MARCH 15, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard C. Meyer

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            There he stood, cake in his hands, chocolate smeared from ear to ear. There was no doubt. There was no blaming someone else. He had been caught in the act. Johnny was old enough to know better. He had been told not to touch the cake because it was for dinner.

            What do you suppose will happen next? Would he receiving a tongue lashing? Would he be spanked? Would he be sent to time out? Would he be told to go to bed without supper? Or worst yet would he have to wait until his father got home?

            What do you suppose will happen next? And if you were little Johnny, or a little Johnette, what would you like to happen next?

            Amazingly, four percent of people dont like chocolate. So if you are in that four percent, imagine another flavor that would be especially tempting, and imagine it being placed in front of us and we are told not to touch it.  When that happens, bells usually go off. Whistles start blowing. Lights start flashing. Taste buds start salivating. A little demon pops up on one shoulder and an angel pops up on the other shoulder and we find ourselves right in the middle of a battle between good and evil.

            Last week we read this verse For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

            The Apostle Paul continues this train of thought this morning.  He continues writing about this war raging inside each of us, but the takes a little different slant on it.  He asks, How do we treat someone who has lost a battle in this war between the Spirit and the flesh? How do we approach someone who has chocolate cake from ear to ear?

            Look with me quickly at the previous chapter, verse nineteen, where Paul gives examples of sins of the flesh.  He writes, Now the sins of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.

            And we could go on, mentioning things like these, but we wont.  Instead, lets ask what we would want a Christian brother or sister to do if they caught us in one of these behaviors? Would we want them to run and tell others? Would we want them to shake their heads in disgust? Would we want them to run them in the ground?  Would  we want them to look at us and think about how much of a better Christian they are? Or, would we want them to just ignore the situation all together?

            Well, Paul suggests a different approach.  First, he says, Restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Verse one, My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.

            The idea of helping to restore someone who has gone off the tracks seems a little strange to our modern ears.  We live in an age of live and let live, of staying out of other peoples business.  Furthermore, there have been far too many people in our past who have only been too eager to set us straight, yet thats what Paul suggests.  Restore the person in a spirit of gentleness. 

            The two Greek words translated here as transgression and restore are interesting and specific Greek words.  The Greek word for transgression literally means a slip up, like a person might slip on the ice on a walkway or a driveway.  Paul knew that those trying to live by the Spirit will not always get it right.  They may slip up at times.  The other Greek word, translated here as restore, is used for executing a repair, so think of it as the work of a repairperson.  Its also used for the work of a surgeon who sets a broken limb.  So the sense of the word restore is that of a cure, and not that of a punishment. Sin is a breakdown in the machinery of life and sometimes we need help in repairing our lives.

            At one time in my life, before my back started giving me trouble, I played golf.  Im not sure how much everyone knows here about golf, but in golf, there is this thing called a fairway.  When you hit a golf ball, the fairway is where you want your ball to land. The grass is shorter there. The ground is smoother there. And the route to the hole is less encumbered there. Should your ball stray outside the fairway, I suppose it could be said that you have found the "foulway." And while there is no such word as "foulway" (at least until now), it pretty well sums up the problem. In golfing's lexicon, straying from the fairway lands you in the "rough," which (on more difficult courses) is often described as being "unforgiving." And upon reaching the rough, three potential problems or challenges often come into play, all of them bad. You may not be able to find your ball. You may find it, but not be able to hit it. Or you may be forced to take a penalty.

            Now if you are a professional golfer or a member of a very exclusive country club, you have a caddie who not only carries your clubs for you, but also the caddie helps you figure out how to get back on the fairway or how to hit the ball to the green.                      Thats the ministry of restoration.  As gently as we can, we help our brothers and sisters in Christ get back on the fairway. 

            That leads us to the second thing Paul says.  He says, Help relieve the pressure.  He put it this way Verse two Bear one anothers burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

            Whats the law of Christ?  One of two things come to mind. It could be love God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  Thats how Jesus summarized all the law and all the prophets, or it could be, a new commandment I give to you that love one another as I have loved you.  Thats what Jesus said to the disciples on the night he was arrested.  The Law of Christ probably is one of those two things, or a combination of those two things.

            Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a moment.  If we are the ones who have been caught with chocolate cake, or the cake of your choice, from ear to ear, what do we need to hear?  What needs to happen next?

            Well, if it were Jesus who caught us, I am convinced the first thing Jesus would say is Johnny, Mary, Trudy, Lowell whoever I love you, but put the cake down.

            Jesus would say, Johnny I dont condemn you but before we can get you cleaned up you have to put the cake down.

            Then we need to hear someone say, Let me help you carry this plate over to the counter. We need to know that somebody cares. We need to hear someone say, Lets talk about it.

            Author and teacher, Dr. Howard Hendricks tells the story of a young man who strayed from Christ but was finally brought back by the help of a friend who really loved him. Dr. Hendricks asked this Christian how it felt when he had been away from Christ, or in Pauls words when he was living in the flesh and not by the Spirit. The young man said it seemed like he was out at sea, in deep water and in deep trouble and all his friends were on the shore hurling biblical accusations at him about justice, penalty, and wrong. But, there was one Christian brother who actually swam out to get me and would not let me go. I fought him, but he pushed aside my fighting, grasped me, put a life jacket around me, and took me to shore. By the grace of God, he was the reason I was restored. He would not let me go.

            Relieve the pressure. Bear one anothers burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

            Third, Paul says in getting someone back on track, guard against spiritual superiority.  He says it in a couple of places.  In verse one in restoring a person Paul says that in the process, Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.  Then in verse four he says, All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbors work, will become a cause for pride.

            Note the warning.  In a sense its another way of putting Jesus instruction to take the log out of your own eye before taking the speck out of someone elses eye.  We are to do a spiritual and moral inventory of ourselves prior to trying to restore someone else. 

            Reinhold Neibuhr spoke of different types of pride and he said that moral pride is the most dangerous.  He said that most of the evil done in the world is done by good people who do not know they are not good.

            Maybe you heard about the young woman asked for an appointment with her pastor to talk with him about a ongoing sin about which she was worried. When she saw him, she said, "Pastor, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?"

            The pastor replied, "Mary, that's not a sin, that's a mistake!"

            If we think we are better than others, well thats just a mistake.  We need to keep that in mind while engaging in a ministry of restoration.

            One more thing and then we are done.  Paul reminds us to maintain boundaries.  Verse five For all must carry their own loads. 

            Paul seems to have just contradicted what he said in verse two about bearing one anothers burdens.  This is especially true if we had the King James Version of the bible in front of us.  In the King James the nouns in verses two and five are the same: "burdens."  In our translation, the nouns are rightfully different because they come from two different Greek words note the term burden in verse two and the term load in verse five.  As in English, these are two different Greek words.  In verse five the word for load is used for a soldiers pack.  The meaning is that some duties and tasks which we alone can perform, for which we alone must accept responsibility.  Others may support us through their prayers and encouragement, but the load is ours to bear.                  

            Some burdens are meant to be shared as in verse two but some burdens are meant to be shouldered verse five.

            I can ask you to pray for me if Im having surgery, but I am the one going under the knife.  I can ask you to pray for me while I take my drivers test, but Im the one who has to get behind the wheel.  I can ask you to go drive me to the job interview, but Im the one who has to be interviewed.  And on that Final Day, well each stand before God to give an account of ourselves.  No one else well do that for us. And it might get a little uncomfortable or embarrassing, but its our load to carry.  But we wont be alone.  Jesus will say, Yep, he or she chose poorly here and he or she chose poorly there, but I took care of all that on the cross. 

            When that happens all our burdens and loads will be shed.  Burdens: shared, shouldered, and finally shed.  Amen.

[1] Sermon title and introduction borrowed from Bruce Lee, a United Methodist Pastor in Williamsburg, Kentucky.