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. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
Not long after the Saxon immigrants arrived in Missouri under the leadership of Martin Stephan, Pastor Loeber heard the tearful confessions of several of his young female parishioners. The community’s leader, Bishop Stephan, was having sexual affairs with these young women. Pr. Loeber realized that this was a powder keg, but he did right the thing. It was painful and scandalous, but he exposed the abuse and publicized it. There was strong pressure to hush things up, to keep it quiet. But he did not. He believed that the forgiveness and love of Christ were larger than the sins committed. The sin would always have power if it was kept secret. Exposed to the light of day and the Gospel, sin could be put away forever.
After it all came out and Martin Stephan was banished from the community, Pr. Loeber then did something else which was equally important. Within his congregation remained this small group of young women whose reputations had been tarnished. In 19th century society, the social stigma which went with such an affair might have followed them for the rest of their lives. He wrote a letter to his parish. He told the whole congregation that these women had come to him, confessed their own participation, repented of all their sins, and had been forgiven. It was now incumbent on the whole community to live out that strong forgiveness for these young women. Jesus had died for them. Forgiveness was given to them.
I spoke the other day with a woman who was a sixth-generation descendant of one of those young women in Pastor Loeber’s congregation. She herself is a student of Lutheran history. When she studied this event, she had been surprised to find that her own ancestor had been one of those young women. That was news to her. Her grandmother had gotten married and lived a full life inside that very community, having multiple children and a faithful loving husband. Pr. Loeber’s letter had worked, so much so that she did not even know this about her own ancestor, even though it was public knowledge. It had not mattered so much anymore.
Paul enjoins us to restore the sinner in a spirit of gentleness. He warns us against another temptation, the temptation of a spiritual pride which pays only lip service to the idea of forgiveness but never lives it out, holding oneself above the sins of another person. Pr. Loeber’s letter reminded his congregation that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and all of us need the forgiveness of Jesus. He freely gives to you and me and freely gave to those young women too. He has forgiven everyone you will ever know.