Saturday, August 11, 2007

Making sense of the text

It's good to be back on the sermon treadmill! There's something about the weekly discipline of having a text that you must make sense of and find a message in for an expectant congregation.

We're still working our way through Galatians and one of the problems of having written about it is that I tend to assume preparing sermons on any passage will be relatively straightforward. If only!

This Sunday I'm preaching on 6:1-10 - often seen as a pot pouri of ethical advice with no coherent thread of thought. Working with it though once more, I wonder if I might have discerned a strand of Paul's thought that unifies these verses into a clarion call to build community by walking in the Spirit in the light of the coming judgment - and thus provide a fitting climax to his whole argument.

The thread runs as follows: having appealed to his hearers to keep in step with the Spirit since we have crucified our old natures and been made alive by the Spirit (5:24-26), we need to help each other walk the line the Spirit lays out for us (6:1-2). This means we have to be realistic about ourselves (3-5), recognise that we're as prone to fail as anyone and that we need one another.

In particular we need our teachers (6 - always a good thing for a preacher to come across!). So we bear one another's burdens - possibly focused on the causes and consequences of sin and failure that we help one another with) but we each carry our own load - which is what exactly?

The harvest we have sown (7-10). The load is what we carry into the presence of God on the day of judgment and can take justifiable pride in (as Paul was often saying - see Phil 2:16 and Rom 15:17 for example).

And what is that harvest? it's the result of doing good to one another and in the wider world (10). Making the most of every kairos (10 - opportunities) because the kairos (9 - proper time) is coming when we'll have to account for what we've done, who we've lived for and why.

And so the argument comes full circle. It starts with Paul telling us to look out for one another, bear the burdens that sin lays on us from time to time and it ends by telling us to be on the look out for opportunities to do good to one another - which I take to mean encourage, support, help, be there for our brothers and sisters in a way that means they are less likely to be overtaken by a sin (the word suggests an ambush).

Does that make sense? If so, then it seems to me that these verses give us a coherent picture of life in the Spirit in the community of Jesus' followers.

Living it's the thing, of course, though knowing what God wants of us is a good start.


Stuart Blythe said...

Pursuing a theme from my own blog - What size was the Galatian Church? I don't know about you Simon but when invited to speak places I always ask 'How many will be there?' - this is not a question regarding whether or not the event will be worthwhile but is a part of the 'context' that will play some part in shaping at least the application of the message. So I am wondering now about church sizes in making sense of NT books - can you help or is this not a usual question? You can answer here or over in my blog or just ignore me and whatever I won't be hurt!

simon said...

I've posted a couple of responses to Stuart's question on his blog. I am just like him - I always ask how many people will be in a group that I'm speaking to. The size of the group affects how you communicate in all sorts of ways. It's not that big numbers are better just that they have to be tackled differently from small numbers. I often prefer to dialogue with a small group than deliver a monologue to a large group.

Stuart Blythe said...

Hi Simon many thanks for your responses. I found all of this really interesting. thanks for taking the time. Will read some of this material in a quite new way now.