Galatians 6:1-10 (from The Message but using more inclusive language)
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore them, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience. Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, they will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All they’ll have to show for their life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work within them, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Rev. Lillian Daniel, who, by the way, happens to be pastor to two of my kids, shared the following story. “When I was a child,” she writes, “my mother would proudly tell people, ‘Lillian is like a little cat. Whichever way you throw her, she always lands on her feet.’ She meant it as a compliment. We had chaotic lives, moving from one country to another, my father in and out of war zones. And that was just what was visible from the outside. Not all our family’s war zones were in another country. What my mother meant was that I could take it. I may have been little but I was tough, agile, canny and cunning, like a stray cat that always lands on its feet.”
Lillian goes on to say, “[But] later, as an adult, I began to question the metaphor. What kind of person throws a cat? And furthermore, what kind of person stands by to watch it happen? Picture a poor cat flailing about in the air – thrown against its will, furry limbs thrashing about in the sky, scrambling in the nothingness for a foothold that does not exist. Finally, upon descent, all four paws find their way down through gravity at just the right moment to have the padding scraped off them by the unforgiving concrete below.
What kind of person, after watching all that, responds by congratulating the cat on its graceful landing? How about this for an alternative? Stop throwing cats. And if you see one about to get thrown, step in and stop it. And if you hear one crying out for help, don’t listen in dispassionately like you’re a scientist performing an experiment on resilience, waiting to see how things turn out. Step up and stop the experiment. By the time you’re congratulating a cat for landing on its feet, you have missed the chance to do something real. You can’t go back and change that. Just be on the lookout for the next cat flailing in the air. And next time, try to help.[i]
Now, I this devotional message (which I lovingly refer to as the “cat juggling” story) is poignant both in terms of Paul’s message that we just heard and as we continue to live through an era of distraction, defamation, and disinformation.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he invites us to make a careful exploration of who we are within this thing we call church. Paul goes on to then invite us to spend some time discerning this “calling” …he refers to it as “the work we’ve been given.” And finally, Paul encourages us to go and do that work!
Seems pretty simple, right? We’ve all been called, led, challenged, invited (choose your verb here) …we’ve all been drawn to these congregations in some way and we’ve been discerning our individual roles within these communities ever since. Now, some of us are called to various leadership roles within the church; president/moderator, treasurer, board member, so forth and so on. Others are led to share their talents; music or reading scripture or teaching Sunday School just to name a few. Other people feel the need to attend to the spiritual or emotional welfare of others and some of us are called to oversee the financial end of things or to encourage others in their faith journey. All of these things, and so many more, are what makes our churches go. The people, all of you, are the engine powering the mission and ministry of Cable and Delta United Churches of Christ. Make no mistake about it. All of this works because each of you have answered your calling to participate in the present Realm of God here on earth.
But even so, even with all of that being said, this is where Paul gives us pause, a bit of warning one might say. He writes, “Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” The “creative best” you can. I like that! God doesn’t call us to be mindless robots. God didn’t infuse humankind with reason for no reason. We’re called, my friends, to creatively go about doing our best as we live-into this calling to be welcoming, inclusive, compassionate, and forgiving individuals …and as congregations.
Now, Paul’s warning brings us back around to the cat juggling illustration that I alluded to earlier. Remember that Lillian Daniel questioned the “humane-ness” of throwing cats just to see if they land on their feet. And rightly so. But I think the metaphor goes a little deeper. In our nation today, and unfortunately, within too many of our faith communities, there is an acceptance of morally questionable stances on social issues.
Take this issue of lying for example. Emmanuel Kant, arguably the greatest moral philosopher of the modern era, asserted that it’s never okay to lie. Never! Why? Because the consequences of lying outweigh any hurt feelings or avoided argument that may ensue. Lying however, or “alternative facts” as lying has come to be known, has become the norm rather than the exception. And the problem with a lie is that if you tell it enough, people will start to believe it.
The best and most extreme example of this is the Q Anon conspiracy theory. If you haven’t heard of this one, hold on to you hat. It alleges that, through a secret source called Q, there’s a liberal cabal who runs an international human trafficking ring, they’re pedophiles, cannibals, and they’re spreading the Corona Virus using 5G. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, actually, you can, because this is of course nothing but a load of bull. But if you tell a lie over and over and over again, maybe some of it will stick. Now, I’m going to write more about Q Anon and the sociological and theological damage it has the potential to cause in my upcoming November newsletter article, but for now it’s suffice to say that none of it is true. None of it! Q Anon is completely off-the-rails! But some of our neighbors, some of our friends, perhaps even some of our fellow Christians have fallen for this nonsense.
So, what do we do? Do we correct them with the truth? Yes. But are we to shame them? No. Are we to toss them in the air to see if they land on their feet” of course not. If we wouldn’t be so inhumane to a cat, why in the world would we defame or denigrate our fellow human being, our friend or family member, our fellow followers of Christ? That’s simply not what we’re called to do as people of faith.
But what we are called to do is employ our “creative best.” I mean, when the fervor of this election season becomes a part of history, those fooled will begin to see Q Anon for what it really is: a lie. Our task then, is to welcome them back into the fold. Lovingkindness goes further than shame, always.
Paul says in our lesson for today, “If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.”
So as to complete Christ’s law. That’s powerful. That’s the Truth. That’s the essence of, and the burden of, being in relationship with others. Christ’s law is one of compassion, grace, and kindness. It’s about reaching out a hand to those who are down and forgiving those who have hurt you. “If you think you are too good for that,” Paul says, “you’re badly deceived.”
Let me leave you with one final thought today. The 14th century theologian, Meister Eckhart, once said, “Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature–even a caterpillar–I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.”[ii]
God is in all of our fellow human beings, and cats, and caterpillars for that matter, and all of these things have worth and are valued in the Realm of God. This is such an important concept to remember as we elect our next president, as we tackle the huge problem of racial injustice, which include things like the economy, jobs, and community policing. And these words from Eckhart still ring true as we take on the ominous task of addressing global climate change. “So, full of God is every creature.” My friends, if we approach the world with this mindset, we will have taken the first step in living-into Christ’s law. We will be living, loving examples of Truth.
May it be so for you and for me.
Amen & Amen.