Joys and Burdens

Psalm 30:8-12, James 2:14-17

It’s pretty much a given that every one of us is going to experience a burden or two at some time in our life.  It is also a given that every one of us is going to experience a joy or two at some time in our life.  The two aren’t directly correlated to one another.  There is no great balancer in the sky that is handing out equal numbers of burdens and joys.  However it plays out in our individual lives they both definitely exist.

I don’t think there is a script that is playing out with our burdens and joys.  God is not up there in heaven looking down and pulling levers to assign burdens and joys to us in some random fashion.  Or filling out forms online to annoy us and make us happy.  There is no app for that.  God is the grand creator all things but is not the grand manipulator of what happens in our lives.  Maybe it is karma?  The natural order of things playing out according to our role in it.  If you’re mean to other people I think the usual way that plays out is that you have more burdens in your life than joys.  On the other hand, if you regularly reach out to help others then you experience more joys. It’s not always exactly that way as many mean people experience joys and many people that reach out to help others have burdens.  But generally speaking, you can predict how this works most of the time.

Amidst the burdens and joys, God is the center of our lives and as our lives play out on the grand stage,  we’re called to praise God and not be silent, as noted by the Psalmist.  God is certainly present in our burdens and in many cases is the reason we’re able to endure the burdens and ultimately come through the burdens.  Which in turn gives us the ability to celebrate the joys and in those celebrations to remember that it is God who is always by our side, burdens or joys.  I like the 11th & 12th verses of Psalm 30 very much as they remind me of this; “11 You (David is addressing God here) you have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

Sometimes we are the manifestation of God’s presence in other’s burdens and joys.  It is a calling for each of us that we are to be present when others are burdened and to be present when others experience joys.  As the body of Christ, We Are Church: Together.  When we’re together we recognize that others will need us to be God’s hand and feet on the ground as they experience those life challenges that come up.  And on occasion we’ll need them, too, when we are weighed down by life’s burdens.  The ability, the gift, of being able to pick someone up when they’re down and being picked up when we are down sets the stage for the possibility of joy.

The reading from James highlights this though it is a tricky one.  People, and in particular Lutheran pastors, like to argue about the ‘faith without works is dead’ idea far too often.  If you ask 5 Lutheran pastors what this passage means you’re going to get seven answers and a fist fight.  I don’t think it is quite as controversial as all that.  I supposed what gets Lutheran thinkers going is the fact that Luther hated the James epistle and thought it should be taken out of the Bible.  That and combined with that bit in v 14 that says, “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[e] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?”  Now, of course we believe that faith can save you and in fact it is only grace through our faith that does save us.

But I don’t think James is speaking about being saved in a theological sense.  I think James is speaking about being saved in a very real and practical sense.  I say that because in vv 15 and 16 he notes, “15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”  James isn’t talking about heaven and hell, he’s talking about basic survival needs like clothing and food.  Will faith keep you from starving to death?  No.  No, it won’t.  If you don’t have any food, sitting around in faith isn’t going to get you any.  You have to go out and work for it and if you can’t do that then someone must help you out.  That’s what James is talking about and concludes in v17, “17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

How that applies to us is pretty straightforward and ironically Luther addresses this in his writing, On Christian Liberty saying, “It is the part of a Christian to take care of his own body for the very purpose that, by its soundness and well-being, he may be enabled to labor, and to acquire and preserve property, for the aid of those who are in want, that thus the stronger member may serve the weaker member, and we may be children of God, thoughtful and busy one for another, bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ.  Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith really working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of their freest servitude in which h serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fullness and riches of his own faith.”  Luther may not have liked the epistle of James very much but was definitely in favor of us needing to do something for others. We are simply called to help others out in their difficult times.

It is also interesting how this is playing out here at Spirit of Hope as we speak.  As I’ve mentioned several times recently your leadership has been working hard on figuring out ways to help us be better connected as a community of faith.  One of the things that came up is that in times of burden or times of joy we, as a church, don’t show up.  When there is a funeral, an accident, a birth or the like, we have not historically done   Part of that has been intentional leadership on my part and in looking back it was wrong approach.  If you felt like we missed out on being there for you in the past please hear my apology.  We are working on doing things differently and doing them better in the future.

Case in point, one of our folks is in the hospital right now.  I’m not going into public details for obvious reasons but I bring it up as an example.  This is a classic situation where your church needs to step into this family’s burden and do something about it.  With that in mind, on Saturday when we heard what was happening your council president, Amanda Boucher, put into motion what the council had been discussing.  A page on mealtrain.com was setup to schedule delivering meals and at the moment is covered through April 14.  Pretty amazing what people will do.  There is also a Facebook group to get the word out for those that use Facebook. We have another opportunity to help out coming up fairly soon as new little one will be joining us and we’ll be helping with meals there, too.

I’ll be posting updates about this on Facebook and the eNews in the next couple of days.  Please help to get the word out to let people know to contact us if they need us to help.  And let people know to get in touch if they’re available to provide help.  We don’t know exactly how to do this well but we’re not going to let our inexperience and our missteps keep us from being the church.  Together.  And as the church together, we’ll be sharing our burdens.  And our joys.

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