Sermon: Proper 23 RCL B – “The Burdens We Choose”

The podcast is available here.

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A very drunk patron at a bar is trying to impress everyone with his fighting ability. “I am trained in every hand-to-hand combat there is,” he says. To further prove his point, he walks up to Boudreaux, who happened to be in the bar, and whops him behind the neck! “Karate chop from China,” he says. Poor Boudreaux gets up off the floor and sits back in his seat, saying nothing. The big man hits him again. “Judo from Japan.” L’il ol’ Boudreaux once again picks himself up off the floor and continues sipping his beer. The man grabs him putting Boudreaux in a state of suspended animation. “That’s a nerve pinch from Korea.” After a few minutes, Boudreaux is able to move again. Instead of getting back on his bar stool he walks out. Ten minutes later he walks in with a large board in his hands and hits the drunk square in the head with the board, laying him flat out on the floor. Looking down at his tormenter, Boudreaux says, “Two-by-four from Home Depot.”

There are any number of things that “hit” us, but we still manage to get up from them.  You lose a job: can be a blow, but you get up and find another one.  A relationship falls apart: never pleasant, but we do move on.  The death of someone dear: possibly devastating, but over time, we work through the grief and love them without their physical presence.  No matter how hard the hit, as the saying goes, you’ve managed to survive 100% of the worst days you’ve ever experienced.  In most cases, it is not the two-by-four to the back of the head that beats us.  Instead, it is the day-to-day struggle of carrying around hurts, burdens in our souls that beat us down and we find it difficult to see past them.

Consider our Book of Common Prayer.  Pick one up and hold it in one hand.  How much does it weigh?  Pound?  Not much.  Yet, the absolute weight of the book does not really matter.  What matters is how long you hold it.  Hold that book for a few minutes and you won’t even notice it.  Hold it for an hour and you are going to have a pretty good ache in your arm and shoulder.  Hold it for a day and your arm will be numb and the pain elsewhere will be severe.

It is the exact same weight that it was when you picked it up, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes. The same applies to the mental, emotional, and spiritual burdens that we carry.  If we hold them long enough, we will not be able to carry on. The weight of them is intolerable to us.  Not only do they infect our souls, but we know that they can foster physical problems as well.  Eventually, these burdens can also lead to a crisis of faith, effecting our relationship with Jesus.  Consider our Gospel reading from today.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  After asking why he called him “good” (an entirely different sermon), Jesus responded, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”  The young man is pleased with himself, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  But not so fast, “‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”  Jesus then says to the disciples that it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Why?  Because someone who can purchase what they need and lives in comfort and safety is far less likely to feel the hunger for God.  “If I want something, I don’t have to rely on a God I cannot see or speak to.  Instead, I go and get or take what I want.”  Satisfied without God, what use is God to them? Why bother with the relationship with Him.  So, for this rich young man: yes, he had kept all the commandments, it sounds as though he worked hard to be  a “good little boy.” He’d done the right things while maintaining those possessions that kept him comfortable.

Hebrews tells us that the Word of God (Jesus) is sharper than any two-edged sword and judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Nothing is hidden and all is laid bare.  For this man in our Gospel, his approaching Jesus was genuine.  His heart was sincere.  His intention was open, but that two-edged sword, Jesus saw through it all.  Jesus said to him, “Yes, you are good.  Your wealth, while it is a good thing, is actually your burden.  It blocks you from a true relationship.  Therefore, cast your burdens aside and follow me.”  

Remember from a few weeks ago, Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot or your eye causes you to stumble, remove it.”  The same principle applies here.  If something brings a division between you and God, it should be removed, cast aside.  Not because these things are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but because they are detrimental to the relationship.  Our burdens, like the rich young man’s wealth, have the same effect.  They rob us of our faith and joy and passion, they beat us down and leave us feeling unworthy.  Unsatisfied.  Like the young man, Jesus offers all, but we go away grieving because of the burdens we carry.  

So, let me ask you this: what happened?  This episode just ends without resolution.  Jesus normally does something miraculous: heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, feeds the hungry, but in this case, that young man went away grieving.  What do you suppose happened to him?

Well, this is one of those cases that I’m going to tell you what I “think” instead of what I “know” (which I think we can all agree is quite significant!). I think this young man did exactly what Jesus told him to do.  I think he walked home, looked around at his possessions, looked at his relationships, reflected on all those people in his neighborhood that he didn’t know or those he saw who were in need, and wondered why he grieved over what was actually weighing him down.  Why do I think this?  Our Gospel gave one small clue.

After Jesus had reaffirmed the commandments, the young man said to Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Then Mark, the author of the Gospel, records Jesus’ feelings towards the young man, saying, “Jesus, looking at him… Jesus, looking at the young man, loved him.”  Why do I think the young man followed every word Jesus said?  Because you cannot experience the love of God and not be changed.

Consider Jesus and the cross. He was buried under the sins of the world. Buried under shame of the cross. Buried under the judgment of others. Buried under the expectations of others. Buried under the cross.  Buried in the tomb.  Yet, when the came to look for him on that first Easter morning, the angel of the Lord said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”  Why are you looking for him here? Why are you looking for him buried?  He is risen.  He overcame all that buried him, that burdened him.  And everybody says, “Yes! But that’s Jesus.  That’s God.  Of course he can overcome these things.  But I’m not Jesus.  I’m not God!”  No.  But therein lies the Good News.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  It is through Christ that we can overcome those things that bury us, that burden us, but… and here comes the hard part… we must choose, because Jesus gives us a choice.  Just like the rich young man: you can choose to remain as you are, weighed down by the burdens you carry in your soul, or you can experience this life changing love of Christ and choose to cast your burdens aside and be raised to new life through him.

The rich young man went home, looked around him, and chose Jesus.  When you return home… what will you choose?

Let us pray: O Blessed Virgin Mary, in the depths of your heart you pondered the life of the Son you brought into the world. Give us your vision of Jesus and ask the Father to open our hearts, that we may always see His presence in our lives, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, bring us into the joy and peace of the kingdom, where Jesus is Lord forever and ever.  Amen

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