Burdened

05.09.21

In an article that Billy shared with me this past week, Atlantic Senior Editor Julie Beck, guided a discussion between two coworkers, Amanda Mull and Katherine Wu.  Mull, a self described extrovert, and Wu, a self described introvert. Both described the burdens, or relief of burdens, they experienced during Covid pandemic.  For Mull it was a nightmare where those crowded spaces, hugging, and mindless small talk discussions that usually gave her energy were taken away.  For Wu, it was her perfect and ideal scenario, 

I like being able to set aside alone time and know that for these next three hours I don’t have to deal with anyone else. I think small talk is the tax that God exacted for the privilege of human speech.

Katherine Wu, science staff writer at The Atlantic

We are a society with an overflow of burdens, truth is, burdens are a reality of humanity.  They are fully individualized, one person’s burden is another’s energy.  Our outlook on life is largely influenced by our burdens as well as our perceptions of the burdens that others carry.  As I shared last Sunday, those burdens on the backs of others, the struggles, known and unknown to us, are a key factor in how we embrace, distance, accept, or judge others. The apostle Paul was speaking to this when he talked about a thorn in his flesh, a burden that he had to carry, he had asked God to remove it three times but it remained with him and he continued to struggle – he admitted his powerlessness against this burden which forced him to rely on God’s power in the midst of his weakness. We see throughout the book of Acts as well as all four gospels – Jesus  came to address our burdens as well as our future eternity.

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

I John 5:3

As we hit the 8th chapter of Acts last week, the apostles had already begun their initial impact in Jerusalem, Judea, and in Samaria and were now looking forward to the remotest parts of the earth.  Just how to do that was their dilemma, God however, came with the solution.  Sending the apostle Philip to his remotest place, he also sent an Ethiopian to his remote place, and there the two men met.  Philip was not just there to ease the burden on this man, but in the process, God would ease the burden for Philip. The geographical nature of this remotest place, for both men, became secondary to the inner burdens both men carried with them. Philip brought his burden, the labels that he carried often without even recognizing them, to him they had become ordinary and acceptable.  Burdens such as judging a person by skin color and ethnicity, condemning them because of personal burdens they carried that he did not understand or approve of.  The Ethiopian carried the reverse of those burdens, he lived a life of rejection and dismissal, and even emptiness, because of those same factors that shaded every other person’s perception of him – and probably his own hatred of those who looked at him that way.  There, in that remote place, God showed both men that none of those factors, none of those labels, mattered.

This brings us back to our question from last Sunday,

“What will it mean for all of us if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’

Dr. Matt Skinner, Acts: Catching Up With The Spirit

Let’s Be Honest – At first hearing, ‘Obey God’s  Commandments’ sounds like the literal definition of  Burdensome!

However, what if the Good News of the Good News is that God’s commandments indeed, are not a burden?  

How would such an enlightenment reshape and reorient our perception of the good news, the gospel, to better align itself with the life and teachings of Jesus, and, then, what if that realignment changes how we filter the teachings of the apostles throughout the New  Testament?

This is the question that sparked the journey of the New Testament Church, as we see in Acts – this spark, this question, this journey, of the church today – continues to be the challenge for us. 

“What will it mean for all of us, all our world, if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’

Let’s revisit this statement,

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

I John 5:3

The epistles of John point us to an understanding of the foundation of Love.  God is love, Jesus lived out that love, the Spirit leads us to manifest love in and through our lives. This word ‘Commandments’ automatically solicits thoughts of burdens not the absence of burdens.  The word commandments is the hiccup for us to grasp the truth of verse 3.  To better understand, we go directly to the words of Jesus. 

‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that  your joy may be complete. 

This is my (the) commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ 

John 15:9-12

So, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were correct when they created the tag line ‘All You Need Is Love.’ All we need to survive this world, all we need to relate to others, all we need to carry your burdens, all we need is Love.  Love tapped into THE SOURCE of LOVE.  Abide in that Love, Know the one who is that Love, follow the one who lived out that Love in the flesh, Follow the one who guides us in and by that Love in our reality. All We need is love.

Love like Jesus’ Love wipes away the labels that we, as humans, permit to keep us from loving others, especially others with certain labels.  We saw the Spirit began teaching this lesson to the apostles last Sunday as labels disappeared as Philip shares with the Ethiopian Eunuch.  Even though Jesus has taught and demonstrated what it meant to love and embrace all people, the actually doing of this did not automatically become comfortable for the apostles.  Theoretically it made sense but actually practicing it was still uncomfortable and they were uneasy – for the Holy Spirit, just like for Jesus, this came automatically.

In chapter 10 of Acts we see another apostle go to a remote place, not so much geographically but to a place that was just as difficult, a place in Judea but a place with a gentile majority.  Peter was called to go to the home of a man named Cornelius, a man loved by God just like all peoples, however, this man was a gentile, he was not a Jew.  The fact that there was actually a law that Jews could not enter the home of a gentile, Peter still followed God’s call.  There he found that Cornelius has assembled a great crowd of people, who happened to be gentiles, to listen the truth of love to be proclaimed by Peter.  Peter, like Philip, had to release his own burden of carrying labels, of not loving those that were different, those that who’s upbringing had instilled a false and hateful narrative, he had to let go and love those who God loved.  So he began to speak and before he could even finish, the people had already believed in Jesus, and, as a result of their belief the Holy Spirit noisily made his way into their lives.  They accepted, embrace, and followed Jesus there just as the Ethiopian man had done. To this day, this event is often referred to as the gentile Pentecost.

Those Jews there with Peter were astounded.  These people had been able to accept and follow Jesus without first being Jews, without first going through the system of Judaism, without first incorporating all the religious practices in their life, they had simply believed and received through faith. Then, even more that the Holy Spirit ascended on this group also before they had been baptized.

These people who, just moments before had received their scorn, now these people were of the same faith, they followed the same Messiah, they had received the same Spirit.  Their eyes were open in profound surprise, this was a very unexpected and even more unimaginable development, one that they had not seen coming. 

Like the Ethiopian, the people wanted to physically identify with other followers, they asked ‘Why Not Now?’  They wanted to be baptized.  Peter turned to the Jewish believers present and asked, 

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Acts 10:47

I am sure that they looked uncomfortably at each other, not knowing how to respond, but also knowing that they could not think of a reason to deny the act.  So the people, these previously unacceptable people, were now brothers and sisters.  God had called all the Jews to love all because Jesus loved all, now that calling was calling them to be act and to love.

We live in a world that needs love, needs to be plugged into the source of love,  – the love that Jesus exhibited and the love that we are called to – so, 

“What will it mean for all of us if the gospel is indeed good news for all people, without exception?’ 

Now, Let your mind run free and consider….

What could happen if we honestly said ‘yes’ to the ‘whatever and wherever’ reality of God’s path in our day to day reality?

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