“Interdependence Day” (Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18)
On July 4, 1776, the United States of America declared their independence from Great Britain. Ironically, just a few days ago, with its Brexit vote, Britain declared its independence from the European Union. What goes around comes around, I guess. But the point is independence. We don’t like other people, or nations, telling us what to do. “You’re not the boss of me!” we think about others.
No, I’m not your boss. In fact, I’m your servant. And you know what? You’re called to be my servant, too. That’s how it works in the church. We are a community of servants, all called to serve and care for and love one another. We will see this in our text for today, the Epistle lesson from Galatians chapter 6. So instead of Independence Day, in the church God declares every day to be “Interdependence Day.”
Now there may be an occasion for declaring independence, politically speaking, to throw off the shackles of an oppressive, tyrannical government. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. Today, in the church, I’m saying that God calls us to a proper interdependence. And even more than that, first of all, we start with our absolute dependence on God.
Complete dependence on God? That rubs our Old Adam the wrong way. We don’t like that. To have no other gods? But I want to be my own god, make my own decisions on what is right and wrong for me! Who cares what God says? Fear, love, and trust in God above all things? No, there are plenty of things I love more than God. Because, frankly, I don’t trust him all that much. God might spoil my fun. He may not let me do what I want to do.
Friends, that is sin speaking. Anytime we think we know better than God, anytime we want to tune out God and not listen to what he has to say on the matter, that is sin. That’s that old Adamic sinful nature rising up in us. We want to be independent of our Creator. Just like our first parents, Adam and Eve. The desire for independence from God led to their downfall. And it leads to our downfall, too. In fact, that desire ends in death.
And that same desire for independence from God also leads to us not loving or caring for our neighbor. Look at Adam and Eve. As soon as they took a bite of that apple, they started biting and devouring each other. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Then the next generation. Cain slew Abel, his brother. That is hardly caring for one another. That is selfishness. And it stems from our desire to be independent of God.
But our true need is for full dependence on God, from start to finish. Fully rely on God–that’s the way to go. Rely on God for forgiveness. Depend on God for eternal life. And you can depend on him. His promises are sure. The peace and mercy he provides us are centered in what is sure and reliable, namely, the cross of Jesus Christ. If you trust in yourself to be your own god, if you take pride in yourself and think you can provide for your own salvation, you will be sorely disappointed, to say the least. “But,” as Paul says in our Epistle lesson, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The cross of Christ–lean on him, depend on him for your very life, for your eternal life. For on that cross, Jesus did everything you need to be saved. He shed his holy blood, the Son of God did, to atone for all of your sins. You are clean and forgiven in Christ. His righteousness is credited to your account, through faith. You are no longer cut off from God, alienated. No, now you are reconciled back to God, at peace with him, through our Savior Jesus Christ.
This changes everything. God changes your status from enemy to friend. From slave to free. From dead to alive. From outsider to God’s dearly loved child. He’s claimed you as his child in Holy Baptism. God has brought you into his family, the church. And this is where we live in community, all of us members of the body of Christ.
Our life together is marked by care and love, mutual care and love. This is what I mean by interdependence. It means we rely on one another. We build up one another. We are the body of Christ. We don’t pull ourselves apart. We don’t cut ourselves off from the body. We don’t say, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” That’s looking at it the wrong way. We are the church. God has made us his family. And he has done this for a purpose. Through our life together in the church, through our regular receiving of the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, we are strengthened in our faith and we are strengthened in our love for one another. Even our physical presence here on Sunday mornings helps our fellow members. They are encouraged just by the sight of you sitting in the pew. They hear you adding your voice to the singing of the hymns and the confessing of the Creed, and they are encouraged. But if you are not here, that encouragement is diminished.
Furthermore, it is by our getting to know one another, talking to one another after the service, listening to one another in Bible class discussion, talking to one another during the week–this is how we discover who our brothers and sisters are, what their needs are, what their joys are. We find out how we might be able to help one another in some practical ways.
This is what happens in a family. And notice, in our text Paul speaks of the church as family. He addresses the Christians there in Galatia as “brothers.” That’s family language. The church is God’s family. We’re all part of this little family of believers here at St. Matthew’s. And we’re part of a great big extended family around the world, the holy Christian church. We are children of God, through our brother Jesus. And that makes us in the church all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’ve all been baptized into the family.
So when one part of the family is hurting, we all are hurting. When one part of the family is rejoicing, we all rejoice. When one brother or sister goes astray, we seek to bring him or her back. Paul writes: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” You see, this is done in a humble, gentle spirit of restoration, when one member of the family gets off the path. We want to see that brother or sister restored, brought back.
As family, we bear one another’s burdens. That’s what we do as Christians. That’s what Paul says in our text, isn’t it? “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Christ has given us the new commandment, to love one another as he has loved us. As new creations in Christ, we are called to live this way. And God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and the like.
And that love takes specific shape, at the point of our brother’s or sister’s need. It takes the shape of good works done as the fruit of faith. We don’t earn our salvation by our good works. No, that’s already been taken care of, by Christ. It is his good works by which we are saved. Jesus’ keeping of the law on our behalf. Jesus’ dying on the cross for our forgiveness. Jesus’ rising from the dead, assuring our resurrection. Those are the good works by which we are saved–his, not ours.
Nevertheless, you and I are called and equipped to a life of good works. Paul writes: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” So the love of Christ for us flows out into a life of love from us. Good works, doing good to others, that is love put into action. It’s not just a warm, fuzzy feeling in our heart. It’s love put into action through our hands, our feet, and our mouth.
What are the ways this week you can show love to others through your hands, feet, and mouth? Is there someone you haven’t seen around here in a while who could use a phone call or a visit? Is there a family that might be struggling that you could help out in some way? Is there someone who could use a ride to church or a ride to the doctor? These are just a few of the ways we can love and support one another interdependently, as the church, those who are of the household of faith. And I’m sure you can think of other ways, as the opportunities present themselves. This is not even to mention doing good to those outside the church, which we also will do as people filled with the love of Christ.
So tomorrow go ahead and celebrate Independence Day. It is fitting as Americans that we do so. But don’t forget that tomorrow and every day for us in the church is Interdependence Day. God has declared it so. God has declared you righteous, for Christ’s sake. He has brought you into his family, the church, the community of the baptized. Here we are brothers and sisters, a new creation in Christ, enlivened by the Spirit. We love and care for one another. We restore the wandering brother. We bear one another’s burdens. As the fruit of faith, we do good to one another in our life together. All this, by God’s grace, working through the gospel.
And so we conclude, as Paul concludes Galatians: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”