Burdens, stuff, and last week’s children’ sermon


Before the week passes, I want to write about my children’s sermon last Sunday. The lectionary included a reading from the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. My attention was captured by the verse that includes, “bear one another’s burdens.” The image came to mind of big bags of stuff to represent “burdens”, with the idea that this would be a nice, concrete image for little children. I got five large, black plastic garbage bags, went down into our basement and filled them with old sleeping bags, blankets, winter coats, etc. I decided that I would label them, “David’s burdens”, my old friend and pastoral associate who is always willing to play along with me in my children’s sermons.

Now there is another verse in the Galatians passage that also caught my attention because it seemed, to some extent, to contradiict the sharing burdens verse, and that was one that declared, “Everyone should carry their own weight.” And so without a clear notion of where exactly we were headed (which is how I often do children’s sermons) I wanted to explore with the children (and the adults) the tension between carrying our own weight and bearing one another’s burdens.

The kids came forward, and I brought the five bags out from their hiding place, and promptly labeled them “David’s burdens.” I told David that I was glad that he felt comfortable bringing his burdens to church, but they couldn’t just sit there clogging up the altar space, so please come and get them out of here. In wonderful slapstick fashion, David attempted to lift the huge bags, failing miserably. “David can’t carry his burdens,” I said.  “What’s the solution?”  Spontaneously two adults came forward to help (this is how it goes in our church), as did some of the children, and they all began pitching in to carry David’s burdens out of church, as David stood aside in great relief and watched. “Wait,” I said, “There’s a problem here. What’s the problem?” Six year old Cassie was quick to discern the problem. “These are David’s burdens, and he’s not carrying any!!!” Yes, I agreed, this is a problem.

I began opening the bags, pulling out mulitple winter coats, tarps and sleeping bags. “Do you really need this stuff?” I asked. Grabbing a tarp, I asked, when was the last time you used this thing?” “1983,” David responded with feigned embarrassment. “You expect to use it again?” I asked. “You never know,” he answered.
I convinced him that he didn’t need all this stuff, and that he really could get rid of most of it, which reduced his load considerably. “But you just sprained you ankle,” I said. David appropriately began to limp. “You need help, right?” At which point the children jumped him and helped him carry all his stuff out of the sanctuary.
None to soon, might I add. All hell was breaking lose at this point as the children had begun to jump at exploiting the fun potential that big, soft blankets and such provide.

Afterwards the feedback I got indicated that burdens exploration had struck a nerve. How do we tell which burdens are real, and which have somehow been self-imposed because we are attached to our burdens and can’t let go? When is it appropriate to ask for help with our burdens, and when is it our own responsibility to deal with our own stuff?
Somebody told me the story of a brother whose family was having troubles. The marriage was pretty hollow, and the kids weren’t get the kind of attention they needed. And “stuff” was a big part of the problem. The wife was living off  in Florida because she had a good paying job there that she couldn’t get locally.  She felt guilty for not being on hand for her children, so one of the ways she made it up to them was to pretty much buy them anything they wanted. So she needed the good paying job in Florida to help pay off the family debt that had accumulated because pretty much anything anybody wanted materially in the family, the family figured they had to have. They owned a big house and it was filled with stuff, but there was more stuff than the house could hold, so the brother had been renting a storage unit to contain the extra stuff.   He had concluded he couldn’t afford the monthly rent of the storage unit, so he had moved the extra stuff into my friend’s basement.

My friend was wondering how it had come to be that he was storing his brother’s stuff.

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