October 2, 2016 Speaker: Series: Finding the Right Blueprints
Topic: Default Passage: Galatians 6:1–6:6
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well good morning again. I hope you are all doing well this morning. Well we are continuing our series looking at the values of ECO, our denomination. And just once again as a reminder, you don’t have to be a part of ECO to get something out of this series. It is a series hopefully about how the church can live into the vision that Jesus gave us and that the apostles Peter and Paul and many others tried to put into practice. And so this morning, we are going to be looking at the value of accountable community. This is something that ECO has really put quite a bit of time and resources toward, how do we create both leaders and churches that are in accountability relationships with each other. Here is the value as you will find it in ECO’s literature: We believe guidance is a corporate spiritual experience. We want to connect leaders to one another in healthy relationships of accountability, synergy, and care. And so, just to kind of set the stage, we are going to watch a video from one of the ECO/Fellowship Gatherings, this one was in Colorado Springs in 2014. So that is a bit of a picture of what accountability relationships in ECO are to look like. We are also going to focus in on a scripture passage all about accountability. So, if you want to open your Bibles or join along on the screen, we are going to be in Galatians 6 verses 1-6: Galatians 6:1-5 Gal. 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. Martin Luther, as many of you know, was an Augustinian monk who started the Protestant Reformation. For Luther, the big question was, how can a perfect God save a sin-infested human being. That’s kind of a creepy way of putting it. Luther was obsessed with his own sinfulness, and he was afraid that God was going to condemn him to hell because of those sins. He would often be in the confessional as a good Catholic, only Luther was perhaps more intent on having his sins absolved than most others. No sooner would he have left the confessional booth than he would remember some other sin he had committed, turn around run into the confessional and keep going. And then something happened. Luther discovered grace in the Bible. He realized that his salvation was not dependent on confessing his sins over and over to have a perfect record, but that the sacrifice Christ made was once and all time. This realization of course changed the entire trajectory of Luther’s life and ultimately began the Protestant Reformation that we are one strain of…it has been almost 500 years since Luther started what is considered by most scholars to be the Reformation. Actually, to be exact, next October 31st, Halloween 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the Luther’s hammering of the 95 theses, his protestations against abuses within the Catholic Church, which started the Protestant Reformation. And now why I bring all this up. One of Luther’s most famous sayings is this: We are simultaneously Justified, and sinners. That is, for those who are in Christ, we have been justified by Christ’s blood on the cross, that is, we are made right with God, and at the very same time, we are still sinners. And so the question is, with that being the case, how are we supposed to live. One of the major themes in Galatians, perhaps the biggest theme in Galatians is “freedom”. And the reason for this is contextual, Paul is writing to a community of Christians that had allowed themselves to be influenced by an outside group that told them, if they wanted to really be faithful followers of God that they had to observe the Jewish Law. And so with this in the background, Paul argues, just one chapter before our text, that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Freedom was also one of Martin Luther’s favorite themes from all of scripture. He had experienced tremendous freedom from his own conscience once he truly grasped grace. But what does freedom look like exactly? In our secular culture, usually freedom is seen as freedom from something or someone. The main thesis of the Declaration of Independence is this: when governments turn into tyrannical organizations, the people should be free to throw off the shackles of injustice and form “a more perfect union” as Abraham Lincoln once put it. Now, that is, I believe, a good and right statement. We should be free from tyranny, but just as importantly, we must ask the question, what are we free for? That is , what is the point of freedom? Paul tells us in our text that true freedom, the freedom created by Christ on the cross, is not a license to sin, but an opportunity to love. 1 John tells us that God is love, and John 3:16 told us that God so loved the world that he sent his only son…love, agape love, that is unconditional love, is what freedom is for. And so the question is, what does loving our neighbor look like? And our text this morning gives us a picture of what love looks like in hard situations, when we need accountability to help us grow stronger in our faith. Now, I just want to make it clear that this passage is focused on accountability as it relates to someone who has sinned, but for ECO, the idea of accountable community is quite broader. Yes, holding each other accountable to sin is part of what ECO is about, but in the context of ministry it also has to do with the question, are we being faithful in our calls as pastors, as elders, as partners together in the ministry of Christ’s Church. So with the rest of our time, I’d like to look at 3 key elements of accountable community as we see them here in Galatians. And the first is this, a true understanding of our standing, as both justified and sinful, should encourage us to recognize our need for accountability. One of the things I’ve noticed in churches is that members of congregations can be somewhat naïve about human failings. When something goes significantly wrong in the church, it’s a shock to the system, especially if it’s a pastor. Part of the reason for this is what you might call “good intentions”…we want to see the best in people and so we are shocked when some serious sin emerges in their lives. But, we ought to know that sin is pervasive, even in true followers of Jesus. John Calvin, our theological forbear, argued that we are “totally depraved”, which doesn’t mean that we are massive sinners, but rather that sin touches every part of us. But this is exactly why we need accountability in the first place, because we do struggle, we do have areas of weakness. A part of the reason I think pastors sometimes fail is because as wonderful as ministry can be, it can also feel lonely, especially when you are the only pastor on staff, and so, I think it is very wise for ECO to encourage pastors to be in accountability groups. Some of you may remember I was out in Colorado in April, and that was a couple days for us pastors to pray for each other, to share both the excitement and challenges of ministry. And as great as that group has been, and we do communicate throughout the year, I’ve decided that I need to be in more regular contact, regular accountable community, and so I’ve decided to pursue that with one of my pastor friends, to have a time monthly to share our struggles, as well as how God is working in our lives. But of course, this isn’t one of those things that you rush into. Anyone you choose to be accountable to has to be someone you trust, because, as we’ll see here in a minute, accountability is something that needs to be done with significant caution. Let’s look again at part of our text: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” The first thing you may notice is that Paul doesn’t say everyone should practice accountability but those who live “by the Spirit”. To live “by the Spirit” is to not see with worldly eyes, but with the eyes of God himself as the Holy Spirit works within us. Secondly, the text tells us that the goal of accountability is restore them gently. We don’t hold people accountable to shame them, or even to punish them, but to restore them into the community. Paul then goes on to describe what someone ought to do before they approach someone and that is to “test their own actions”. That is, make sure your motive is clear, that you are willing to call someone else out, not because you think you are better than them, but because you see that their behavior is hurting themselves, and to love them, to truly love them, is to point out the sin so that they might heal. And what I would like to say is that, to do this, to truly examine your own heart and be willing to approach a brother or sister with cause, should be a vulnerable experience, not just for the person that is being called out, but for the one doing the rebuking in the first place. This should be a place where both parties acknowledge their own struggle with sin, and their desire to grow together more and more in Christian maturity. And this brings me to my last point, which is that accountable relationships will produce healthier churches. We often have a tendency in church, and Tower is not uncommon in this, to act like everything is going well when we come in these doors, and perhaps often it is. But the problem is, there’s usually a lot more going on under the surface. So the question is, do we have the kinds of relationships where we are willing to be vulnerable with one another? I’ll never forget in my own life when I was in high school one day I was talking with my youth pastor and after a while he kind of cut me off, probably because that was the only way to get a word in edgewise, and he said to me “do you ever ask how anyone else is doing”. Now, that was probably not the best way of approaching my self-centered teenage conversation skills, but it was the first time someone told me that I did this. And while I was most likely a bit offended at the time, I still listened, and ultimately decided that he was right. From that time on, I’ve tried to be a better listener, I’ve tried to avoid dominating conversations, not simply to be polite, but because that is the model Jesus has given us. But the question I’ve wondered is, why did I listen to him? When you are young you get corrected all the time, especially by your parents, so much so that after a while it can be hard to listen. I’m sure some of you out there are resonating with this both as a child and as a parent. But something about this, not only helped me change my behavior, but I still remember it to this day. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One it wasn’t my parents…two, and perhaps more importantly, my youth pastor was someone who had earned my trust…he was someone that had spent a lot of time with me, and I think, he genuinely cared for me. And so, I guess I was inclined to listen to him. So who do you have in your life that you could turn to for accountability? At the beginning of this sermon we remembered the great Church reformer Martin Luther. The Reformation that has led to churches like ours, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Non-denominational, all have their roots in the work of Martin Luther. But that work began not because Luther was interested in church politics, but because he was deeply troubled by the problem of sin. His conscience was constantly troubled by his own fallen nature. And so when he discovered grace, when he truly grasped that we are not saved by our works, but solely on the sacrifice of Christ, the question remained, how now do I live? I am fully justified in Christ, but I continue to sin. And the answer, at least partly, has been to encourage us to mutual accountability. To call us into relationships where we can be honest about our sins, our sins of comission, the sins we commit knowingly, and our sins of omission, the sins we commit without even knowing it. The truth is, we are all flawed, in many ways broken, but we also have the light of Christ within us. And so, do we have the courage to be vulnerable with one another, with those we trust to acknowledge that we have areas of growth. This is true in our own lives and it’s true also for our churches. Just as individuals can have blind spots, so can our churches, and so we need this accountability. And so as we close our time together this morning, may we remember the words from our first scripture reading : “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” May we be a church filled with cords of three strands. Amen. Amen. Today as many of you know is World Communion Sunday. It is a day celebrating the unity of the church, not just in Western Pennsylvania or the United States, but around the world. It is a reminder that while we may be separated by languages and cultures, that the most important thing about us can bring us together, and that is Jesus Christ. We celebrate communion not just to draw attention to the communion we now experience with God because of Christ’s sacrifice, but also the communion we celebrate with Christians around the globe, as the Holy Spirit binds us together. And so as a symbol of the communion of the worldwide church, we are going to encourage those of you who are able to create a circle around the church. For those of you for whom that is difficult, please feel free to stay in your seat and servers will come to you. All who call Jesus Lord and Savior are welcome to this table Invitation to the Lord’s Table Jesus said: Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if those who hear my voice open the door, I will come in to them and eat with them, and they with me. O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy are all who find refuge in God! Words of Institution We give you thanks that the Lord Jesus, on the night before he died, took bread, and after giving thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he took the cup, saying: This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me. Prayer of Thanksgiving Help us, O God, to love as Christ loved. Knowing our own weakness, may we stand with all who stumble. Sharing in his suffering, May we remember all who suffer. Held in his love, may we embrace all whom the world denies. Rejoicing in his forgiveness, may we forgive all who sin against us. Give us strength to serve you faithfully, until the promised day of resurrection, when with the redeemed of all the ages we will feast with you at your table in glory. Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, eternal God, now and forever. Amen.