The Things We Carry

Sermon by Brian Habig on September 27, 2015

Galatians 6:2

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Good morning. It is such an honor to preach at First Pres, and my standard line about you when I’m away from you, which is most of the time, is, I say, “I owe First Presbyterian a debt I can’t repay.” I really mean that. I grew up here and was loved on here and taught at the Day School and became a Christian here and was nurtured here. My grandfather worked here. And I want to say thank you. Thank you to the Session for the privilege to preach here and thank you for being here at this service. We’re going to be in Galatians chapter 6 and I’m really just going to preach on one verse. I have seventeen sermon points. Actually just two! But we’re going to be in Galatians chapter 6 verse 2. Let me tell you what I think my job is this morning. It’s not to teach you about addiction during this time; there are people here who can do that more capably, both academically and experientially. My understanding is that it’s time for me to preach the Word of God, preach the Scriptures, and in particular to preach the Gospel. And the Gospel is good news. So I want to preach the Gospel.


Just a quick word of intro. I’m not going to say a lot about this. This is from Galatians. We’re going to look at one verse. This is toward the end of the letter. This is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to Christians. And that’s going to be important. This is not just written generically to people whoever may stumble across it. This is written to churches. This is written to Christian people. And these are people who had heard the Gospel, people who had become Christians, and a church was formed, elders were appointed. Paul moved on; people came behind him and said, “Yes, believe in Jesus the Messiah and do a few other things,” which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Paul said, “That’s another gospel. When you say believe in Christ and then to be right with God do a couple of other things, even do one other thing, that’s another gospel and it’s not good news.” And as he usually does, he gives us this incredibly theology and then toward the end of the letter he says, “Now, if those things are true, what would that look like in our lives?” And in this verse that we’re about to read, here’s what he’s about to say or point to. If the Gospel really got into your heart and into a group of people’s hearts, a church’s heart, if the Holy Spirit is at work in that church and it’s the Spirit changing people – the law doesn’t have the power to change but the Holy Spirit does. So where we saw that change, what might we see these people doing with one another? Now let me pray for us and then I’m going to read from God’s Word. Let me pray together.


Father, we pray now that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. And it’s in Jesus’ name that we pray, amen.


Galatians chapter 6, verse 2:


“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”


This is God’s Word.


About twenty-five years ago there was a collection of short stories that came out by a man named Tim O’Brien. And these short stories are set in the Vietnam War and he himself served in the Vietnam War so this is not just historic fiction that he researched, but he participated in this. And I want to read you just a few excerpts from the first story. The collection is called, The Things They Carried and that’s the name of this first piece, The Things They Carried. Here’s what he writes, speaking about the soldiers:


“The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near necessities were can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wrist watches, dog tags, mosquito repellant, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-aid, lighters, matches” – you can almost win a Pulitzer Prize my listing things, apparently! “Sewing kits, military payment certificate, sea rations, two or three canteens of water. Together those items weighed between fifteen and twenty pounds depending upon a man’s habits or rate of metabolism.”


A little bit more:


“Taking turns, they carried the big scrambler radio which weighed thirty pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese English dictionaries, bronze stars, purple hearts. They carried diseases – malaria and dysentery, they carried lice and ringworm and leaches, rots and molds. They carried the land itself – Vietnam, the place, the soil. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere they carried it – the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay. All of it. They carried gravity.”


Last part:


“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die – grief, terror, love, longing. These were intangibles but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity. They had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories.”


Now what is he describing set in the Vietnam conflict? What’s the big takeaway? He’s describing burdens. And what do you see? That unseen burdens are typically the worst. The ones you cannot see are even heavier than the ones you can see. And if the Apostle Paul were with us he would be quick to remind us, “Are you remembering that about each other?” As I said earlier, Galatians is written not just to people in general, whoever might come across this letter. It’s written to churches, it’s written to Christians about the Gospel and the Christian life. And he doesn’t say, “If your brother or your sister finds themselves in a situation where they bear a burden, help bear that brother’s burden.” He assumes that the brothers and sisters will have them and says, “Bear each other’s burdens, assuming that they will be there.” Now here’s how I would like to look at this. I’ve really already told you the first sermon point. Number one, Christians have burdens. Christians have burdens. And the second thing I want to look at is, there is good news for bearers. Christians have burdens. Christians have heavy burdens. And there’s good news for bearers.


I. Christians Have Burdens


What burdens do Christians have? What burdens do you have? Where to begin? First off, it’s just a fallen world. It’s a fallen world where you have setbacks and loss and sickness and even death. There’s a woman, she and her sister and both their spouses worships at our church; hasn’t joined yet but has come to women’s Bible study. And she called me last week and said, “My mom has suddenly found out that she’s dying and her pastor came to see her and it didn’t go well. Would you come see my mom?” And I said, “Sure.” So just this past week I went over to her mom’s house and dad, long-faced, and went back to her bedroom and she’s lying in bed. She was diagnosed just three weeks before. She’d been up and about, taking food to people, taking care of other people, they said that’s what she’s like, and she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the doctor says, “You’ve got three weeks.” So I walk in the bedroom and her skin is yellow and she’s lying in bed and we meet in each other and she’s vomiting and we talk about life, we talk about death, and we talk about the resurrection. And her daughter that comes to our church got up in bed with her and, whew, stroked her hair and said, “I don’t want anything to happen to you. This makes me sad.” And she died that night. And so two women who come to our church, they walk around with that now. That’s a burden. That’s a heavy burden. Fallen world.


But it’s not just that we’re in a fallen world. That is true and that is Biblical, but it’s not just that we are these good people or neutral people and this fallen world sort of happens to us but we are fallen. We are fallen. Our body and soul has fallen. One way that the catechism describes this when it talks about “How did it affect all of us when Adam fell? What did it do to us?” and one of the phrases that the Shorter Catechism uses, it says that we were “made liable to all miseries in this life.” When Adam fell, he and his posterity became liable to all miseries in this life. Man that covers a lot of ground! For instance, one example – loneliness. It would be interesting to know in this room how many of you actually, really, even as we’re sitting surrounded by people, surrounded by each other, how many of you are lonely. Again, just this past week I was teaching that women’s Bible study that I mentioned and loneliness came up in another context. And I was just trying to describe it honestly. I said, “I wonder how many” – there were about thirty women there. I said, “I wonder how many of you, you’re waking up in the morning and you’ve got your to-do list and you’re just working it and you’re getting stuff done on your to-do list and you’re taking care of people and you’re doing stuff for people and you’re surrounded by people and you’re looking at pictures of people on social media and you’re talking to people and you’re around people and just at some point you look up and go, ‘I don’t think anyone really knows how I feel or what I’m actually thinking or what life is actually like for me right now.’” And so I was just describing it. And this woman, who is not a member of our church, she just attends this study, was sitting right in front of me, I couldn’t miss her, and her eyes just filled with tears. She couldn’t stop for several minutes. She’s lonely. It’s a burden.


And there’s our sin. Our disobedience creates burdens. And it’s a level playing field. That’s why David confessed our sin. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. I’ve had this Sunday on my mind so much and I knew I was going to be thinking about burdens and talking about burdens and I was in the Psalms just a couple of weeks ago and I’ve read this psalm a bunch of times and this just jumped out at me. This is like many of the psalms, this is by David, and he says this. This is in Psalm 38. You don’t have to turn there. “For my iniquities have gone over my head.” And he doesn’t say which ones but just the ones that we know, there are some doozies! “My iniquities have gone over my head. Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” Now sadly, and this is not a good thing about us, we get accustomed to sin and we get accustomed to being sinners. We ought not. And maybe that’s because a lot of our sin is sort of, I know this is not a great way to say it – it’s garden variety sin. It’s selfishness and impatience and loosing my temper and anger with people around me and we’re sort of accustomed to those things. But anybody here who knows Jesus Christ and anyone here who really knows the fight of the Christian life, knows what it’s like to hit these things in your life where you have told God, “I’m not going to do that anymore! That’s bad and that is yucky and it’s bad for me and it’s bad for the people around me. I’m going to stop doing that. God, I’m going to stop doing that!” And we keep doing it. “I’m going to stop liking bourbon more than I like my children. I’m going to stop liking pornography more than I like my spouse, God, people around me.” And I don’t. And it just feels so gross and dark and staining and debilitating and hope-robbing that we go back to the thing just to feel a little bit better for a little bit. And that little cycle right there, I cannot dig myself out and all that comes with that, the Bible just sums that up that that is shame.


I had a real window into shame, I’ve got plenty from my own life, but this past year I’ve had the privilege of going with a new member of our church – he was homeless a year ago; he came to us from the rescue mission. He’s coming out of substance abuse; God’s really worked in his life. And the way he stayed out of jail was he participated in drug court. And drug court has a once a month family night where family members or friends, supportive people, they come with you to these meetings and they hear what you’re learning and they learn about addiction and they hear from other people who are struggling with this. So it’s been a real eye-opener for me because I’d never been in something like this before. And there’s a guy there who came with a friend. He himself was an addict, he’d been clean for years, and he was coming to support a friend of his who was in recovery. And this guy had this thick country accent and he’s incredibly articulate. I loved when he would chime in. So one night he was quoting the first few steps in the twelve steps, he was just quoting them from memory, and he got to the fourth step and he quoted it and here’s the fourth step of the twelve steps:  “That we made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” I’m going to read that again. “That we made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” And he quoted that and then he turned to the room and said, “And that’s when people relapse!” And you could hear the room go, “Ummm.” That it’s at that point when men and women looked at how bad it is, looked at how bad it is, and looked at the collateral damage from how bad it is and they crumbled. Now that is a burden.


And it gets worse because we’re body-soul packages. And this came up during the Sunday School hour in the panel discussion. It’s just so hard, it’s devilishly hard to figure out, “Where do idolatry and addiction overlap? How are they alike and how are they different? What part is the body and what part is the soul? What part is the problem with the soul? What part is disease?”I do not possess the expertise to explain this. I do know this – idolatry, anybody’s idolatry will push you towards slavery and slavery will manifest itself in your body. Look at pornography and it will begin to change the neural pathways in your brain. Soul activity, body activity. Those are burdens. And before I move on, all organizations, all groups of human beings have cultures. Whether you’re talking about a church or a non-profit or a business, all groups of human beings have cultures. And leaders think about that. “What is the culture of our organization? How do we have a better culture in our organization?” Churches have cultures and I’d be quick to say, though I grew up here and I love First Pres, it’s not for me to come in and diagnose your culture, but I would ask this question, “In the culture of First Presbyterian, presently, how are burdens viewed? Are they viewed as abnormal?” Because this these are bumps in the way things normally go then the person who has burdens and feels her burdens, feels his burdens, they’re going to feel like “other.” But if burdens are normal – sin, repercussions of sin, life in a fallen world – if that’s normal, as Paul says they are, that’s a different culture.


II. Good News for Bearers


Christians have heavy burdens. We need good news. What’s good news for people like us with these burdens? Think about this. Look back at verse 2. “Bear one another’s burdens.” Now I said I was going to give you good news. Does that sound like good news? “Hey, you’ve got these heavy burdens. Pick up more!” How do I do that if my iniquities have covered me, it’s a burden that I can’t bear, and just all the other stuff that goes with living in a fallen world, fallen body and soul, and you’re saying to me, “Bear one another’s burdens”? How is this good news? And this is where you’ve got to see the whole verse. “Bear one another’s burdens” and what does he say? “And so fulfill the law of Christ.” Now what does that mean? What is the law of Christ? And Paul seems to be harkening back to Jesus the night He was arrested, the night before He was crucified when He just poured out His heart with His disciples. And you can see this in the gospel of John. One of the things that He says is, “A new command I give you.” And I’m sure they were kind of on the edge of their seat. Here’s the new command, “Love one another.”And not to be irreverent but you can kind of picture them turning to each other kind of going, “I’ve heard that before. Haven’t you heard that before, that we love one another? Love your neighbor as yourself?” But what’s new? The newness is how you love one another. How do you love one another? You love as you have been loved. You love as the Lord has loved you.


So back to the question on the table. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. If me doing that for you or you doing that for me, if that fulfills the law of Christ that must mean that at some level God bears my burdens. How does God bear my burdens? When’s the last time you were in a Stuckey’s? That’s not the burden! But if you’ve ever been in a Stuckey’s and pulled yourself away from the pecan rolls or logs or whatever they’re called and kind of looked at the bric-a-brac in the Stuckey’s, you probably saw a wooden plaque with a poem on it, shellacked, and the poem would be “Footprints.” Have you ever heard of this poem, “Footprints”? It’s like the kudzu of poetry; it will not go away and it’s kind of everywhere! I think you’ve heard of it but just for review’s sake, “Footprints” is brief and it says that there’s a man and he has a vision and the vision is of his life. And the way his life manifests itself visually is there’s a beach and in the sand of this beach are two sets of footprints. And one is his set of footprints and the other footprints are the Lord’s. And it’s his whole life, so he sees it but he notices that there are places where there’s just one set of footprints. And he’s able to see that those places where there’s just one set of footprints corresponds to the hardest times in his life, that there’s just one set. So he comes to the Lord and he says, “Why is it that during the hardest times in my life there’s only one set of footprints?” because he understood that to be that I was walking alone. And the Lord says, “My child, that’s when I carried you.”


Now that’s a great thought and the question is, “Is that actually true, Biblically?” I want to tell you an old story. And this is all through the Bible and it’s too many passages for me to site. You go to the book of Deuteronomy and the people are just about to cross the Jordan River and go into the Promised Land. They’ve just been living for this. And there’s this giant review and spies had gone and they had seen giants, the Anakim in the Promised Land, and it’s intimidating and they can’t take them on and they come back with this bad report. “Their cities go up to the sky!” And what does Moses say? “How did you make it through the wilderness? How did your sandals not wear out and your clothes not wear out? How did your babies eat with no stores?” And he says, “It was because the Lord carried you in His arms.” Try this one on for size. This is, you don’t have to turn there, this is from Isaiah 46. And through the prophet God says this to His people, He says, “I am not like the false gods that you dabble with, for instance, Baal. You have to carry those gods around in your knapsack like luggage. I am not like that.” And then here’s what God says through Isaiah. “Listen to me, O house of Jacob. All the remnant of the house of Israel who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb, even to your old age I am He and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made and I will bear. I will carry and will save.”


What if I trust in Jesus right now and I get old and I get Alzheimer’s and I become angry and I scream out outlandish things and I scream out blasphemous things – what’s going to happen to my soul then? God is going to carry you down to gray hairs. And believe me, I know that some people could be sitting here saying, “I like the image. I like the metaphor. I do not feel that in my life. I do not feel or experience that God carries people or that God carries me.” And I would first say, “I believe you.” It’s a big old fallen world and we are big old messy fallen people. I believe you that you don’t feel it. And here’s what I want you to think about. That when God became a man He said, “He who has seen me has seen” – whom? The Father. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Look at Jesus and you learn what God is like. He is the image of the invisible God.


Here’s something else Isaiah said about the God-Man centuries before He came. “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.” How can I actually believe that God really likes me and loves me and cares about me and carries me? To look at Christ and the cross! Because when He goes to that cross it’s to bear and to carry us, everything that’s worst about us. And what’s going to follow for Him doing that is so horrible that as He draws near to it He prays, “Lord, Father, if there’s any other way we can do this, let’s do that. Yet not my will but Yours be done.” And the unrecorded answer is, “Son, there is no other way. Either they will bear this with the justice that follows or you will bear it for them.” And He bore it. And what is the great payoff and benefit to God as He carries us, our sins and our sorrows and our very lives? What is the great advantage for God? Nothing. So why does He do that? Because He loves us. Did you know that God loves His people? God loves sinners. God loves His bad people and carries them and redeems them and bears with them because He loves them.


What should happen inside a group of people when that gets deep down in our bones? Well think about this. Jesus said, and He’s describing Himself, “Which one of you if he had a hundred sheep and one wandered off, which one of you wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine and go after the one and then when you find it just beat the ever-living fire out of it?” No, “Go find the one and place it on your shoulders and carry it home begrudgingly.” “Which of you wouldn’t go find it, leave the ninety-nine, go find it, and place it on your shoulders and carry it home rejoicing? And who is that a picture of? That is a picture of Christ Himself. When this good news gets into the hearts of people, into our bones, what would you expect to see? You would expect to see what we call the communion of the saints. And we say we believe in that. The Apostles Creed, meat and potatoes, Christianity 101 – “I believe in the communion of the saints.” Here’s one thing that our confession of faith says about the communion of saints. That when we have that, we strive for what’s conducive to the good of my neighbor, my brother or sister, “both in the inward and the outward man.” Body and soul, in and out, to go to bat for all of you. And what that might look like is, “Hey, you just told me about a problem. I’ll pray for you.” And we do that and I think that one’s a little bit easier. That’s the communion of the saints. But the communion of saints might also look like this. When one Christian calls another Christian and says, “If you can, try not to drink for the next thirty minutes. And I’m going to drive to you and I’m going to sit and be with you and we’re going to figure out together what the rest of today looks like. But if you can, wait on me.” That’s the communion of the saints. To bear one another’s burdens, being able to do so because I know He bears me and my sin. He bore it and He bears me so I can go to you.


And what I would expect where you find the communion of the saints I would expect us all to get a lot better at two words. And one writer has said that she thinks after a lot of research that these may be the most powerful two words in the English language. You know what they are? “Me too.” Me too is the opposite of judgment. Me too is the fuel of connection and of real community. We talk a good game about community; it is the fuel of real community that when someone tells me, “I cannot stop. I cannot stop and I hate it so bad I can hardly look you in the eye. I don’t even want to see you right now,” is to be able to say, “Me too.” Good grief, if the Apostle Paul could say, “I don’t understand what I do,” can we not also say, “I don’t understand what I do either”? What if the work of the Holy Spirit in this church, in this community was that more and more when your spidey senses go off – if I may put it that way in a PCA church. your spidey senses go off about someone in your life that rather than go, “I think that’s probably going to get weird. Think I’ll go get coffee – alone,” to move toward that person and to come not in the posture of lecture but of “Me too. Why don’t we help one another? Boy, we both sure need Jesus, don’t we?”


“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Amen. Let’s pray together.


Our Father, these things don’t come naturally to us. We are so preoccupied and find our own burdens so daunting and so impressive and so unique that the thought of bearing someone else’s just seems overwhelming and awkward, too difficult, too inconvenient. We pray, Father, that You would show us yet again that when we did not deserve it that You moved toward us and not only bore us but bore our very sin and the wrath it deserves. And that because You’re going to carry us till the end that we can bear each other’s burdens. Would You cause that to really play out in the life of this church? We thank You that You love sinners. We thank You that You remember that we are dust. It’s in Christ’s name that we pray. Amen.

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