Do Not Grow Weary – Sermon for September 28/29

Do Not Grow Weary

Galatians 5:25-6:10

Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity

September 28th/29th, 2014

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 

Sisyphus.  Ever heard of him?  He is a character of Greek mythology who, because of Sisyphisthe arrogance that characterized his life, was sentenced to eternal futility.  Sisyphus was to spend his eternity laboring and working to roll a large boulder up a hill every day, only to watch it roll back down each and every time.  He was sentenced to an eternity of useless effort, of senseless sweat, and of humiliating failure each and every day.  He never met his objective, which was to get the boulder to stay at the top of the hill.  Instead, each and every time he made progress pushing the rock higher and higher, it ultimately ended the same way: the boulder bounding and barreling back down to the bottom.  How often do we feel like we are doomed to the same fate as Sisyphus?  We spend hours doing laundry, washing the dishes, and cutting the lawn only to watch the hamper fill up again, the dirty plates pile up in the sink, and the grass and weeds grow unsightly.  We spend hours, days, even years teaching our children how to behave, only to have them continually do the exact opposite.  We toil diligently on a project at work only to have our supervisor or client tell us it isn’t good enough, and we need to start over again.  The examples multiply themselves.  For every Friday afternoon that promises a weekend of rest, there’s a Saturday full of activities and a Sunday night that promises to throw you right back into the meat grinder.  With no end in sight, it’s hard not to get beaten down by it all.  It’s hard not to get tired.

The same is true of our life in the church.  Even here we can be tempted to feel condemned to suffer the fate of Sisyphus, a life of perpetually watching what we want to see done and accomplished remain as elusive as trying to capture the fog of a warm breath in the cold fall air.  Excitement builds when hundreds of people come out to the FunFest, but fades when fewer than 40 people participate in the voters’ meeting.  People come out of the woodwork to help with Fish Fries, but you could hear a pin drop any time there is a request to help with MCREST.  We get excited to see that giving is up this year and that we are taking in more offerings than we expected, but we still can’t seem to get our budget to the point where we can reach our potential by paying our staff what they deserve or by hiring in another full-time worker to coordinate family life programs and community outreach.  It so often feels like no matter what we do or contribute to the life of the congregation, there’s always something more to do.  No matter what we fix in this facility, there’s always something else that needs repair or sits in danger of breaking.  There is much to be excited about here.  There is a world of possibility and potential.  So why does it feel like no matter how hard we push that rock, it’s always rolling back against us?  It’s easy to look out at it all and throw up our hands in defeat.  It’s easy to sigh and allow the weariness to overtake us.

But, dear brothers and sisters, let Paul’s encouragement to the Galatians be his encouragement to us here today.  Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.[1]  Perhaps part of our problem is that we have a skewed perspective of what that harvest actually is.  Perhaps we have photo-5-e1359318654713misunderstood what the life of the baptized is actually like both as an individual, but also as a congregation.  Perhaps that is why in the deepest darkest corners of our hearts, we kind of like to see ourselves as Sisyphus, for that gives us an easy excuse to rationalize giving up.  “If the rock isn’t going to stay on top of the hill anyway, why bother pushing it?” we tell ourselves.  If we can’t balance our budget as it is, why take on new costs?  If that activity doesn’t benefit me, why should I support it?  I’ve got enough to worry about without taking on the added burden of the things St. John needs to get done.  But perhaps that’s the problem.  Perhaps we are so focused on ourselves and our own boulders that we have blinded ourselves to the greater reality in play.

I think our problem is rooted ultimately in two places.  First, I think we have misunderstood what the Christian life is, and have therefore mischaracterized what a “successful” or “healthy” Christian life looks like.  The Christian life is not a destination, it is a journey.  It is a daily dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ.  Repentance and forgiveness is not a one-time event that happens when you arrive at Christianity or “give your life to Jesus.”  It is a habitual, daily practice, one which continues for as many days as you have this side of heaven.  But this is true not just when it comes to repentance and faith, it is true when it comes to the rest of our daily lives as well.  Perhaps we would find more joy in our tasks if we weren’t so focused on whether they were successful or not, on whether the boulder stayed on top of the hill, but on whether or not we were doing them to the glory of God and the best of our ability.

More on that in a minute.  First there’s a something else I think we often miss about our Christian life: this is not a journey we take alone.  An isolated Christian is a contradiction in terms like a female brother or round square.  We were never designed to go it alone in this life.  Take today’s reading, for example.  Paul teaches the Galatians, and us, to restore one another.[2]  But that requires more than one person.  It requires a helping-hands2community.  An isolated individual cannot restore anyone else, and neither can they be restored.  The Church of God, the Christian life, is lived in community.  But how connected are you to this community?  Are you comfortable enough with people here that you would be willing to listen to them if they followed Paul’s instruction and pointed out something in your life that needs correcting?  Are you comfortable enough to be the one helping a fellow believer by restoring them in a spirit of gentleness?  Or would you rather that everyone here just left you alone and let you have your hour of private time on Sunday morning?  This is just speculation on my part, but I’ve always believed that part of the draw of the mega-churches is the anonymity.  You can go into one of those places and not know a single person.  You can sit in the back, get your spiritual fix, and leave without interacting with another individual.  You can be a regular at those places without being part of the community of the baptized.

But this is not the life our Lord has called us to lead.  Our Lord has called us into community, fellowship with him and with one another in this place.  Part of that fellowship is building relationships with those around you that are deep enough that you rejoice when they rejoice and mourn when they mourn.  Part of that fellowship is confessing your sin with one another and receiving forgiveness together.  Part of that fellowship is being united together by being united to the same Jesus as he feeds you individually and his entire body in this place at his altar.  As an isolated Christian, it is impossible not to grow weary of doing good!  Our efforts would never be enough.  If we are going to approach our Christian life alone, then we might as well consider ourselves children of Sisyphus instead of children of the Heavenly Father, for we will never reach our goal.  Rather than of trying to “roll the rock” to the top of the hill by ourselves, we are called to recognize that God has established a community of believers to work together.  One person pushes the rock for a while.  When that person is too tired to push any longer, the rock does not need to roll all the way back to the bottom of the hill; rather, let someone else push.  Hand off the task.  In this way, you will not grow weary of doing good.

So, are you getting tired and ready to hand the task off to someone else?  Are you ready to step up and take the task being handed to you?

Either way, never forget this is a community of sinners.  The church is in many ways a spiritual hospital and rehabilitation center.  We have been washed in the water of baptism so that we might walk in newness of life, but as long as we are this side of heaven we will never be fully free of the consequences of sin in our flesh.  Pride will flare up.  Greed will cloud your imagination.  Anger and frustration will boil under the surface.  Stubbornness will render heels and opinions unmovable.  You are a sinner surrounded by sinners, so you can expect to experience sin.  You will have your feelings hurt, and you will almost certainly hurt others despite your best efforts not to.  The person who takes on the task might not do it exactly the way you would have.  If you take on a task, you might not want to listen to the wisdom of those who have walked this road before.  When there are this many people involved, you can expect disagreement and debate over which course of action would be best for the congregation.  You can expect that there will be bumps in the road.  But that’s ok.  powerThat’s life in the body of Christ, for our unity is found not in that we agree about the best way to operate as a congregation, but in that we are all united under the same Jesus Christ, who is our head and chief cornerstone.  And so while you can expect bumps in the road, you can expect forgiveness even more, for we are first and foremost the forgiven children of God in this place.  We are the sheep of our Good Shepherd.  Here you can confess your sin to the people here when you have hurt them, and they will forgive you.  You will be free from the shame of having wronged another person.  Here you can forgive those who sin against you.  You can be free from the bitterness that eats away at God’s gift of joy for you.

And make no mistake about it, there is much joy to be found in the body of Christ.  Jesus is the vine, we the branches.  We are the body of Christ, rooted and growing in him who is our head.  Left to ourselves, we may be destined to futility and failure, for there are only so many hours in a day, only so many years in a life.  We will never be able to keep that boulder from crashing down alone.  That is why we live and work together.  Even the unbelieving world knows the value of providing for those who will come after us.  Our society has become so conscious about not using up all the non-renewable resources on our planet; there is so much talk of what our carbon footprints and rain forests and melting ice caps will mean for the next generations.  Why do we not speak the same way of the work God has given us to do as his people?  Regardless of what happens with carbon footprints or rain forests, the kingdom of this world will come to an end one day.  But Jesus is the ruler of the kingdom which has no end.  Through baptism and the gift of faith, we are part of that kingdom.  And what’s more, God has chosen to use our imperfect hands to do the work of his kingdom on this earth until that time when we enter into the new and perfect creation to spend eternity not fruitlessly pushing a rock up a hill, but rather using our talents and abilities to the glory of God and in service to the other people in that kingdom, just like Adam and Eve were first designed to do on this earth.  What a joy to be part of this eternal reality!  What a joy to be able to use our talents and abilities in service to those around us, to use the gifts God gave for the reason he gave them!  This is what makes it possible for us to not grow weary in doing good, for we know that through us, God is doing work of eternal significance.

This eternal reality is the foundation that Paul laid in the first 5 chapters of Galatians, and upon which he builds here in chapter 6.  It is the eternal life won by Jesus through his death and resurrection, which become our death and resurrection in the waters of baptism.  This eternal reality is what fills us with endurance so that we do not grow weary in doing good.  We are part of something bigger than ourselves, grafted into the vine that is Christ himself.  Our daily life and efforts have value that far exceeds anything the world can offer, for God is at work through us.  We are part of the body of Christ that extends back into the past, reaping the benefit of what was sown by the Prophets and Apostles and passed down to us through the generations of the faithful.  We are reaping the benefits of those who built and maintained this church and school for its first 150 years.  But just as we are reaping the benefit of those who came before us, so also we are members of the body of Christ that extends into the future. We cannot say how much longer until Jesus comes back, but neither could those Christians in the first 20 centuries since Jesus.  Maybe he comes back tomorrow, maybe it will be 10,000 years after we all die.  We can’t say.  But what we can do is make sure that if there does end up being several more generations of believers, we provide for their wpid-Photo-Aug-29-2008-710-PMneeds as we have been provided for.  We provide them a house of worship to come hear God’s Word, receive the gift of their forgiveness, and respond with songs of praise.  We provide them a school to train up their children in the Word of the Lord.  Our work is not only for those who are among us today, but for those who will come after us too.

And in this way, we do not grow weary in doing good.  We do not grow weary because even if we don’t personally witness the fruits of our labor, we know that God can use them for good in the future.  We do not grow weary because even in those moments of weakness and frustration we have the gift of confession and forgiveness to restore broken relationships.  We do not grow weary because we remember that we are working not merely for ourselves, but for our Lord.

“Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, “What shell we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”[3]  “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  And as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith,”[4] both the household that is around us today, and also the household of believers yet to come.

+INJ+

[1] Galatians 6:9

[2] Galatians 6:1

[3] Matthew 6:31-33

[4] Galatians 6:9-10

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