Lent 2018: Loving Across Our Differences – Bear One Another’s Burdens
Luke 10:25-37 – Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
How many of you have seen the movie, “The Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw? It is a great example of our word today- bear one another’s burdens. The Tuohy family was driving home on a cold night when the mother saw a young man walking along side the road. The kids recognized him as Big Mike, someone they knew from their school. Something about the situation made the mother, Leigh Ann Tuohy, get her husband to stop the car. After finding out that Big Mike had no place to stay, she invited him to their home, and there began a relationship with Michael Oher that lifted him from his poverty and eventually resulted in a career in the NFL. They provided him a home, food and clothing, and eventually adopted him into the family. They even hired a private tutor to help him with his schoolwork. I love the moment in the movie when someone commented to Mrs. Tuohy about how she had literally changed the life of this young man. And she replied, “No, he’s changed mine.” The lives of the Tuohy family were changed because of their willingness to help a young man who just needed some help in order to succeed. It’s a contemporary story of what it means to bear another’s burden.
Jesus told a similar story about a man who stopped on the side of the road to help someone who needed help, someone who would have died without that help. We don’t know his name, but he is forever known as the Good Samaritan. What he did was extreme and radical. He endured personal risk, inconvenience and expense in order to help a stranger that others had left for dead. The Good Samaritan put the man on his donkey and took him to an inn where he could recover. That Good Samaritan gave the innkeeper some of his own money to help this total stranger and promised to come back and pay for whatever extra was needed to provide for the stranger’s care. And Jesus ended the story by asking, “who proved to be neighbor to the man on the side of the road?” Then he commands, “Go and do likewise.” Bear one another’s burdens.
There’s nothing easy about bearing another’s burden. It’s inconvenient. It disrupts our schedule and routine. In order to bear another’s burden, we have to have some flexibility. And it’s costly. For most of us bearing a burden like the Good Samaritan did is just too impractical, too unrealistic and too radical. And yet there are times when Jesus calls us to bear one another’s burdens. In his book, Love One Another, author Jerry Sittser says that bearing burdens for another can take many different forms. “We must get them back on their feet physically, emotionally, socially, economically, politically. This task may require us to help them find a place to live, get a new job, straighten out their personal finances, heal a broken relationship, build an adequate self-image, solve deep psychological problems, secure their political rights, change unjust structures, feed them healthy food, reform the criminal justice system or change bad habits” (p. 136). I think of veterans suffering from PTSD. I think of those suffering from mental illness or from opioid addictions. I think of some of the movements for social change in our country, like the MeToo movement, or the Black Lives matter movement, or the students marching for sensible gun control laws in our country. One of the first parts of bearing a burden for someone is just to open our eyes and see the need. That is the first thing the Good Samaritan did- he saw the need.
I want to share with you a Good Samaritan story. One of the members in my last church in Sioux Falls was a woman named Jerene Mortenson. Jerene was retired when I met her. She had spent her life as an educator. She and her husband had been missionaries to Tanzania where Jerene started a school. Through Jerene I got to know her son, Greg Mortenson, author of the book, Three Cups of Tea. For four years that book was on the New York Times Best Seller’s List. It tells the story of Greg Mortenson’s 1993 attempt to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain located in Pakistan. On the descent, Greg became separated from his party and was lost. Close to death he was found by residents of a small rural village who took Greg in and nursed him back to health. While Greg was there he noticed that the village had no school. In gratitude for their hospitality, Greg promised to return and build a school for the village. The book tells the story of Greg’s attempts to raise money for the school. He eventually built that school and in the process the Central Asia Institute was developed to provide schools for rural villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The institute’s guiding philosophy is that if you want to change the world, you need to educate girls and women. “Girls and women with education are more likely to share this knowledge with their children, families, and communities.” The path to lasting peace begins with education. Since its founding in 1996, the Central Asia Institute has begun over 55 schools. In 2016, almost 50,000 people benefitted from CAI’s programs. Greg’s mother, Jerene, started the Pennies for Peace program to support those efforts. In my opinion, CAI has done more to promote peace in that region of the world than 16 years of war has ever done. All because one village decided to bear a burden for a stranded mountain climber.
In Bible times, there were no government programs to take care of people. Your family took care of you when problems developed. If you had no family, you begged and relied on the sympathy of others. One of the reasons the early church grew so quickly is because they were at the forefront of caring for those who had no one to care for them. They cared for widows and orphans. They cared for those who were sick. They did this because Jesus had commanded them to love their neighbor and to bear their neighbor’s burdens. Over the centuries, the church has often been at the forefront in establishing hospitals and orphanages to care for the needy and bear their burdens. Just think about the hospitals in Rochester. One is called St. Mary’s and another Methodist.
There are times when we as individuals are called on to bear a burden for someone. The Good Samaritan is an example of that, one person helping another. We have the tools and resources to help, and though it may inconvenience and cost us, it is what we are called to do. Sometimes it takes a whole church to get the job done. We do that when we pool our resources to help those suffering from hunger or to help those who have gone through disaster. We did that last year when we raised $3,200 for the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and Lutheran Disaster Response or when we raise money for the Food Shelf. We did that when the community came together to raise money for Cory Tammel’s medical expenses. We came together to help bear a burden.
The Good Samaritan met a short-term burden. But many burdens people have can’t be fixed on the short-term. Most of us are like Larry the Cable Guy. We just want to “Git ‘er done!” But there are some burdens that require a long period of time- perhaps even a lifetime. When someone gets sick with cancer or develops a chronic disease, when someone is disabled or paralyzed, when mental illness or depression develops, when disaster strikes or simply when old age makes one weak and unable to care for oneself, these can be burdens that will require a long-term commitment how best to meet them.
I want to tell you another Good Samaritan story. Perhaps some of you have heard of the Good Samaritan Society. Its’ corporate headquarters is in Sioux Falls. There is an office in Preston that provides home health services that allow people to stay in their homes. I want to tell you how the Good Samaritan Society got started. “Good Samaritan began in Arthur, North Dakota in 1922. It began in response both to human need and God’s abundant provision. A young boy, Christian, who lived in the area had polio. The nearest treatment available was in St. Louis. Several Lutheran pastors sent out a plea to their parishioners to send in two pennies to help pay for Christian’s trip to St. Louis and his treatment there. The pennies came pouring in, enough to take care of Christian with $2,000 left over. With that extra money the pastors decided to begin a place-a Christian home-that could care for crippled children and others in need. The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society was born. One of the Lutheran pastors, Rev. August Hoeger, became the president and driving force behind Good Samaritan for the next 50 years. This work of caring for people in need in a Christian setting grew first of all in Arthur, and then began to spread to other communities around the country. People would hear of Good Samaritan and invite Rev. Hoeger to come to their town and build a nursing home there.” (from the Good Samaritan website). Today there are over 230 Good Samaritan homes. Pastor Hoeger’s grandson was one of my college roommates. The year we roomed together Greg worked at one of the nursing homes as an aid. He often came back tired and smelly. But he loved his job and he loved the residents he worked with. Over the years I have grown in my appreciation for the ministry of Good Sam and the people who work there. For many of them, caring for others is not just a job, it’s a calling, a place where people can use their skills and compassion to bear burdens and fulfill the command of Christ.
We bear one another’s burdens because Jesus has borne our burdens. “Surely, he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases…But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus has borne our burdens, our sins on the cross. He brings us healing, forgiveness and peace. And now he invites us to follow him and join him in bearing burdens for others.