Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What to Carry

Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16
July 3, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

This reading marks the final week in our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In his closing words, Paul tries to deal with practical issues with advice on how to challenge and forgive members of the flock, and with some general comments on good works. We should be advised not to take the sowing and reaping metaphor too literally. Doing so could give people the idea that sickness is God's punishment, an idea challenged in Job and contradicted by Jesus. As we begin a study of Job next week, we’ll get some perspective on that. Meanwhile, in Galatians, Paul puts the emphasis on working for the good of all, coming back, as Paul always does, to the centrality of the cross of Christ.

Let's listen as for God’s gracious word to us in Galatians 6: (1-6) 7 – 16

1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride.
5 For all must carry their own loads. 6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. 7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 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. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. 11 See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised--only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast of anything except 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 nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16 As for those who will follow this rule--peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

In the Gospel reading, we can focus on those who are sent on a mission relying on God's care, without carrying anything with them – neither hiking pack, itinerary nor equipment. They are Jesus’ agents, totally and utterly representing him. They go, and the mission is successful enough for Jesus and his friends to rejoice. Let's listen closely for the Good News for us in Luke's account in Luke 10:1-11, 16
10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
5 Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.
10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' 16 "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

In 1990, the winner of the National Book award was Tim O’ Brien’s book about the Vietnam War:
The Things They Carried.

O’Brien uses lists of the items soldiers carried
to tell us something about their lives and their characters.
It is a profoundly moving and important book.
It shows us not only the conditions of the war in Vietnam,
but also it shows us so vividly how the things we carry can affect us.

One soldier carries pictures of a girl he loves;
another a war hatchet, and another carries cans of peaches.
One carries extra socks and foot powder, while another carries a Bible.
O Brien says, “They carried USO stationery and pencils and pens.
They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire,
razor blades, chewing tobacco, …. fingernail clippers, Psy Ops leaflets,
bush hats, bolos, and much more…..
Henry Dobbins carried Black Flag insecticide.
Dave Jensen carried empty sandbags
that could be filled at night for added protection.
Lee Strunk carried tanning lotion.
Some things they carried in common.
Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio,
which weighed 30 pounds with its battery.
They shared the weight of memory.
They took up what others could no longer bear.”

They took up what others could no longer bear.

What burdens do you bear?
What are the things you carry?
We all carry things – some people carry a torch for a long lost love;
others carry a grudge for a long ago injury.
Everyone carries some secrets,
some carry a load of shame.
Some carry a virus,
and some people carry water for other people.

Some carry a tune while others carry a cross.
What they carry changes how they live and walk in the world.
The things we carry change who we are.

You have seen it, I’m sure –
the one who looks as if they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders,
the one who carries an inner light that illuminates the room they enter.

In Jesus time, people who were traveling carried a bag, a staff, a cloak.
They’d have carried some bread, olive oil, water, perhaps a wineskin.
Along the Roman roads or the meadow paths that led to villages
they’d have walked from place to place,
taking lodging where they could
- sleeping in a home if it were offered, or camping outside if not.
Into this cold and unwelcoming world,
Jesus sent them out empty-handed:
“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”

You’ll not need any of these things – they will only weigh you down.
Here is what to carry, Jesus said,
“Carry the message of peace. Take a companion. Take the gospel.
Take your hunger and thirst, take your fatigue, into their houses.
Take healing.
Take the good news of the kingdom of God.
Carry with you this message of grace, carry it in your hearts and hands.”

But Jesus, we can’t go empty handed, not now.
We live in the twenty-first century.
We need stuff.

We need our phones and our money and our credit cards,
we need our attitudes and our suspicions to keep us safe from exploitation.
We need our prejudices and our knowledge and wisdom.
Don’t we?

Most of us are carrying around all kinds of things –
actual items, in pockets or purses or tote bags –
pocket knives or toys or combs or money.

All of us are carrying old hurts and memories,
hopes and dreams and desires.

We come together in community, in this community, not just two by two,
and all the things we carry come along with us.
We carry them like talismans, like pictures or religious medals,
to ward off evil and misfortune.
We carry them like medals or awards –
our goodness or our martyrdom, or our righteousness.
We carry them like weapons to be used against others,
like shields to defend ourselves from each other.

Everything we carry, or don’t carry, literally or figuratively,
says something about us.

The Apostle Paul knew this – he knew the Galatians were carrying plenty.
Maybe they were fearful, and that fear made them feel vulnerable.
Certainly they had been confused by these recent teachings
about what they needed to add to their faith in Jesus Christ.
But as Paul closes his letter,
he suggests that they need add nothing to their faith.
Instead, Paul says, “Gently restore those who falter.”
Don’t carry around a chip on your should or any temptations.
Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Leave your ego behind, do not carry your pride.

Then Paul seems to contradict himself.
“All must carry their own loads.” he says.
It’s wearisome business, some days.
Some days we want to just give up.
To be sure, there are times when we cannot carry our own loads,
and there are days when we are strong,
when we can bear not only our own,
but the burdens of others.
There are days when we can only whimper for help,
and days when we can lift the heaviest load.
It isn’t easy, this community of faith stuff –
we don’t want to carry someone else’s baggage,
and we don’t want to put down our hurts and grudges
in order to pick up someone else’s pain or grief.

Some days we’d rather labor under the weight of our own sorrow,
rather than let go of it.

It’s so tiring. But we can’t give up.
Like the young soldiers in O’Brien’s book, we have things to carry.

“Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. …
They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries,
insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, …
They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil—…
They carried the sky.”[1]

Friends, we don’t have to carry the world singlehandedly,
but as the community of faith transformed in Jesus Christ,
we need only carry the gospel.

There will always be troubles, always things to carry.
But Jesus says, “You don’t need to be weighed down with this.
Are you weary and heavy-laden?
Come to me.
My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Lay your burdens down at the feet of Jesus.
Leave behind the malice and shame, the anger and pain.
Lift up instead this basket of peace, patience, kindness and generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

In this new and transformed community created by the Risen Lord,
we are given strength beyond our need,
to support those who are weak, to carry those who falter.
Reach out your hand and guide others, carry them if you can,
carry one another with the light of love,
carry everything to the table of grace.
We carry the light.
We carry the sky.

We carry the message that Jesus is everything.

Thanks be to God! Amen!

[1] O’Brien, Tim The Things They Carried, p. 19

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