The Rev. Peter M. Carey
7 July 2013 Sermon
St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Charlottesville, VA
This Christian journey is one that on some levels is very basic, very simple, and yet, simplicity demands work.
In our Collect today, we pray that we are aware that God has taught us that to keep all the commandments, we can do this by loving God and our neighbor, and we pray that God would “Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection.” Simple enough, Love God, love your neighbor. Why do we make it so hard? Well, perhaps we do, and perhaps we don’t. The reality, is that this is really easier said than done, isn’t it? For whatever reason, we have trouble loving God, perhaps this is because life can be hard, and it seems that God could have prepared some softer landings for us when we fall. It seems, perhaps, that God has not really prepared us for the suffering and pain of life. In our happy moments, in our quiet moments, we enter into the space of gratefulness, we enter into spaces of reconciliation and peace, however, in the midst of the battles of life, it can be hard to embody gratefulness, reconciliation and peace.
For whatever reason, here on earth, we have trouble loving our neighbors, our neighbors on this earth far away of course, those who don’t look, talk, act, and believe as we do. But, we also have trouble loving our neighbors right down the street as we might.
But, of course, in times that are tough, we recognize the fact that “love is a verb,” that love is action, love is caring for one another, love is recognizing oneself in the other, recognizing the needs that we have are the needs that others have. Love also may, in fact, mean that we are called to love those who are nearby, and yet who don’t really see things the way we do.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul offers some hard rhetoric to those in Galatia who have been taken astray by “false gospels,” and
In Galatians, Paul admonishes his hearers to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This means, of course, that we are asked to carry our own burdens, but also that from time to time we have to carry each others’ burdens. Of course, the most tangible and obvious way think of this admonition is to think of a hiking trip or a bike trip when you are loaded down with supplies, loaded down with stuff. And, of course each person on the hike/bike has to carry their own stuff – but also there is communal food, gear, and tools that need to be carried by all. [the “groover”] At times in the journey, we also may have to take up the loads of others, we may need to transfer some of their stuff to our bags. And, even may need to load themselves their own bodies, right on our backs – much like Samwise Gamgee had to do with Frodo at one point in their journey with the Ring. Sam loaded Frodo right on his back – taking up not only the burden of the Ring, but also the entire load of Frodo!
The more metaphorical or symbolic aspect of this saying, “bear one another’s burdens” has to do with all of the other kinds of “baggage” that we carry. Our personal struggles, our family history, our work challenges, our addictions, our obsessions…whatever it might be, we have burdens that we are carrying. And, from time to time, we have to not only carry our own, but also carry one anothers’ burdens. The amazing thing about carrying one another’s burdens is that when many folks are carrying a burden together, it does really become lighter. It doesn’t seem to make sense from a mathematical or physics sense, that matter would weigh less if more hands are carrying it. But, I have known it to be true – if we strive to carry our own burdens, but also turn to one another in love, we may lend a hand to one another – and then the burden, even our own, becomes lessened. Like carrying a 50 lb pack, and then someone comes along and just lifts the bottom of it for a few moments, lightening the pressure on one’s shoulders and back. Afterwards, the burden is lessened.
This is, perhaps, why Jesus sent his apostles out two by two, and why he said to carry little with them. There is enough to carry while bringing God’s hope and love to people that extra stuff will just complicate. It is easier to live simply, to go out two by two, bearing each others’ burdens, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
“you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, …”