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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

The grace of community

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the Apostle is writing to a community for whom he has real affection. You’re familiar enough with Paul to realize that this love doesn’t preclude the occasional reprimand or extended harangue. Paul is not afraid to list what he calls the "works of the flesh."

It’s a pretty gnarly list—actions and attitudes, appetites and deeds that are destructive to community and to people—drunkenness and deceit, anger and anxiety. The chaos you’ll find in pretty much any community, Christian or not.

In verse 22 of chapter 5, Paul begins to sing another song—this one about the fruit of the Spirit.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

We believe and trust that a seminary education, call and candidacy, CPE and internship, are guided by God’s Holy Spirit. It’s a human process, of course. But it’s also a God thing.

We’re bold to claim and confess God’s presence in our efforts. We call on the spirit to be with us, and following Paul’s advice to this beloved Galatians, we’re wary of being conceited or competing or envying each other—because all of these are options when we are anxious.

And of course we’re anxious. This is complicated stuff, and it impacts real lives and communities. You who are in the midst of internships, tucked into unique contexts with casts of real characters, you are acutely aware of this.

Anxiety and its angry offspring are bound to make appearances from time to time. Our common bondage to sin and its effects assures us of daily failures in this regard. In Christ we are invited beyond captivity, however. We’re invited into a space of being and frames of mind in which conceit and competition and envy—even and especially about our griefs and hurts—give way to something altogether other.

Later in the same letter, Paul writes:

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. (Gal 6:2-5)

We will be responsible for our own work and our loads, our ministries of planning and preparation, our study and service, our thoughtful reflection. We get to take pride in work well done and the outcomes we attempt and achieve, but we also get to bear one another’s burdens.  That’s the grace here; the grace of community to which Paul calls his beloved Galatians, and to which God calls us, too. With the help of the Holy Spirit, marked and made recognizable by those lawless fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we get to bear one another’s burdens.

So before firing off an anxious email or responding to another in anger or exasperation because of worry, take a breath. Recall this list of the freedoms that are ours—that we share together in Christ. Recall the graceful gifts of burden sharing that come with the dying and rising with Christ in baptism.

In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, and savior. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover, our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Amen. (Julian of Norwich)

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