Here is the (short) sermon I preached on July 4 at the VA hospital ...
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
What does it mean to bear one another's burdens, to be our brothers' keeper? Don't we each have our own burdens to bear? The world tells us to look out for ourselves, not to count on anyone but me. Even in this passage we read today, there seems to be a contradiction about helping each other and accepting our own responsibility. Paul tells the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens and then turns right around and says that each one much carry their own load.
The difference lies in the meaning of the words “burden” and “load”. A load is something an individual can carry – think of it like a sack or a backpack, something meant for one person to manage and we all have our own load, those responsibilities such as our families, our jobs, our commitments that we are responsible for. A burden is something that is too much for one person to handle, those times in our lives when we can’t manage things on our own. These are the times, times of sickness, grief, and hardships when we need to look out for each other and help one another bear these burdens.
Bearing one another’s burdens is part of what keeps us connected as the family of God, the body of Christ that is the Church. Salvation isn't individualistic, its community. God came to live among us, in community, as one of us in the form of Jesus. Jesus formed his community of disciples and his ministry was directed toward others in compassion and understanding. This is how he taught us to be his church.
Bearing one another’s burdens isn’t just about helping each other. It also requires letting others help us, asking for and accepting help when we need it, allowing other's to bear our burdens. It takes courage and strength to ask for help. But if we refuse to let others help us, even as we willingly help them, we get in the way of our fellow Christians fulfilling the command that Jesus give us.
Typically, it is our own pride that keeps us from asking for help – we don’t want to appear less than others. Paul tells the Galatians to test our own work and not each others, meaning that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to one another with judgment. If I judge my own work simply on the standard of what I know I can do, the load I know I can handle, then there is no reason for me to think of myself as better than, or lesser than, anyone one else. And if no one thinks themself as better than or less than anyone else then we would be a community of equals.
It’s a wonderful ideal, isn’t it, to think of all of God’s children working together for the good of all. A beautiful thing to think about as this weekend we celebrate our nation's independence, our freedom, a freedom that veterans have fought to secure. So I encourage each of you to not give up and to take the opportunities we have to bear one another’s burdens and to let others help bear ours.
God’s peace be with each of you. Amen.