Homily for Proper 14, Year C, 2010
Sunday, July 4th, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Galatians 6:1-16
“Bear one another’s burdens and this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”--Galatians 6:2
The Galatian community was one that was torn apart by a religious conflict. Paul had proclaimed to them a gospel of freedom, a gospel that did not entail keeping the Law of Moses. It came as a great surprise to him therefore that after his departure, certain teachers began instructing the Galatians that they needed to conform to Jewish Law in order to be fully Christian. It is likely that this community was originally a gentile community who had not previously kept the commandments of the Torah. What infuriated Paul so much was that he had proclaimed a Gospel of freedom, only to find that it was being replaced by the burden of further religious requirements. How could the people of that community so quickly abandon the freedom they found in the gospel he preached? In the end, Paul does not care so much about whether or not taking on the requirements of Torah is a good or bad thing, for in many ways, he suggests that it is a matter indifferent, for “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision are anything,” he declares, “but a new creation is everything!” Rather, he was deeply concerned to the point of anger because the new creation was being obscured with absolutist claims by the judaizing faction about what were actually non-essential conditions for receiving the gospel of Christ.
This first century argument is, at first glance, far removed from us today. It is unlikely that any of us shall ever consider the keeping of the Jewish law as a prerequisite for Christian faith. Yet, if we consider more generally the problem that Paul was addressing, we realize that it is not so far from our door. Paul was speaking about the burdens we place upon ourselves in order that we might live out our faith. He is speaking about self-imposed prerequisites to Christianity that obscure its purpose rather than fulfill it. Such prerequisites are characteristically manifested in ethical terms, such as “I need to be a better person to follow Jesus,” or framed negatively, “I musn’t be a good Christian because I am having trouble loving my enemy, much less my neighbour.” These formulations come at things in entirely the wrong way. Of course, I hate my neighbour, they never cut their grass and their dandelions seed on my lawn. I hate them every time I look out my window at that mess of a yard of theirs! If loving your neighbour, much less your enemy, were a prerequisite to being a Christian we would have no Christians in the world, or at least no honest Christians. But thankfully, the gospel of Christ is not about what I can do for Christ, but what Christ does for me, and more profoundly, what Christ does for us as a people, and for the world.
And what does Christ do?
He lifts the burden that the world places upon us and the burdens that we place upon each other and ourselves. This was the problem in Galatia: not only were new teachers placing new burdens upon the Church of Galatia, but the Galatians were happily taking on these new burdens! Ah, ever it is so in the Church. There is always more work to be done, more committees on which to volunteer, more burdens we can carry as individuals and as a church. Oh, the temptation of it all, and we are so sure it will make us better Christians. And yet, when all is said and done, we are anything but a new creation. We emerge tired, exhausted, angry and cynical. The question we must stop to ask, though, is “is this what Christ wants of me.” For Paul, the answer is an emphatic “no!” What Christ wants is to lift that burden from our shoulders, that he might raise us up to a new and better way of being, to a place where his service is perfect freedom.
At Holy Trinity, as we journey into this new time, awaiting the arrival of a new rector, the uncertainty of the future can be a burden, but it need not be so if we listen to Paul and allow our Lord to take that burden upon himself. One can feel the anxiety as we enter this new time, and yet, how that anxiety lifts when we let God carry the burden. As we let go of the burden, it then remarkable to look around our community and recognize that no single one of us needs to carry the burden of the future. We look around our community and we recognize that God has imparted all the gifts necessary in the Church for the facing of these days! What is a burden to the one may be the joy of another. By letting Christ bear our burdens he enlivens a holy vocation amongst his people, for in the body of Christ we share in the work of bearing one another’s burdens. Instead of taking on a greater load as individuals, as the community, as the body of Christ, we look upon those who cannot stand under the weight and we shoulder it with them. In such a manner, the load, the burden dissipates and Christ is made known amongst his people.
The burdens we carry as human beings are unbearable on our own. Whether it is the burden of caring for a spouse, child, or parent who is sick, or if it is the burden of mistakes we have made or wrongs we have done, we wilt under the weight of such things -- things put upon us, and things brought upon us through our own sinfulness. And then there is the weight of change and all the uncertainty it brings. Ultimately the day will come when we stand in front of our judge, as Paul says, “carrying our load.” I know that if I am to be judged by how well I carry that load, I will not be counted worthy of the task. But as Christian people, another hope, another reality, is set before us. It is a heavenly reality. It is the reality of the Kingdom of God in which my load is not mine to bear alone, for it is Christ who bears it for me and with me. Christ lifts the load of the weight that the world sets upon me, and lifts the load of the weight of my own failings, my own regret, and my own sinfulness and carries it to the cross where that weight is crucified and buried. As a stone is rolled in front of that tomb where that terrible weight is laid to rest, so also a stone is rolled away, and from that tomb emerges a new creation. The new creation that emerges is the body of Christ, the faithful of the Church who embody the freeing work of Christ in their common ethic of bearing each other’s burdens. When the weight becomes too much for the one, it is crucified and buried, as the community, the body of Christ, takes that weight upon itself in selfless love. We do not need to bear the weight alone, for Christ is ever with us in the gathering of his faithful people, and ever drawing us together that we might not only bear each other’s burdens but bear one another, in Christ-like love.
C. 2010 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves