“Sharing One Another’s Burdens”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
The Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
7 February, 2021
Sermon #5 of 6 in “Holy Habit of Sharing Resources” series
Mark 6:6b-13
2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Introduction to the Theme:

There are things in life that are uncomfortable to look at.  Neither of my parents was very keen on paying visits to the doctor, even though my father himself was a physician and my mother worked in a hospital prior to having children.  Dad was a pathologist, even, so very aware of how important it is for people to pay heed to the distress signals when something is attacking the health of the body.  Still, both of my parents would go for protracted periods of time with great and growing discomfort, ignoring the signs of bodily distress, dismissing questions about their obvious ailment with denials that anything was amiss.  Why would anyone do that?

Well, because sometimes we suspect that dealing with the truth will be harder, or more overwhelming, than living with the discomfort of pretending that nothing’s wrong.

Today, as we continue our exploration of the Holy Habit of Sharing Resources, we’re going to be thinking about Sharing Our Burdens.  If resources are a supply of things available to be drawn upon, then our burdens are surely rich resources for learning more about what it means to be fully human.  And, if we can begin to identify what’s causing the weight or challenge of the burden, we may be able to shift the burden so that it becomes an instrument for transformation—even something that enables us to do things we’d never have imagined possible before.

Sometimes, our burdens are our blinders; the things we cannot see.  And more often than not, our human burdens are increased by the blinders that others wear.

Among the burdens we’re called to share as disciples of Jesus Christ is the pain and poison of racism—the ongoing challenge of systemic and concrete acts of prejudice against our black- and brown-skinned sisters and brothers.

The video we’re going to watch just now, a reflection with Bryan Stevenson called “Stone Catchers” published on TheWorkofthePeople.com, isn’t necessarily easy or comfortable to watch or listen to—especially for those of us who are white and Christian.  But, as I’ll say more about in my sermon, it’s by looking with new curiosity at uncomfortable truths that we arrive at a deeper understanding of reality, and we feel more closely connected to other members of our human family, and to God.

So watch and listen now, for the word that God has for you in this introduction, and in the readings from Scripture that will follow.

https://www.theworkofthepeople.com/stone-catchers

 

Sermon:

As I said earlier, this week’s reflection on the Holy Habit of Sharing Resources is going to focus on what it means to “Share One Another’s Burdens.”  And, it’s understandable if the idea of sharing burdens seems a bit at odds with sharing resources—after all, aren’t resources generally understood as assets, as net positive things?  And aren’t burdens usually liabilities—things that diminish us, things we’d like to get rid of?

It all depends on your theological perspective and your confidence in God’s ability to transform and use all things—even liabilities, even burdens—to accomplish good and life-giving things.

The first disciples spent much time observing how Jesus noticed, acknowledged, and then transformed the burdens of those whom he healed.  And then, as we heard in our gospel lesson from Mark Chapter 6, Jesus sent those disciples out “two by two” to do the transformational work they’d learned from him.  He sent them out in pairs—not only so they would have a partner to help them with difficult work, to console and remind each other to “shake it off” when they got rejected, but also to hold each other accountable.  To provide the companionship of someone who knew them well, so that they could bounce ideas off each other, and also courageously point out, “I’m not so sure you’re seeing that straight.”  To ask each other for the facts, the reasons, the stories behind their perceptions.  To help each other see what they might be blind to about themselves and other people: both the good things they might not see, and also the “growing edges”, the ailments that might otherwise be tempting to ignore.

In our epistle lesson, Paul was writing to the Corinthian congregation he’d helped to pastor and nurture in its earliest days.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that he knows the community well, naming specific members and congregational dynamics.  He knows their strengths and weaknesses, what will motivate them, and what their blind-spots are.  He’s also pastored and gotten to know the gifts and challenges of other church communities as well.

The Corinthian churches may have known about the churches in Macedonia, and that, unlike the churches in Corinth, they were financially struggling.  So, when Paul tells the Corinthians that, “Although they were going through hard times and were very poor, they were glad to give generously. They gave as much as they could afford and even more, simply because they wanted to”[1], he was clearly trying to motivate the Corinthians to do the same.  He knew they possessed the resources – material, spiritual, and experiential – to do even more than the Macedonians did.  He was challenging the Christians in Corinth to embrace the idea of sharing their abundant resources as a privilege, like their sister church had done, rather than as an obligation, which is easy to resent.

Paul could see things that most individuals in the respective congregations couldn’t.  He had invested himself in hearing, understanding, and sharing life with many people.  And remember, true sharing is about receiving from others’ resources as surely as it is about giving from our own, whether those resources are material, experiential, even anecdotal.  With his wider scope of vision and experience, and because these diverse communities trusted in his love and desire for each of them to flourish in the life of the Spirit, the apostle was able to encourage and challenge each of the churches.

It was in his first letter to the Corinthians, in Chapter 12, that Paul had helped them to see that we are all members of one body—each with a different function, different gifts, different challenges, but all animated by the same Holy Spirit, the same breath of God in whose image we’re each created.  As we deepen our relationship with and understanding of every other divine image-bearer, we deepen our relationship with God’s own heart.

Also in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul pointed out that – as members of one body – when one part or member hurts, the entire body suffers or is diminished as a result.  Likewise, when one part is healed, the entire body fares better.  When we ignore or minimize the burdens or ailments of other human beings, our own souls suffer.

And so, there’s a real sense that as members of one body – whether we choose to or not – we share one another’s burdens.

Everyone knows that this nation’s history, including role the Church played, with regard to how white-skinned people have viewed and treated brown and black-skinned people is hard to look at, regardless of the color of our skin.  Especially if we’re white.

We each have a different threshold.  For some, the problem of racism doesn’t exist; they simply cannot, will not see it.  For others, it is an all-consuming evil.  For most of us, it is a perplexing reality that we might like to ignore and pretend isn’t a real problem … but our souls know better.  Facing the truth is hard, and scary, because it will probably require that we do some changing.

As a white woman raised in a predominantly white community, I can find it difficult, awkward, painful to hear the stories of benign neglect, disrespect, and blatant abuse – the ways that black and brown people have been, and still are, made to feel “less than”.  And I occasionally feel surprised and ashamed when I notice my own unconscious impulses, biases, or assumptions about people of color being revealed.  Biases I haven’t consciously settled upon, because I certainly don’t believe or agree with them, but I’ve somehow appropriated because they are woven so tightly into the fabric of our cultural ideas and understandings.  And, I can feel a sense of embarrassment and obligation without any idea of what to do about it, when I recognize how easily I move through the world with privileges most of my brown and black sisters and brothers do not have because of the systemic racism that exists in our society.

I get flustered and uncomfortable about these things, and find myself asking, “What more can I do?”  And I don’t always have answers.  Sometimes I feel defensive.  But if ask myself what I think I’m defending in those moments, it usually winds up being my ego or pride.  My fear of wrongdoing or failure, and my desire to feel like I’m not a flawed person living in a flawed and sinful world, as if I’m not prone to errant thoughts or ideas; part of me wants to think I’m better than that.  But if I were, then what use would I have for grace?

These are some of the burdens I bear—and I’m not alone.  I share them with others—with lots of you, I know!  And others share them with me, whether they, or I, want them, or not.  After all, we are all members of the same body.

And that’s actually good news!  Because as members of the same body, we share the burdens; they’re not ours to bear alone.  There’s gospel hope and truth in that, as Bryan Stevenson pointed out in our introductory video.  He simultaneously challenged and encouraged us to embrace the power we’ve been endowed with in our baptism, as those who possess the same Spirit and power that was in Christ Jesus.  He said:

            “People are throwing stones left and right.  And I think the new church – this church – needs to be willing to be stone catchers.  We’ve got to be willing to stand in places where we bear the burdens of those who’ve been wrongly accused and condemned.  We bear the burden of those who are being presumptively treated as if they’re dangerous or guilty.  We have to bear the burden of those disfavored communities in our country and across the world—those religious minorities, those sexual minorities, those undocumented communities.  People who are black and brown.  We have to bear their burdens.  We have to stand up and catch the stones that are cast at them.  And then we make a witness, then we make a statement about our faith that is empowering, that is transformative. 

            And so, I’m excited to be among a community of people who are trying to do that – we’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve been given the tools to do it with.  We know something about redemption.  We know something about grace.  We know something about mercy.  We know that we’re broken, but our brokenness doesn’t define us.  It just opens us up to what grace and mercy can do.  And that [that understanding, that wisdom, that shared resource of life in Christ] is the secret weapon that we have to employ if we’re going to confront racial bias and racial inequality in America.”

Friends, as we continue practicing the Holy Habit of Sharing Resources, I hope that some of our practice might include seeking out ways to nurture intentional relationships with People of Color – especially black and brown sisters and brothers in faith with whom we already share a common understanding, and with whom a foundation of trust should be easier to establish.  Let’s try to find ways to genuinely share our lives, to mutually share our stories – by which I mean, inviting and receiving, truly listening to, the truth of their experience with the same curiosity and openness with which we’d like our own stories to be heard and understood.  At the same time, we can open ourselves to the reality of other divine image-bearers by making a practice of reading their stories, reading about American history and current experience from black people’s perspectives.

There are things about our past and present in this country that are uncomfortable to acknowledge, much less look at squarely.  And it’s tempting to imagine that if we just don’t think or talk about the thorny issues, they somehow won’t exist or they’ll diminish in power.  But our souls know better.

Deep down, we know that the power we’ve been given as God’s image-bearers, as members of Christ’s body, is to be used to aid in the redemption and reconciliation of the world.  We are called to share one another’s burdens, to bear with one another and hold each other accountable in love, to encourage each other to greater acts of grace, mercy, and healing so that with God’s help, we all will be changed for good.  Because with God for whom resurrection is possible, even the burdens that make us feel weak and vulnerable become resources of strength, instruments for our transformation, as we come to an ever-deeper understanding of what it means to be truly human, fully alive and able to do things we never envisioned or imagined possible.

Now, as we gather around the communion table of the One who carried the burdens of all humanity upon the cross, let us remember that it was only by Jesus’ willingness to be broken open, to bear our burdens, and to catch stones, that the one whose name we bear demonstrated the power of resurrection and eternal life.  Amen.

[1] 2 Corinthians 8:2-3, CEV

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