the Gospel has worked in his life.  He has no secrets, has no qualms, and so, is able, with brutal honesty and seeking reconciliation and restoration, to confront Peter.  And to confront him publicly, in order to restore him to the truth of how reality really is.

-Because in Christ is revealed the true nature of the world.  That we were made for relationship, with God, and with one another.  Not to be chameleons, always changing along with everyone else’s changes.  But resting in the unchanging, always and forever love of God for God’s creation.  Not seeking approval from others, or seeking to give our own fickle approval to those seeking it from us – but, having known ourselves as definitely approved by God – a deal signed in the blood of the cross – we are free to simply share with others the Gospel that they too are claimed by God.

-And we are given freedom. Freedom to eat with Gentiles, and enemies, and outsiders, and unexpected guests, and the weak, and the absolutely worthless in others’ eyes.  Free from using church as a vehicle for political causes, or denominational battles – all of which, in the end, are also covert battles for approval and acceptance in culture and in halls of power.   Free to stop trying to fit people into an unstable system of our own devising – and instead, to discover, with wonder, uncertainty, risk and delight, how each of us, as unique and unrepeatable manifestations of the creative love of God – fit into the story, God’s story.  The story of reality.  Whether we approve it or not. 

-And we’re free to confront one another in love too.  Free to tell the Peters and Matthews and chameleons and mockingjays in our communities that we are backsliding.  That we are falling under the spell of the lie.  That the way we are living is proclaiming, not a world approved by God, but a God approved by the world, and a sense of self utterly at the whim of the crashing waves and driving currents of turbulent waters on which we should be walking freely, rather than sinking desperately.

-The Gospel gives us a true sense of who we are in God.  It gives the gift of boldness.  Of a willingness to be radically honest.  To stand up for those who are disapproved, regardless of whether we are approved of or not.  We need to hear it again and again.  Because all of us are, in a certain sense, mockingjays and chameleons.  We are made in the image of God, and so, are called to reflect God’s colors.  Called to sing the songs of humanity back to one another in such a way as to sing them in the key of grace. 

-We can do so, bringing others with us as together we strive for freedom, because we know ourselves in Christ.  As approved, accepted, affirmed, and admired by the one who alone needs no approval from anyone.  But delights in sharing it with everyone.  With you.  With me.  With all. 

-In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sermon: "Magna Carta Holy Grail (of Christian Freedom)" (St. Paul and the Very Foolish Galatians 6/6)

"Magna Carta Holy Grail (of Christian Freedom)"

Preached at South Wedge Mission
Rochester, New York
7 July 2013
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Text: Galatians 6.1-10, 14-16


You get to feel so guilty, got so much for so little
That you find that feeling just won't go away
You're holding on to every little thing so tightly
Till there's nothing left for you anyway...
You hurt yourself, you hurt your lover
than you discover
What you thought was freedom is just greed...
-U2, "Gone"

-We’ve reached the end of Galatians, the letter that Martin Luther once called the “magna carta of Christian freedom” (he'd add "holy grail" if he'd been around to rap with Jay-Z).  Last week, we heard Paul proclaim that “it was for freedom Christ has set us free,” and then, looked at two apocalyptic visions, one of slavery to the Sarx (flesh), and one of the liberty of the Spirit’s fruits flowering in us.  

-But as we conclude, we still haven’t really answered a pressing question: what, in simple, human, 21st century terms, exactly is Christian freedom?  What are we freed from? What are we freed for? And, just as important, how do we live this freedom?  

-Thankfully, for once, Paul makes it pretty clear here in chapter six, just as he’s wrapping up his letter.  He seems to lay out three basic recommendations for what Peterson’s Message translation calls “living creatively:"

1) Be a community that restores one another and bears one another’s burdens with gentleness
2) Focus on your own load, rather than another’s
3) Boast in nothing but the cross of Christ, which has won us a new creation

-In many ways, that’s the ethical distillation of the entire letter.  All that discernment of Idols and Gospels, of Sarx and Spirit, of Includers and the Included, Jews and Gentiles...it all comes down to this way of being community - an Israel of faith - with God, and with neighbor.  

-But if Paul has taught us anything, it’s that even Gospel community - especially Gospel community, can be used for slavery if it falls into the wrong hands.  Enter me.  On the Fourth of July.  A perfect time to reflect on freedom.  

-See, every year around the Fourth, we join Leah’s family up on Lake Ontario at the Lighthouse Christian Camp for a week-long family camp.  The setting is beautiful, with tiny cottages nestled right along the shore of the lake.  The sunsets make your heart sing.  There’s space to talk, to pray, to recharge, and to skip stones.  Lots of stones.  Family stories are shared and remembered as families work together to remember and grow in the story of our faith.

-And, for this community, a big part of both family and faith stories is the story of America.  On the Fourth, there’s a huge worship service in the tabernacle.  Red white and blue balloons line the aisles.  Giant flags are projected behind the praise lyrics.  Veterans and parents of soldiers are venerated and thanked.  As I walked by, I heard a soloist practicing a song with the lyrics “one nation under God.”

-Except this Fourth, I was walking away from it.  See, Leah’s cousin Matt and me, being the enlightened progressive Christian pacifists that we are, have made a tradition of holding a prayer service before the tabernacle service, to pray for America’s enemies.  Then we skip the service.  Our way of saying that we belong to the Kingdom first, and only then, to this country, and her history of genocide, pillaging and war.

-As I made my way past the sights and sounds of passionate patriotism, I felt the sweet sensation of self-righteousness swell within me.  Surely, this was a community of Christians in need of being restored, in line with Paul's Point One.  Surely, with my advanced sense of the Gospel and my keen eye for Idolatry, we could free them from nationalism and unwrap the Bible from the flag.  Help them find the Truth.  

-Which is just about when the Truth found me.  Because I realized: I was the one in need of restoration.  Because, like the Judaizers requiring circumcision of the Galatian converts, I was making my acceptance of my fellow Christians - albeit distant cousins - conditional of them meeting my standards of progressivism.  And, in the end, I was isolating myself from community.  And ultimately, was no more free from sin than anyone at the camp.

-See, Paul’s first recommendation says that we ought to restore one another with gentleness, and that we should bear each other’s burdens.  Instead, I took out my Hipster glasses and switched on the ‘ol Flaw-O-Matic my generation has ingrained in me.  And I started to critique and judge.  Outraged by a nation built on warfare, I was unwittingly, hypocritically, and not at all gently, waging war on my own family.

-And that’s where I was hit by Paul’s second recommendation - namely, verse 3: if someone thinks we he is something when he is nothing, he is deceived...but let each test his own work.  Or, in psycho-babble terms: stop codependently trying to control and manipulate others, and focus on your own s-h-i-t.

-For me, maybe it meant just going to my own prayer meeting and doing my best to do what I felt called to do: pray for enemies - not praying against others.  It also meant, I think, focusing on the warfare in my own heart.  The ways that, through violent speech, and selfish thinking, and neglect of my own spiritual life, I tried to isolate myself from God, from accountability, and so make myself god over other people.

-In reality, I couldn't go in that service, not because of any moral outrage or zeal of the Kingdom, but because I couldn't stand to experience my own resentment and critical judgement.  I wonder what would have happened had I walked up to the pastor, took responsibility for my own struggle, admitting "I struggle with solely focusing on patriotism - could we also pray for our enemies?"  Who knows?  Maybe the whole camp would have ended up praying.  And I might have been humbled more gently too.  

-But see, if you’re like me, then even on the short walk to church today, you’ve probably slipped into the whole god-complex in any number of ways.  Perhaps it’s indulging in the fleeting and ironic joy of using the Flaw-o-Matic to make critical remarks of others.  Maybe there’s a person in your life you desperately want to fix, and you think about fixing them all the time.  Maybe you are feeling trapped and enslaved by someone else’s manipulations, and are stockpiling nuclear weapons in the silo of your heart.  And it feels like slavery.   

-And if you’re like me, you are being called out of slavery for Gospel freedom.  Freedom from the need to always critique.  From the need to fix others.  From the need to manipulate or control circumstances other than your own.  From the impulse to react, to pray or preach or do anything good AT people, rather than FOR them.  From the quiet desperation of needing to be god, or ending up as nothing.  

-And, you are also being called to Gospel freedom FOR something.  FOR right relationships.  With God.  With your neighbors.  And with yourself.  FOR the wholeness, the peace, the Shalom described in those fruits of the Spirit.  FOR what Paul calls the “new creation.”  

-Now, like me, maybe you’re wondering: how am I supposed to focus on my own load AND carry my neighbor’s burden?  Doesn’t that seem a bit contradictory?  

-Seems? Yes.  Actually? Not so sure.

-See, Paul’s first two steps are not in opposition.  I think they’re two sides of the same coin.  See, the Greek word for “burdens,” those that we must help our neighbors with, this word denotes something really oppressive.  Usually, a set of requirements laid down by others that weigh on one’s soul.  It's something take cuts one off from community.  And drains away life.    

-The word for “loads,” on the other hand, is the same word that Jesus uses in the Gospel of Matthew when he says, “my yoke is easy and my load is light.”  It’s still very difficult stuff.  It’s hard work.  But it's work that gives us life.  That is us acting out of our Spirit center.  And, as Jesus notes, like oxen, we are not yoked alone.  In fact, we are able to do this work only because Christ has bound Himself to our very hearts, and so animates us with his grace and love.

-The end goal of each work is different.  One, "burdens," oppresses; the other, our "load," enlivens.

-So what I hear Paul saying is this: the first task of our Christian community is to restore one another when we have fallen into the grip of sin and death.  Which means, not punishing or guilting or controlling or fixing.  But speaking the truth of who we are in Christ.  Literally re-clothing our brother or sister with the garment of Christ Jesus, and with it, the promise of the Gospel that they are no one’s slave, and so, do not need to carry oppressive requirements, or guilt, or expectations, or anything else that is not God.  This is always gentle, because it must reflect Jesus’ own gentleness.  How we restore will be part of the reminder of what we are restoring them to!

-But to be the kind of community that can heal with the soothing balm of the Gospel, we also need to carry our own loads.  Do our own work.  Not work that seeks to earn the free gift of salvation.  But the work of growing in intimacy with Jesus, the one who has joined Himself to our hearts.  We cannot simply know the Gospel with our heads.  We must work so that it can sink into our hearts.  It must become a part of us.  The soil must be prepared so that the seeds of the Spirit fruits may grow.

-So, in some ways, our load is very personal.  It might mean recommitting to a discipline of regular prayer and of listening to the Scriptures.  It might mean letting God reveal our idols, so that God can cleanse us from the works of the Sarx, and make us open to be channels of the Spirit.  It also might mean taking time to delight in God, to be in God’s world, and among God’s people, being refreshed through worship, and play, and celebration.  But point is, it’s a relationship.  Christ has set us free for relationship.  And the ultimate freedom of a relationship comes in the discipline of commitment.

-So as we grow more deeply in our love with God, we will be given the freedom from self to love and restore and support our brothers and sisters.  Growing in the knowledge of how much God loves us and has forgiven us feeds us so that we can extend this restorative love to others.  And, in being a community that openly shares our struggles, and practices gentle Gospel healing and restoration, will ultimately provide a safe and nurturing space, a greenhouse, if you will, in which the fruits of the Spirit can flourish.  In which the New Creation is incubated.  In which we can fully live and grow together.  

-Which is why I think Paul ends with his powerful third recommendation: “But for my part, may I never boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ - for nothing else matters, except the new creation it’s given us!" We are given the freedom to be a community with a singleness of purpose - to be known by God deeply and intimately, and so to know one another deeply and intimately, and then, healed by the Gospel, to offer that Gospel to the still enslaved and suffering.  We do not need to affiliate with any political party.  We do not need to solve the deep issues of the day.  In many ways, we do not need to worry what America is doing, or what the Jews are doing, or what the Evangelicals are doing, or what anyone else is doing.  It’s not about them.  It’s not about us.  It’s about God.  

-We are called to boast only in the cross of Christ.  The proclamation of the Crucified God.  Who brings healing to the broken.  Who brings love the excluded.  Who brings freedom to the slaves.  Who brings an end to death, and begins the new creation.  Nothing else matters.  Everything else is just our practice of bearing the burdens of others, and so fulfilling our mission as a church - the mission of telling the story of the Good News of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  That God forgives us.  That God has liberated us.  That God is for us, with us, and loves us.  And God wants so much more for God’s children then we ever imagined.

-I have another Fourth of July story I'd like to leave you with as we leave Galatians together.  Later that day, Matt's wife Jess suggested a practice for us.  She recommended we take a bucket of stones.  That we go to the waters' edge.  And we cast them into the deep.  And for each one thrown away, we shoudl name out loud a barrier that kept us from God.  A kind of dramatic form of confession.

-As I listened to Leah throw her stones, and then had to name and throw my own, I was struck.  The things I was naming, they could have been written on the stones I threw at the patriotic tabernacle service.  The things I most hated in myself, the chains of my slavery, were the demons I tried to cast into others.  And instead of making them weapons, they became instruments.  Not just of confession.  But also, of play.  Skipping them off into the distance, to sink into oblivion, where God will remember them no more.  It's setting down a heavy burden.  And freeing the hands to carry a load.   

-And I think that's Paul's message of grace in Galatians.  I'm thankful to him for having lived it and passed it on to us.  Thankful for you, walking and stumbling with me through this series.  Thankful that we at the South Wedge Mission have been given this work to do - this Mission of bearing burdens and carrying loads.  And we've been given the Gospel - and the God - to take our place in the new creation.  Praise be to God.  That's all.  That's everything.