When I was a kid my grandmother lived in downtown Milwaukee. She lived at 53rd Street and Wells.
A common sight at grandma’s house was the sight of old ladies walking home with their grocery bags. It is a pretty typical scene for a city. Neighborhood grocers. Sidewalks. 3,000 houses per-square-mile. It all creates a lot of foot traffic.
If you are a young boy visiting the city and you see an old lady carrying bags of groceries down the street, What do you do? You go and help. You go and relieve her burden, especially because your grandmother tells you to. If you balk and whine, grandma will twist your ear just to make sure its working.
So off the young boy goes and carries the old lady’s groceries a few blocks, right up to her door. Guess what the old lady does? She smiles at the boy. She thanks him. In her gratitude she appears to become stronger right before his eyes. He is blessed to have witnessed it. Then the old lady does one more thing. She shoves a whole dollar into his hand - real paper money. Blessings are multiplied!
What do you suppose happens the next time that boy sees the old lady, or any old lady, carrying grocery bags down the street?
He goes and helps. He goes and relieves her burden. This time, however, grandma does not have to tell him to do it. He does it now because he has seen with his own eyes the weakness of old ladies. He does it now because he has experienced with his own heart the delight another takes from a little attention, a little love. I suppose he even does it now because in the economy of love he has learned you return with more than you you started out with.
Let me give you three quick lessons from this story.
1. The world is full of burdens. They are walking right in front of us like old ladies weighed down by grocery bags. In fact, we ourselves are burdens walking right in front of others. We are men and women who long for renewal because we have grown old and weighed down by sin. The world is full of burdens. That’s lesson one.
2. We need to be told to carry the burdens of others or we won’t. My grandmother told me to carry those grocery bags because grandma had eyes for things I didn't have eyes for. God has eyes for things we don't have eyes for. We need to be told to carry the burdens of others or we just won’t. That’s lesson two.
3. The blessings of burden bearing motivate us to greater obedience. At first we need to be commanded to obey but soon we begin to see the blessings of obedience. Soon we begin to bear greater burdens because we believe that somehow, someway there is a blessing in the burden-bearing. In fact, we learn it is better to be giving than receiving. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," said Jesus (Acts 20:35). The blessings of burden bearing may not fold neatly into your pocket, but the clear eye of faith will see them. That’s lesson three.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Christians did not need these lessons? Wouldn’t it be nice if church people did not have any burdens in their midst? And, if we did, wouldn’t it be nice if we did not need to be told to carry those burdens? Even if we had to be told, wouldn't it be nice if we carried burdens without being motivated by blessings?
All of that would be so nice. But it would not be particularly Christian.
In the Christian scriptures (Galatians 6:1-10 to be exact), our Christian apostle (Paul) tells us that Christian churches are full of burdens. He then repeatedly commands us to go carry those burdens. Then he repeatedly lures us to such obedience by showing us the blessing of burden-bearing. Check it out, Galatians 6:1-10, a scripture we will hear together in mid-2016, Lord willing.
“Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” the apostle says. The law of Christ is love, the love of being burdened by sinners while maintaining devotion to God. The Father has predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). Christ loved his brethren by being greatly burdened by their sins, suffering for them with unparalleled righteous endurance and grace for the glory of his Father. Now such love is coming to fruit in our lives as we draw power from the pioneer and source of all such burden-bearing love.
We do not, of course, earn our standing before God by bearing the burdens of others. Our works of love do not, will not, atone for our sins. We only stand safe before God on the merits of Christ's works. But now standing in the presence of Love in Christ by faith we lack nothing to fulfill our calling.
Let us understand, much of what God wills for us to do is with people burdened by sin - sin's hurts, sin's lies, sin's attraction. This should not surprise us for the Lord was burdened by this call long before he enlisted us.