1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you’re like me, you’re looking for ways to do things more efficiently and make life easier. You’re searching for ways to lessen your burdens. A better system for your workflow. A quicker route from here to there. Ways to make dinner faster. Every mom I know is ready to get out from the burden of folding laundry. Well, a machine called the FoldiMate is for you; it doesn’t come out until late this year, and it’ll cost you about $1,000. We’re always looking for ways to make life easier, be more productive, and most of all to lessen our burdens. While a lot of good has come from technology and machines and processes that lessen our burdens, there are some things that we just have to deal with because some burdens cannot be lessened.
This chapter of Scripture tells us about one area of our lives that will always be hard – loving others. Love isn’t easy. Love is, in fact, work. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy or boast. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love never ends. These clear words of Scripture obliterate much of what our society calls ‘love’ today.
But today, I want to focus on one phrase from this text about love; it is the first phrase from v. 7, “Love bears all things.” Remember, that the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). Paul writes in Gal. 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” One aspect of love is to bear another’s burdens. And there is no way to make bearing others’ burdens less burdensome.
I remember when I was in seminary things were pretty hectic during my second year. I had four hours of class every morning, and to keep our finances in order, I worked each afternoon. Sarah and I had been married for about a year and a half, so I was still adjusting to being a husband who wanted to provide for his wife (even though she was the main bread-winner). I would come home tired, have dinner, study my Greek and Hebrew, and write papers. Sarah was pregnant with Elijah, and I knew that, after he was born, I would have to cut back on my hours at work in order to take care of him and keep up with my studies. But I didn’t know how we would make everything work. The stress of it all was weighing down on me. So, one day, I went to one of my professors and I spent the better part of an hour unloading all my worries on him. And do you know what he did? He listened.
He didn’t say much. When he did speak, it was to let me know that he was hearing what I said as I continued to spew about my situation. When I was done, he didn’t give me extra time to turn in homework for his classes. He didn’t tell me about how he went through a similar time in his life. And he didn’t give me advice about how to manage my time better. He didn’t really do anything but hear me out.
So, when I left his office, nothing had changed. In fact, things should have probably been worse because I had taken a precious hour that I could have used for studying. But I left his office feeling better. You know why? Because, in a real sense, he was now carrying some of my burden. He loved me and allowed me to transfer my stress to him.
Maybe, you have had a similar experience – either unloading your own or listening to someone else’s burdens. Maybe you have come away from a conversation with someone who is facing all sorts of difficulties in their life, you come away from that conversation and you feel tired – not physically, but emotionally or spiritually. You feel tired because you are sharing that person’s burdens. This is an act of love that has cost you something, but it has truly helped the other person.
Which brings me back to where we started about looking for ways to make life easier. Too often, we try to make our own lives easier by avoiding the Scriptural command to bear one another’s burdens. But this is unloving, and it is, in fact, sinful. I can think of three tricks we commonly use to avoid bearing the burdens of others, but I am sure there are more (if you know more, let me know after the service).
The first trick is to simply avoid being around people. We don’t let people have access to us. And I’m not only talking about avoiding certain people who seem to always be unloading on us. We often go farther and avoid meaningful interactions with others as much as possible. We have schedules that are so full that we are running from one thing to the next. Even though you may be around people every waking moment, there is not really time or occasion for others to have a real conversation with you. So, the first trick is avoidance.
The second trick is, when other people start to tell us their troubles, we may listen for a bit, but then we start telling them our troubles. We interrupt and tell them how bad things are for us. It can almost become a contest about who has the most stress. And this trick is simply building a wall between us and their problems. I’ll talk about myself and my problems so I don’t have to deal with you and your problems. So, the second trick is putting a barrier between us and others’ burdens.
The third trick is the most dangerous because we think it is pious or virtuous. We give advice. We listen for a bit, and then we say, “Have you considered doing this?” Or even worse, we tell them what to think. “You should look at this as an opportunity for God to teach you something.” That may be right and correct and our advice might be really good – which is why we think it is so pious. But don’t miss the point, it deflects their burden from us back on to them. It can leave the person more deflated and more burdened, and we leave the conversation thinking we’ve done something good and loving. But we aren’t bearing their burden. And remember, if they wanted your advice… they would’ve asked for it.
Avoidance, barriers, and advice – all tricks we use to avoid bearing another’s burdens.
We heard about love in action in our Gospel lesson (Lk. 18:31-43). Jesus encountered blind Bartimeaus (Mk. 10:46). Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” Jesus pauses on His important trek up to Jerusalem, where He is going to save the whole world. He stops to listen to Bartimeaus asking him, “What do you want me to do for you?”Bartimeaus says that he wants to receive his sight. And Jesus doesn’t start talking about Himself and the problems He is about to face even though Jesus’ burden is going to be much more than blindness. And Jesus doesn’t give advice – and if anyone is in a position to give advice it’s Jesus. Jesus simply says, “Receive your sight, your faith has made you well.”By doing this, please note, Jesus recognizes that Bartimaeus’ blindness is bad.
Now, at this point, insert whatever problem you have, or the problems of people who are unloading their burdens on you – high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, fatigue, depression, being bullied – these things are not natural and are a product of the devil. Unlike Jesus, we can’t simply say the word and make things better. But we can, like Jesus recognize and acknowledge the brokenness in people’s lives and say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re going through this.” Another way to show love to those who share their burdens with us is to simply listen. Listen, and ask, “How can I pray for you?” Then, pray for them then and there. Pray for them and say, “May Jesus bless you.”
Jesus not only healed Bartimaeus’ blindness, Jesus bears his burden completely. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem where He would bear all mankind’s burdens, all your sins and iniquities. He would suffer all the consequences of sin in this world as He hung in darkness on the cross. And He carried all those burdens, every last one, to the grave. But He wouldn’t stay there. Because of that, because we await the Resurrection, we know that whatever we suffer in this world is temporary. So whatever burdens you bear – whether they are yours or others’ – they will disappear when our Lord returns.
You see, the love of Jesus has already and continues to bear all things – all your sins, all your iniquities, all your transgressions, all your griefs, all your cares, all your sorrows. And this becomes our focus for the next six weeks. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.