Friday, June 6, 2008

Set Down the Load You are Carrying (Dialogue Column 6-3-08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

What kind of load are you carrying? Is it time for you to let some of it go?

The past two Sundays I have preached from what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7. On May 25, I preached from Matthew 6:24-34 where Jesus speaks about worrying and asks us to “consider the lilies of the field” and “the birds of the air.” On June 1, I preached from Matthew 7:21-29 where Jesus compares the wise and foolish builders. In both passages, Jesus contrasts our reliance upon ourselves verses our reliance upon God.

If you’re like me, you never spend enough time thinking about what exactly it means to trust God in your daily life. It seems that only when I am faced with a situation clearly outside of my control do I really bother to ask for God’s help. I remain far too busy with cares, concerns, meetings and activities to take time to see what life would be like if I relied on God more. I wonder sometimes if I really trust God enough to let go of my anxious efforts to do it all or if reliance upon God is just a nice idea I talk about now and then.

Our talented accompanist, Jeremy Gregoire, offered us a gift Sunday when he played the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Its words have been echoing in my mind since yesterday’s service: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” My familiarity with this hymn tricks me into trivializing the truth of its words.

In my preparation for Sunday’s sermon, I was reading some of the context preceding the passage I was going to preach on. Earlier in chapter 7, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Growing up, I heard these verses preached only in terms of conversion and salvation. There always seemed to be an undercurrent of elitism in such teachings—“Few know the truth that we know; pity the ignorant masses.” I’ve come to view it differently in the years since.

In the old city of Jerusalem, as in many ancient cities, there were large gates used by crowds and by farmers and merchants, just as there were narrow gates used by individuals. By its size, the narrow gate did not allow you to carry in baggage or a load of crops or merchandise; for that, you needed the wide gate. If you wanted to go through the narrow gate, you had to let go of the load you were carrying or go another way. (I have the suspicion that I got this particular idea from William Barclay, but I'm not sure.)

I have come to believe that the “life” Jesus was speaking about in these verses was not only eternal life but a fulfilling life here and now. We rob ourselves of it through our loads of care and worry and through our endless quest for more stuff to acquire and own. None of these things feeds our soul, gives us peace of mind or gives us fulfillment. In order to find it, we must let it go and walk through the narrow gate. The reason few find it is not out of ignorance but out of fear; fear over just what will happen if we truly rely on God’s grace and care. What would happen if you laid your load down?

Grace and Peace,


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