Bearing Burdens

Bearing Burdens

July 7, 2019.   Isaiah 66:1-9, Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Bearing Burdens

            Two Sundays ago the Apostle Paul informed the Christians in Galatia that Christ has set them free from the law. He pointed out that the law is a strict disciplinarian with no heart or compassion. He urges them that they ought to use their freedom to serve others. Real freedom is manifested in the way people serve each other!

            Last Sunday the Apostle Paul again emphasizes that Christ liberated them. They are now completely free. He now urges the early Christians to use their freedom not for self-indulgence. Instead, he says, they should use their freedom to become slaves to one another in love. ­And his reason for saying this? “The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He points out that God’s Spirit enables them to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, thereby showing that God’s Spirit is leading them. The fruit of the Spirit is: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

            Today the Apostle Paul invites us one more time to witness what real Christian freedom ought to look like. The Apostle is keenly aware that human beings have many flaws. He knows that human beings are broken and all are sinners.

            The early church was a close-knit group. They considered each other as brothers and sisters. They loved and accepted each other.

            But please do not think that the early church was perfect. It was not. One of the big problems back then in the Galatian church was that the members did not really know how to deal with offenses in their midst. Some may have thought that an offence should be punished. Others may have simply pretended that the offence did not take place. Some may have had unrealistic views on what it meant to be a Christian. Christians, in their view, were perfect, they would not do anything wrong.

            And then it happened: Someone in the congregation did something wrong! What now? How do spiritual people deal with this? Should we punish him? Should we push her out? And the Apostle gives them an answer. What they should do with the transgressor is to restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness!

            And then the Apostle Paul says something interesting. In your dealings with the offender: “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.”  What are the possible temptations? There are at least two:

            1. There is the temptation to develop self-righteousness and arrogance with regard to the wrongdoer;

            2. Such a temptation presents a threat to the community. The Apostle Paul seems keenly aware that a self-righteous posture of prosecutors can cause greater damage to the community than the offense of one wrongdoer.

            Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, French critic, journalist, and novelist once said:

The more things change the more they remain the same.” This saying is applicable here. Human beings have become sophisticated over the centuries. Modern day humans are smarter, we are bigger, we are stronger, we live longer and according to some scientists we have an overbite that medieval people did not have. And we have smaller elbows than people 200 years ago. But deep down, we have not change much. So Paul’s warning of the temptation to develop self-righteousness and arrogance with regard to a wrongdoer is still relevant.

            It is very easy to point the finger to someone who has done something wrong. Actually, there is a deep ingrained tendency to consider yourself better than the person who did something wrong. And against this the Apostle Paul warns the congregation. Pointing fingers at others who did wrong, considering yourself to be important and better than others is not a good practice. Why?

            The Apostle Paul uses Greek philosophical ideas to make a Christian point in verse 3: There is a danger that a person may believe he is important while in reality he is nothing. In Paul’s view there is nothing wrong with being nothing or a nobody because that is what one actually is. It is wrong, however to be deluded into thinking one is “somebody.” This view goes back to the Greek world, to the Delphic proverb “know yourself.” The bottom line according to the Delphic proverb is that human beings must learn to accept that they really are “nothing.” People who think too much about themselves are not only arrogant, they deceive themselves.

            Today people often still think too much of themselves. It is about my kids’ self-esteem. It is about my impact and what I accomplished. So there could be an illusion that I consider myself too important!

            In all of this the Apostle Paul in verse 4 warns against another form of illusion about oneself. This illusion comes about through comparing oneself with others. Whenever you compare yourself with others you never get a true picture of yourself. For Greek Philosophers and the Apostle Paul, the duty of philosophers and now the duty of Christians is to self-examine. And self examination includes one’s entire conduct of life, not merely words. Self examination meant scrutinizing of one’s own conduct of life and not in comparison with others.

            This is how Hans Dieter Betz put it: “Paul shares with antiquity the view that man is incessantly trying to show himself to be “somebody”. This “showing” was often done through comparison with one’s fellow men. Ancient people were all too aware of the dangers of self-illusion in showing false “achievements” which in reality were worth nothing. It was recognized that the most widespread illusions occur because of comparison of oneself with others. The comparison always turns out in favor of oneself and to the disadvantage of the person with whom one compares oneself.”

            It can on occasion also work the other way. Our young people find it extraordinary hard to have a true picture of themselves when they look at the Facebook pages of their friends. They see on Facebook that their friends have so much fun, with so many friends in such beautiful places. Then there is a sense of missing out, or not living up to the standard that I think my friends have.

            Psychologists at the University of Houston and Palo Alto University have shown that using Facebook is not all bad. They have found that Facebook provides self-affirmation and it improves the quality of already-good romantic relationships. However, they have recently published two studies, one with the University of Cologne, that seem to confirm an association between Facebook use and depressive symptoms. The research leader commented: “What these two studies reveal is that the underlying mechanism is social comparison. That’s why the more time we spend on Facebook, the more likely we are to feel depressed.

This is not new. In the 1950s, the psychologist Leon Festinger popularized what was called social-comparison theory.  He argued that people have innate tendencies to track our progress and assess our self-worth by comparing ourselves to other people. That social comparison leads to feelings of insignificance and insecurity. Research has since found that making social comparisons, especially “upward” comparisons (to people we deem above us, to whom we feel inferior, for whatever reason) are associated with negative health outcomes like depressive symptoms and decreased self-esteem.

            What then is none to do to find a balance? What is one to do to live a life with integrity and honesty? What does a free life look like if comparing yourself to others is dangerous and unwise? What does one need to do to be content?

            Or in terms of the theme of the last three weeks: “What does a life filled God’s Spirit and filled with love look like?

            It is to know that everything is not about me. It is to have a different perspective. It is to know that other people matter. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  The willingness to bear another’s burden puts things and people in perspective. Free people are people who serve, they are people who love and now they are people to bear another’s burden.

            Ancient people have known that caring for one another and bearing one another’s burden are healthy practices. Socrates said: “one must share one’s burden with one’s friends, for possibly we may do something to ease you.” Other sayings at the time were: “accept all burdens among friends as common. Accept the misfortunes of your friends as your own.” The difference in the Bible is of course that the Apostle Paul links the bearing of another’s burden to the Law of Christ.

            In the Galatian congregation the failure mentioned in verse 1 is seen as the burden of life and should be shared and borne by the Christian community. But certainly it goes beyond that. It certainly includes the general daily struggle of life, specific burdens like health issues, old age, and other concerns. In essence it means that within this world, we ought to help people who are struggling with life in all its forms. There is no doubt that life sometimes can be hard and unpredictable. It can throw curve balls at random people, whether they are strong, wealthy, young or old.  Life has a way of turning the strongest into someone frail. It does not take much for people’s fortunes to change. And deep down everyone lives with the fear that it could happen anytime. The Apostle Paul and you and I know this too. There are no guarantees in life. So what do we do in the light of this randomness of life?

            Paul suggests that people who are freed by Christ ought to be ready and available to help carry other’s burdens. Liberated people ought to assure others that they will never be alone. Christian people ought to help others!

            I always say to our new members at the new membership seminars that once they are part of this community they will never ever be alone. We can of course not guarantee that there will never be a crisis in anyone’s life. But what we can and will do is make sure that you will not be alone!  In today’s text we could say it like this: You will never ever have to carry any burden alone again.

This is what free people do! Amen.