Monday, February 18, 2013

Spirit, Restoration, and Burden Bearing

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[a] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Brothers,[b] if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load." - Galatians 5:16-6:5

In the Name of Jesus Christ +

St. Paul gives us words of the highest wisdom when he writes, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness."  These words drip with care and love and charity - they drip with the Holy Spirit and His fruit.  Indeed, this is how St. Paul describes the Spirit as working in and through a Christian - if one has the Spirit, then there will be a zeal for gentle restoration of the erring brother.  There will be the acknowledgment that you yourself might fall into sin and temptation in reaction to what another has done.  Rather than destroying, rather than fire and brimstone, there is the call to restore, to bear with another's burdens.

I have been teaching Galatians to my vacancy congregation, and I've been leafing through Luther - and the thing that stands out in Luther is this.  While many people today will think of Galatians as the letter of strong denunciation (which Paul has for the Judaizers), over and over Luther emphasizes the patience, the peace, the loving care with which Paul addresses the Galatians.  Even when St. Paul chides them, it is done gently and lovingly.  

How do we deal with the erring brother today?  Do we treat him gently, bearing his burdens quietly?  Do we speak with him patiently, letting the Word of God and the Spirit work upon him in God's own time?  Do we even treat him with kindness, following the golden rule as even the pagans know it?  Do we control ourselves, making sure that we speak not out of our own passions or fears?

This is the anniversary of Luther's death.  Already on the internet I have seen several things pointing to Luther - pointing to him as the defiant reformer, the brash and bold insulter of heretics, the denouncer of Anti-Christ - and so on and so forth.  And it's sad to me that this is how he seems to be remembered.  The Luther of the letters of Spiritual Counsel is ignored.  The Luther who was willing to believe the best - who dedicated the Freedom of a Christian to the pope, thinking and hoping that surely he was simply being led astray - is forgotten.
The Luther who said that he did nothing is dismissed as we instead create a false image of a hero whom we then vainly emulate. The Luther who prays before preaching not for glory or praise but simply a right understanding of the Word, who prays that God be with him lest Luther himself destroy it all, does anyone speak of this?  It is as though the shepherd is defined by the few times where he had to attack a lion or wild animal, but the normal, every day care is forgotten.

I worry that this is an evidence that we care little for the Word of God, that we care less about a Spirit who brings with Him gentleness or peace or kindness.  We view the Church as a battlefield with fights that we must win, not against Satan, but against each other.  We aim to kill the wounded and erring, lest their cries of distress disturb us.  We seek justification, to defend our actions even as we skewer and bring to light the slightest flaw in our neighbor.

Over and against all of this, all our posturing and political tomfoolery, over and against our ego and false pride where we think that we are kingmakers and movers and shakers, over and against the false dreams of our glorious revolution that will change the world stands this simple truth:  Christ Jesus has died for sinners, of which I am chief.  He did not die for a righteous man when He died for me.  He did not die for someone whom He needed to fix this world or the Church or to slay the modern day dragons of whatever.  He died for a sinner who has often has his own burdens borne by others, who has been patiently taught by true brothers in the faith.

May the God who richly forgives is in Christ, also grant us His gentle Spirit!


Myrtle said...

Back as an evangelical, if I heard once I heard a hundred times that of all the "letters" of the New Testament, the one you did NOT want to get was Galatians.

I have this yearning to hear the Living Word read aloud to me. A while ago, someone read me Galatians all in one sitting (that's how I like the letters read to me). I was struck then--and remain so--at how loving Paul was toward the Galatians, how much he worried about their spiritual welfare and was compassionate of their struggles and a champion of the work the Spirit was doing on behalf of us all in the faith. Love, care, compassion, worry...these are not the facets of the letter ever taught to me but they permeate Paul's writing. I would be honored to have someone care about me in that way.

I think that Galatians had the reputation it did because it was a reputation. I think that there is this terrible habit to take verses and chew and chew and chew on them, making them all about Christian living, until the concept becomes the message, instead of the actual Living Word.

Until I became a Lutheran, I knew a lot of verses. A lot. I read through the Bible myself at least once, if not more, a year. But all I was ever taught were ideas...from verses.

I think that's while I like hearing long passages in Divine Service and why I like to hear the epistles in their entirety instead of in small portions.

So...thank you for this post.

Myrtle said...

PS While I LOVE Luther's fierce language about the Gospel in the Christian Book of Concord, Parts IV and V of the Large Catechism read like love letters from Christ to me, delivered by a man who well understood the anguish of soul and the need for the external confirmation of the Gospel. So, I'm with you on the loving Luther....