A sermon on Galatians 6:1-10 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 16 June 2019
Today’s message is: Carry each other’s burdens., but carry your own load.
It seems a contradiction. Like it’s saying the opposite. “Carry each other’s burdens, but, on the other hand, don’t carry each other’s burdens, just carry your own.” Or it sounds like, “Carry your own load and everyone else’s load too.” Which doesn’t seem fair. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t mean either of those things.
Imagine a family hiking trip. Everyone is carrying their own pack. Inside the pack each person carries their own food, their own water, their own clothes, their own compass and map and emergency supplies in case they get split up. But also in each pack is part of the tent. Someone is carrying the poles. Someone is carrying the outer sheet. Someone else is carrying the ground sheet.
Unfortunately, on the hike Dad sprained his ankle. Typical Dad. So on the way out, Dad’s pack is split between everyone else, except Mum who has to help him limp along. Carry your own load. Carry each other’s burdens.
To carry your own load is to shoulder your own responsibilities. Your normal, everyday duties for which you and you alone are responsible. Just like each of the hikers carry their own pack, their own clothes and food and water, so we attend to our own business. Breathe in, breathe out. Pick up this. Study that. Write this. Do that. You have to do it for yourself because no one is going to do it for you. Nor should they. Carry your own load.
But every community has shared responsibilities. In our story, the hikers had one tent between them. One person didn’t carry it. But they shared it out between them. They each carried a part of it. In the same way, in a family there are shared responsibilities. They live in one house. They can keep their own room clean and divide the common rooms between them. They can either split the jobs up so that family members are doing the same job all the time. Or make a roster so that the same job is done by different people at different times. Someone has to do it and anyone could but who will? It’s the sort of thing that families have to negotiate all the time.
So individuals have their own responsibilities. And communities have shared responsibilities. But on top of these come the extra burdens and emergencies. The sudden illness. The unexpected visitor. The last minute cancellation. A trip and a fall. A death in the family. A chronic disease. Unemployment in our fifties. A drought. A storm. A flood. Depression. Anxiety. Like Dad’s fall on the hike they aren’t part of our plans. They aren’t the sort of thing that anyone would choose from the great menu of life. No one schedules a serious illness or a car accident in their diary. They are more than just the normal individual responsibilities of life. They are burdens. They weigh us down. They are more than we can bear on our own. We lose sleep over them and the constant worry can affect our judgment when we think about even the simplest problems. And although they may come suddenly, they may not go away as quickly. And some never go.
Carry your own load, says the apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 6. Attend to your own personal responsibilities. In the context of the passage it refers to the fact that we will all have to give an account of ourselves before God on his judgment seat. We are each responsible for our own actions. We cannot take anyone else’s place and no one can take our place.
But carry each other’s burdens. Again, in the context of the passage it refers to the fact that if we see a fellow believer tempted and falling into sin, we have a responsibility to correct them. If you had a piece of lettuce stuck between your front teeth, you’d want someone to tell you. If you were going to walk in front of a bus, you’d want someone to warn you. In the same way, if you lying and everyone else knew it, you’d want to know. So we are to treat others the way we want to be treated.
Carry your own load. Carry each other’s burdens. Like in our story. It’s tempting to leave Dad at the campsite with his sprained ankle. It’s tempting to make him limp out on his own. But instead everyone shares this unexpected burden. The kids each carry a share of Dad’s pack. And Mum lets him lean on her shoulder as well as carrying her own pack. And they eventually all get out. They carried their own load as best they could. And they carried each other’s burdens.
The church is a special community. We are the family of God. We are the body of Christ. We are brothers and sisters in the Spirit. And in this community we are called to carry each other’s burdens. No one should be left behind. No one should be forgotten. No one should have to carry their burden on their own. Your burdens and my burdens are our burdens. There is no option to shun that difficult person or to force that needy person to fend for himself. As Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do it for me.”
Carry your own load. Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. It is part of our load, it is part of our daily responsibility as followers of Christ and as members of his body to carry each other’s burdens. For we have not just believed in Christ as our personal Saviour. Jesus Christ is not just like our personal trainer who comes into our life at certain times when we need a bit of a lift to give us a few tips to be successful in life. He is not just our personal Saviour who does us a favour, even a life-saving favour. But we have also accepted him as Lord. This does not mean that he is not also our Friend. Rather, he is the best of all friends. He calls us his brothers and sisters. He belongs to us and we belong to him. But only because we call him Lord.
The promise of the Scriptures is that whoever confesses with his lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead will be saved. Will be saved from death and damnation and hell. Not might be saved. Not probably be saved, cross your fingers. But will be saved from the lake of fire reserved for Satan and those who serve him. Saved for God and saved for our true selves. Because Jesus is our Lord. We follow him. He doesn’t follow us. Our Lord calls us to his service and to give our lives for him who gave his life for us. And as his servants we give ourselves to fulfil his law. The law of Christ is the way of love. And the way of love is to carry your own load and to carry each other’s burdens.
Carry your own load. Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. The trick is to tell the difference. When does your load become our burden? Twenty six years of experience in ministry tells me that when something in your life is either affecting your health or your sleep or your patience you are burdened. If you cannot cope with the load you are trying to carry you need help. Or soon you won’t be able to carry anything.
So I’ll just finish with two questions. Is someone else carrying your load? Pick it up and carry it yourself. It is the way of love. It is the law of Christ. Secondly, are you trying to carry your burden all by yourself? It isn’t yours. It is ours. Let us help. Let me know how I can help. Let me know how we can help. Because it is the way of love. The law of Christ who carried his own load and carried our burdens away.