Summary: Revised for use at the Chapel of a retirement complex: Life is burdensome if it is merely obligation and not love, or if we think our work means nothing. Christ's victory shows the power of a meaningful life.
Riderwood Village Chapel, Silver Spring, MD August 8, 2004
In May our son got married. He and his bride passed out little bottles of soap to be used instead of the traditional rice, so we all celebrated at the end of the wedding by blowing bubbles. Well, my daughter’s child, his niece, a little less than two years old, ran all over the place trying to catch soap bubbles. But you know what happened; every one of those bubbles vanished just before she could get it.
I’ve learned over the years that it does not matter how hard I work at things: they will not get done. There are many things that are immensely frustrating, because I finish them, but they won’t stay finished. Do you know what I mean? The kinds of jobs that you do and almost immediately you have to do them again?
Weeding a garden, for example. I spent a good-sized chunk of my alleged vacation pulling up unwanted plants. Frankly, I would have thought that if it’s green, it’s good to have, but she who is the mistress of the plantation says, “No, the weeds have to go.” And so up they came, yes ma’am, yes ma’am, three bags full. When it was all done, I felt such a sense of accomplishment. So I went out the next morning to admire the results of my labors, and what did I see? More weeds! Saucy little creatures, poking their impertinent heads up through the mulch. Weeding is a hopeless task that won’t stay done.
Or feeding the household. That too is a never-ending task. Because he whose hunger pangs you satisfied last night wants to know tonight, “What’s for dinner?” Even Jesus found out after He had fed the five thousand that they came back the next day for another miracle! You know the feeling. Probably that’s one of the reasons some of you moved to Riderwood, just to get away from those never-ending household chores. My parents moved to a place like this after my mother set her laundry basket down on the steps one day and announced, “I don’t want to do this any more.” Turns out she didn’t mean just the laundry. She didn’t want to do laundry, she didn’t want to do cooking, she didn’t want to do dusting, not any more. Why? Largely because those things won’t stay done. They keep coming back. .
How do you feel when you think about that? Tired? Frustrated? I think the word is “weary”. Weary is a few steps deeper than tired. Not just tired, not just pooped, but weary, bone weary, exhausted. Because you’re not sure you’ve really accomplished anything that will last.
What about church? Is church like that for you? Are you weary of church? Church just keeps on going, Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon, prayer after prayer, and what does it all mean? Oh, when I get to heaven, I am going to ask the Lord if it was really necessary to put a Sunday into every single week! Are you weary of church?
Years ago I was a fill-in church organist. One of the places I went regularly was a church where the organ was behind a carved wooden screen. I could sit at the organ bench and see what the minister was doing even when others could not. Each Sunday, when it came time for the pastor to lead the prayers, I could see him go to the altar and heave a great sigh (whew!), sinking to his knees to pray! It sure looked as though for him, church was a great big tiresome burden!
Is that you? Is there a way out of being weary with church? I think there is. John will help us.I
Notice first that John tells us that we won’t get weary if we live out of a response to love and not out of obligation. When you do something not only because you love it, but also because somebody loves you, then you won’t get weary. But if it is just a job – if it is merely an obligation – then it won’t be long before it’s a heavy chore and a painful burden. John reminds us it doesn’t have to be that way:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome
That interests me. God’s commandments are not burdensome. It is not wearying to serve God – when? When you know that God loves you. When you do something out of love and not out of obligation, it is not a burden.
Over my years of pastoral service, I’ve watched families care for their terminally ill relatives. In those years, I’ve seen people who cared for others tirelessly and without complaint. But then I’ve seen others who mumbled and grumbled about every little inconvenience, and made a hundred excuses. I’ve been to nursing homes and hospices where, every time I went, a family member was there, keeping vigil. But I’ve also been to places where it seemed as though the patient was completely abandoned by his family. They got tired of taking care. They got weary. What made the difference? If they knew that they had been loved. If they remembered how mom or dad took care of them years before. It’s not a burden to respond in love when you know that somebody has loved you. And you don’t get weary; you find that extra reserve to keep you going if you know you have been loved.