Caught out in sin; Caught up in grace. Together

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“I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.”

That’s P.G.Wodehouse, writing as Bertie Wooster.

It’s a pretty good analysis of Paul’s warning to the Galatians (Gal 6:1-2): “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin…”

The Greek word translated “caught” means entrapped or snared. It carries the idea of being surprised. (The bit of lead piping!). It’s as if someone or something that you thought that you’d left behind you, had quietly sneaked up, laid in wait ahead and tripped you up.

Like a bad habit, or thought process, or a worldly way of doing, thinking or saying.

You may think (for example) that you’ve got your anger problem sorted. And so you have, when all is well. But then when that guy just nips in and takes the last parking space ahead of you, it flares up inside with a burst of adrenalin….

And it may be that you are caught in behaving just as you used to, in your thoughts, in your words, and maybe even in your actions.

Or make your own example up from a thousand possible everyday situations.

And you’ve been caught, trapped in sin.

But Paul, interestingly, doesn’t focus on the one who has just lost it (again) but on the “brothers and sisters” standing around. That’s important. It reminds you that he’s talking about “family life” inside the community of those who follow Jesus, not on a random situation of sinful behaviour.

So what’s our role, then, as “brothers and sisters”? “You who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. …”

Eugene Peterson provides a fresh slant in The Message:

“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.”

I like that: “Forgivingly restore him…” It makes me think of Jesus, who knew no sin himself, quietly reaching out to those about him who had got caught in it. Zaccheus was bowled over by the simple kindness and acceptance that Jesus showed (in Luke 19). “Where are your accusers?” Jesus asked the woman caught in adultery. They were gone, because Jesus had forced them to see that they themselves were not in a fit position to judge anyone at all. “Let he that is without sin cast the first stone…” (John 8)

And it was to another woman, worn out after a lifetime of broken relationships, (“You’ve had five husbands and the man you are now with is not your husband”) that he offered not accusation or even criticism, only restoration.

He didn’t ask if she was sorry about the past. He asked if she was thirsty for something more. (John 4)

There’s a wonderful moment in the life of David when an old woman instructs the king with the words: “God devises ways to bring the banished home.”

And that’s exactly what Jesus did, through the day-to-day of his everyday life. The life of grace.

And that’s the lifestyle to which Paul called the Christians in Galatia. The Message continues:

“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.” (Gal 6:2-3)

Here’s the NIV: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.

I’m very struck by Peterson’s opening clause. Did you notice it? It’s “Live creatively, friends.” There’s a way of living that is uncreative. We may think we’ve got clear of all the stuff that used to clog up our brains and so we become just a little bit smug and self-satisfied. But isn’t that rather me-centred? Your own lapses and flare-ups should remind you (before they are quickly smothered and airbrushed out of your memory) that you’re just the same yourself….

So be creative about your own lack of perfection! Admit who you are yourself and get on with the business of stooping and reaching. Share their burdens. We’re all in this together. Be creative in the way that you forgive people. Not as a lordly Have-It-All throwing coins to the peasants, but as a brother, a sister, squeezing in an extra chair at the table for the one who is hungry.

It’s all about creating family.

“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

That’s Brene Brown

“Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, who like me His praise should sing?”

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