The Things We Carry

By now, the War in Vietnam happened a long time ago.  People who are 50-years-old-and-younger today have no recollection of it at all, and that includes me, so I don’t really know, but from most accounts, it was quite different than our present war in Afghanistan.  We don’t hear too much about the War in Afghanistan.  Its always going on but it seems we don’t hear too much about it unless we go looking for news.  But if you talk to people who lived through the Vietnam War, from what I understand, every night on television there would be footage of the war.  There would be updates of the number of people who had died that day.  That was something people lived with and as they shut off their TVs at night they probably went to bed still thinking about it.

In 1990 a writer by the name of Tim O’ Brien wrote a book called the Things They Carried, about the Vietnam War.  It was required reading when I was a student at Appalachian State University and is still read widely in 12th grade curriculum and college curriculum.  He had been on the ground in Viet Nam and he used his own real life experience as the basis for this novel.

With a keen eye, he tells about the men who were in platoon together.  He tells us their names: there was Lieutenant Jimmy Cross who lead the men through the jungle, there was Rat Kiley the medic who tried to take care of the men when they were wounded, there was Kiowa, a Native American Baptist who went to sleep each night smelling the smell of the New Testament he used for a pillow, there was Ted Lavender, who didn’t make it home.  And there were many more men – all different in their personalities and from different places around the US – but, according to O’Brien, they were all united by the things that each of the men carried.

O Brien writes, “The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C – rations, and two or three canteens of water.”

But each of these men carried more.  Extra socks and boots, food, helmets, ponchos.  Heavy things.  Things of war.

“In addition to the three standard weapons—the M-60, M-16, and M-79—all heavy –and they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive. They all carried fragmentation grenades. They all carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade. Some carried tear gas or white phosphorus grenades.”

The list of the things they carried goes on and on, as O’Brien paints his picture of men carrying terrible loads.  Loads always being added to by resupply choppers.  No matter what they laid down, there was always more being sent, which must be carried.  But these men were not just carrying heavy things in their rucksacks and across their shoulders.

“They were tough,” O Brien writes, “[But] They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, [and] they had tangible weight.”

“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”

I think we carry heavy things.  I think you and I carry the weight of our past mistakesm, which sometimes haunt us.  I think we carry the heaviness of difficult decisions in our midst today.  We carry the worry of what tomorrow will bring.  Think about the things you carry in your life.

We carry our sadness for the brokenness of this world, in places as far away as Afghanistan and places as close and personal as right here at home, where as a country we still grapple with our racism and our sexist and how to treat one another well and live together.  We carry burdens for the things that hurt us and others which we have no power to change and for the things which are of our own doing. 

We carry heavy things. 

God knows the terrible power of the things we carry, because in Jesus he has carried their terrible weight on his very own shoulders.

With all the emotional baggage of a man who not only might die – but who is destined to die – Jesus sits at the table with his friends on the night that he will be turned over to the authorities and truly feels the grief, he truly feels their terror, as well as the love and the longing that his disciples felt.

Jesus looks and says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot carry them now – you can’t bear them up now.  They are too heavy.”

Because each of these disciples will be sent out to carry the gospel to people and places and they will experience animosity, judgement, exclusion, and some will lose their lives.

But as they sit at the table, and even as Jesus is carrying this tremendous weight of his passion, he promises to send his Spirit to guide these disciples through all these things that they can’t even bear to hear about.  He is going to be with them through it all.  He is going to be and all who would follow him on this way of self-giving. 

Jesus promises to be with you and to be with me in the difficult twists and turns of our life as we follow him.  He promises to strengthen us so that we can to stand when the weight seems too heavy and when it feels like our knees are buckling under the worry or the sickness or the grief.

When we can’t carry the weight any more by ourselves, Jesus promises, God will be there to help us.

In baptism, as water is poured over you, the Word of God penetrates into you with the sounding of the name: You are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

At the font, the Spirit of God took you and immersed you in the love that the Father and the Son share with one another for all eternity.

Think about the waters of God’s creation — Think about the depths of the deepest ocean.  Think about the most-high crashing thunderstorm.  Think about the most-mighty roaring river  — the waters of God’s creation.  That is the power of the love that has grasped you in baptism, because God loves you so much.  This mighty water crashed into your life to sweep away the weight of the things we carry.

Paul says it this way:  He says that we have been justified – we’ve been acquitted – the burden of guilt that we carried has been lifted away by the faith of Jesus, so that we have harmony and health and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who causes us to stand with unbuckled legs. 

Because of Jesus, we stand before God with such favor and love that we can even boast about the things we carry. 

Now this is a mystery of faith – that we can boast about the things we carry.  If you have ever suffered, if you know what that is, to be able to boast about that – that would only be something that God could bring about.

We can boast about the afflictions, the oppression, the tribulation, the trouble, the difficulty that we experience because we know that by God’s grace – in some mysterious way – these things that we carry which would crush us if it were up to us alone, will not destroy us and actually serve the purpose of bringing us closer to God because we know that we can’t do it alone.  We have to rely on God.

By grace God brings us to a steadfastness of character and a closeness with him that produces hope.  A hope that wells up like those waters.  A hope that does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into the depths of our being through the Holy Spirit which has given to us.

God’s love has been given to us, NOT superficially and NOT just skin deep.  God’s love has been poured into our hearts.

This past week I was with my family in North Carolina and we went to the family grave and I recalled Marie, who was my grandmother’s older sister. 

And I recalled that when I was a real little boy, maybe four-years-old or so, I remember being at my Grandmother’s house and Marie would come to Grandmother’s house for Sunday lunch and other family gatherings and Marie must’ve been in her eighties at the time.  Wherever we were, she would always come looking for me to find me and squeeze me up tight and give me a gushing series of furious, wet kisses on my cheek.

She always found me and she always gave me those kisses.

But I wasn’t shy about taking my sleeve and defiantly trying to wipe my face dry.

I’d run away yelling, “I’m wiping your kisses off!”  

I can still her calling back after me, “You’re not rubbing them off, you’re just rubbing them in!”

God’s love for us is poured into our hearts.  We can’t rub his love off.  We can’t wipe it away.  We can’t defend against it.  We can’t do anything to stop his gracious love for us.

Look to the cross and see his love for you poured out in the One who took on the weight of humanity’s despair and gave his life to so that you might be with God forever.

Remember the running of water of your baptism poured out over your head as God claimed you and washed away the burden of our sin. 

Taste and see the body and blood of Christ poured out at this table today to penetrate into our very body and blood with the gift of love that frees us from every weight we carry.

We do not have the power to bear up the things we carry that weigh us down – the grief, our sickness,  our worry – but Jesus has carried these things to the cross where their power over us died with him, and because Jesus is risen, in a happy exchange he takes away these things we carried and now sends his Spirit to give us the things that God desires us to carry.

The Spirit pours into our hearts all that belongs to God as a free gift.  We get to carry the things that the Spirit sends us – we carry with us God’s forgiveness, God’s hope, God’s love, and God’s faith.  These are the things we carry out into a world in desperate need. 

Now we are called to give ourselves away and to spill the things God gives us to carry, so that they might fill this world God loves – so that everyone would know no one can escape what God is doing in the world.

Brothers and sisters, God’s eternal love carries us all.  God picks us up with a Father’s embrace and holds us forever.  He carries us and all the world in love.

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