These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, February 18, 2018. The discussion was based upon a reading from Galatians 5:13-6:2.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here. Note: the questions on this handout are often different from the questions raised in the discussion.
It is one of the earliest questions asked in the Bible.
Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. As in every family, each child has his own specific responsibilities: Abel cared for the flocks, and Cain farmed the fertile land.
One day Cain and Abel presented their offerings to God. Both had worked hard to present their best to God. Cain had created a beautiful cornucopia overflowing with fruits and vegetables from the farm. Cain was proud of his offering. Abel threw a barbecue with the choicest cuts of meet from the flock.
God, the scriptures say, “looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice.” Perhaps, it was Cain’s pride that left a sour taste in God’s mouth. Cain became angry, and after God had left, lured Abel into the fields and murdered him. God came looking.
As God searched, he asked Cain about his brother. Cain lied and replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, Common English Bible).
That question has echoed throughout history as humanity has struggled to live with one another. In the wake of yet another tragic mass shooting, as climate change makes even more erratic changes in the weather, as our political and religious opinions divide us, as the gap between those who have and those who don’t (and those who may never have) grows the question lingers: am I my brother’s keeper?
What responsibility do we (as human beings) have toward one another?
Within the church, do we bear special responsibility toward one another?
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, described Methodist “societies” as “a company of [persons] having the form of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”
What does it mean to watch over one another in love?
How might this type of care and responsibility toward one another help us each to work out our salvation?
Paul, in his letter to the church in Galatia, tells us that the love of our neighbor fulfills the law that “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, Common English Bible) are the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are attitudes that bear responsibility for the other.
When we absolve ourselves of responsibility and live for ourselves we are not living according to the Spirit (see Galatians 5:19-21). Paul will go so far as to suggest that we, those of us who are spiritual, have a responsibility to help each other remain faithful and other centered.
We have, in the words of our Discipline, an
obligation to participate in the corporate life of the congregation with fellow members of the body of Christ. A member is bound in sacred covenant to shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members. A Christian is called to speak the truth in love, always ready to confront conflict in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
We are called to bear responsibility toward one another. We are called to a commitment to support and care for one another that each of us might, in the end, be found faithful. When we absolve ourselves of this commitment, we not only jeopardize our own salvation, but also that of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What does this commitment toward one another–a commitment to help each other work out their salvation–look like in practice?
Over the next 5 weeks, we’ll be exploring our commitment to uphold the church—one another—with our prayers, presence, gifts and service, and witness. I hope you’ll join the conversation that we each might grow in faith and love and be found faithful to God and one another!
 from ¶219. Mutual Responsibility in The United Methodist Book of Discipline: 2016 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016).