Sermon for 5 Pentecost Yr C, 4/07/2004
Based on Gal 6:1-2, 7-10
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul is speaking here as a very wise pastor. He is instructing the Galatians and us of the close connection between restoring sinners in a spirit of gentleness; bearing one another’s burdens; and reaping what we sow. Paul himself knew he was far from perfect; he knew that he was a sinner, and therefore in need of the Lord’s forgiveness and restoration. He also knew that the Christian Church is full of sinners—who are far from perfect; who will, from time-to-time misunderstand, hurt and offend one another. At such times, Paul says that the sinner does not need our harsh judgement and condemnation. NO! Rather, the sinner needs us to be gentle with them, to restore them with love and kindness. We do this by showing empathy and care for the sinner; by walking with them and bearing their burden with them—just as Christ did when he reached out with compassion, forgiveness and healing to the social and religious outcasts of his day. Then Paul, in verses seven to ten goes on to connect the spirit of gentleness and burden bearing with the principle of reaping and sowing. If we sow in a spirit of gentleness, love and forgiveness; surely we shall reap a harvest of gentleness, love and forgiveness too. But if we sow harshness, judgement and condemnation surely that is what we shall harvest too.
The following story is a good example of bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ:
Bones Mackay thinks he has a cool job. All he has to do is carry a 60-pound bag for about three and a half miles four days a week.
And for that he makes a very cool $400,000 a year.
Where do I sign up?
Of course, his employer is walking every step of the way with him—not carrying anything, by the way. And he expects Bones to talk to him, keep him company, give him advice, polish his shoes, clean his equipment, and stay out of the way.
Bones is a professional golf tour caddie, and he works for golfer Phil Mickelson, the number 2 player in the world behind Tiger Woods. He gets a standard salary which is generally $800 or more a week, plus a percentage of the winnings. Typically, a caddie gets ten percent of a first place finish, seven percent for a top ten finish, and five percent for anything else.
Bones, an avid golfer himself and student of the game, is employee, friend, partner, and burden-bearer. He knows Mickelson’s game. He knows how the man thinks. He knows what he’s feeling and what he needs. He is perfect for Mickelson and together they have done very well since partnering up in 1992. Golfers like Mickelson and Woods are quick to credit their caddies for a measure of their own success. Since Woods dismissed an earlier caddie (some think it was because the caddie was hogging the limelight, forgetting his role), Woods has gone on to win over twenty tournaments and six majors.
Of course, Bones can’t do it all. He can’t make the shot. He doesn’t take credit for Mickelson’s successes or responsibility for his failures. He doesn’t tell Mickelson how to play the game. He doesn’t try to share the limelight. He understands his role. He is a caddie. He carries golf clubs. He bears someone else’s burden. He doesn’t “bag it,” or give up, or get discouraged. He does what caddies are supposed to do: he carries bags.
And he gets paid handsomely for it. Not at all like the Christian who walks beside a friend every day, offering encouragement and support. Not like the child of God who weeps with those who weep and laughs with those who laugh. Not like the one who stays by the side of sister or brother in crisis and prays, and writes, and calls, and listens.
Not at all like that. Such people are paid in a currency much more valuable than dollars. They “fulfill the law of Christ.” Their wages are out of this world. 1
Of course, the phrase Paul uses here “the law of Christ” is, strictly speaking, not a law at all. Rather, it is none other than our living out of our grace relationship in the context of Christian community. The law of Christ is really the freedom response of a person to love God and neighbour without asking: “What’s in it for me?” and without worrying whether or not you have loved enough for fear of punishment of failure. To fulfill the law of Christ is totally a free response on our part as a result of what God has done for us in and through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Since Christ has, and continues to bear our burden; we can bear our burden and the burden of others in the Christian community.
In verses seven through to ten, Paul goes on to make the connection of reaping and sowing. How we bear one another’s burden will determine what we sow and what we shall eventually reap. We as Christians live in community, not as entities unto ourselves. So our sowing and reaping shall have profound implications for others and for ourselves. The following story illustrates this very well:
There is an old legend of a clock tower, which was erected ages ago in one of the kingdoms of Europe. It was the highest achievement of a world-famous architect. For the clock he designed an intricate mechanism for striking the hours on a great bell: a bronze figure was to glide up noiselessly and strike the hours on the bell. When the metal for the bell was poured into the mould, one of the workers made a mistake which might have ruined the bell; and in his anger the architect threw a hammer and struck the worker dead. A piece of the man’s skull flew into the metal and left a flaw there which the architect did not discover until the day the tower was to be dedicated.
On the appointed day and hour the king and his court and all the people were assembled on the plain beneath the tower waiting for the bell to strike the hour of one. As the time approached the crowd became still. It counted the minutes. But when one o’clock came, there was no sound—only a dull thud, and then silence. After waiting a few minutes the people went up the stairs of the tower and found the artist dead beside his bell. He had been working feverishly in an effort to repair the flaw which had been made in the bell by the skull fragment of the worker, whom he had slain, and which he had just now discovered. But sharply at one the bronze figure which he had designed came noiselessly forward and, lifting its hammer, smote. But instead of striking the bell, it struck the head of the architect. 2
When we sow and reap with the Spirit, will shall sow and reap by seeking to preserve, respect, and love one another. Sowing and reaping with the Spirit shall make a difference in the Church and the world. Something as simple as a glass of water to the thirsty person; a meal to the hungry person; a visit when someone is sick or lonely or in jail can work miracles one person at a time. For in doing these things the presence and love of Christ is alive and real in the Church and the world. Amen.
1 Cited from: Timothy F. Merrill, Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit: Series IV, Cycle C (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2003), pp. 96-97.
2 Cited from: Clergy Talk, January 1985, p. 14.