Paul writes, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Over the past few Sundays we have read much of the letter of Paul to the Galatians. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the teachings in this letter because I have always liked it. I haven’t preached on it much this time through the lectionary, but I would encourage you to go read it sometime. It’s only 6 chapters long!
The whole of the letter is Paul’s encouragement, counsel, admonition, and advice for Christians trying to follow the wisdom he offered them when he visited the church in Galatia earlier in his journeys. It is filled with lots of good food for thought and is amazingly accurate and timely for us today. Probably the most familiar part is the list of the Fruit of the Spirit read last week. Today we read the last chapter.
These people were so hungry for Paul’s message, and the Church that formed in Galatia was really going well until some folks decided they needed rules about who could belong and who was an outsider. The thing the Galatians were so hung up on, and the main reason Paul was writing to them, was circumcision. Could you belong to this new group of people if you were not circumcised? Today, we don’t even consider it to be something worth talking about. But, this was a really big deal and a huge source of conflict and separation for these people. I keep praying that someday we might get past some of the issues that plague and separate us today. Basically things that keep us from realizing the Kingdom of God.
This morning we hear about living together in community, not through a set of rules or instructions by which to live, but through a model for living a Spirit-filled life. It is the new creation. And it is, as Paul says, everything!
It is not about having to follow one clear set of laws so that one could be included with the “insiders.” It’s more the opposite. Paul keeps saying there were no longer any rules to follow that would determine whether or not you could be part of this new group of people. All of his emphasis was on the relationships between the people and each other and the people and God. When this way was followed, the Kingdom of God would come near.
When he says his handwriting is large, it’s like he’s yelling! He’s angry and frustrated because these wonderful people are missing the point. “I don’t care if he’s circumcised or not! I don’t care if he’s gay or black or educated or Latino or, poor, or, or, or!”
His letter talks of restoring relationships with a spirit of gentleness, taking care of your own temptations, bearing one another’s burdens, and not being prideful of who you are.
The community is responsible to its members. Life in the Spirit is not a life of lonely privacy or one-upping your neighbor. This new church was to be like an extended family of brothers and sisters, and characterized by mutual support in times of need, the willingness to confront one another when necessary, and genuine care for all.
We who live in an isolated, individualistic, striving culture, miss what is being offered here. We are all members of the One Body of Christ and we have a responsibility to be with others, pray for others, hold each other accountable to our actions, and offer each other hope. Given that, I am glad that we have healing prayers this morning.
When I first got here 12 years ago, healing prayers were offered at the end of the service for those who chose to stick around when everyone else went off for coffee. It was only for those who had some special prayer need and those for whom praying with others is some kind of ministry.
Paul says, “let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
As part of the Body of Christ we have the responsibility to be with others, pray for others, hold each other accountable to our actions, and offer each other hope.
In the tradition of our liturgy, prayers for healing with the laying on of hands and anointing are best placed in the middle of the service after the reading of the lessons and before Communion. When we are healed of the things that keep us from God and each other we are able to be most present at the table. When we are sick we are often angry, frustrated, scared…all things that separate us from each other and from God. We do this in much the same way as when we share the Peace. It puts us in right relation with each other and into the heart of Christ.
Healing prayers in Church are about asking for those things that we are afraid to ask for in public, but in community ask for anyway. There’s a subtle difference. In a public setting there is no commitment made by others to take on these responsibilities. In a community there is. This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. It’s easier when we are alone and can ask God for help when we know no one else will hear our prayer, feel our embarrassment, know our pain or fear or humiliation. And yet, it is often only when we can name our prayers in the presence of others, that God can work the miracle of healing grace. We’ve seen it happen over and over. I think this is one of the best things we do at St. Clare’s.
One of the people over the years who has come forward almost every Sunday that we have offered these prayers is Sandy Guthrie. Today is your last Sunday here as you move to Auburn. It will be a big change for you and for us as well. We will miss you a lot. So maybe you’ll have a chance to come back and visit us sometime.
I hope you will come forward today as you usually do. And I would invite anyone who would like to come forward and lay hands on Sandy with me to do so as we ask for healing, comfort, and blessings.
In today’s Gospel is the sentence, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’”
God’s kingdom doesn’t look anything like we might first have imagined.
The more we become the community of believers that Jesus imagined we can become, the more we will recognize the Kingdom of God in and around us.
(C) Rev. Patty Baker
St Clare Episcopal Church