“With a Little Help from My Friends”
Based on Deuteronomy 15:7-11, I Corinthians 12:12-27, & Luke 3:10-11
A Message Offered by Toby Jones to the People of ChxUCC – Jan 24, 2021
In October of 2010, I was in a very sad and dark state in my life. I had a handful of part-time jobs with no benefits, I was going through a difficult divorce with Eloise’s mother, and I was battling depression. And then, literally, two days after losing my Cobra health insurance, I had a fluky accident, falling off of a pier and fracturing my tibia, my fibula, and shattering my ankle. The injury required an emergency room visit and eventually some out-patient orthopedic surgery, including screws and so forth.
Now without a decent paying job or health insurance, it didn’t take too long before my savings was eaten up, and I was being hounded by hospitals and doctors’ offices about some big balances that were overdue. This was all very new for me and both scary and humbling. My chief concern, of course, was falling behind in my child support and having my financial situation negatively impact my 50% custody of Eloise. I had asked some friends for prayers, and one of the people I asked was a pastor friend in Chicago named Tom Dickleman. Tom had told me not to worry, that God would see me through this. Apparently, Tom had also told his church about my situation. His congregation knew me a bit, for I had preached there a few times and played my guitar at a number of those services.
Something very strange began to happen. Little by little, I began to receive checks in the mail from people I didn’t really know, names I didn’t recognize. Some were for $50; others for $100 or $200 dollars. One might have been for $500. The only thing they had in common were Chicago suburban addresses and zip codes, along with a brief note about wanting to help me through this difficult time. By the time it was all said and done, I had received over $5000 in checks, which paid for nearly half of my medical expenses. I got by with a little help from my friends. I really don’t know what would have happened without that help. I’m not even sure I’d be here with all of you today were it not for that from my friends, or, perhaps more accurately, that help from Tom’s friends.
Our Beatles’ song for the morning, “A Little Help from My Friends,” is a profoundly biblical and spiritual song, even if it does talk about “getting high” with our friends. The number of places in our scriptures that admonish us to care for one another is too high to count. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with this one fundamental message: the God of the universe expects us to care for one another. When the ancient Hebrews were just about to enter the Promised Land, Moses pulled all the people together and reminded them that God wanted no one to be poor in the land of Israel. Moses put it this way in Deuteronomy 15: “If anyone is poor among you in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather be openhanded and freely give them whatever they need.” A few verses later, he concludes saying, “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward those who are poor and needy in your land.”
John the Baptist picked up on this very same theme, as he paved the way for Jesus’s ministry in Luke 3, saying, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” But my favorite articulation of this central biblical principle comes in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to emphasize how connected we are, how interdependent we are. The entire human family, Paul writes, is like a single human body. “Just as a body has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ,” Paul says. “God’s Spirit,” Paul continues, has formed this one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, Slaves or Free – we’re all part of the same body…The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” And here comes my favorite part, in verses 25 and 26: “All parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every other part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
You see, folks, the people in my friend Tom Dickleman’s church understood this principle. They understood it so well and at such a profound level, that they saw my suffering – 500 miles away across Lake Michigan – as a part of their suffering. I was like their leg or foot or big toe, and since I was in pain, they were in pain and wanted to address it. They knew that I could and would get by with a little help from my friends, from my fellow members of Christ’s body.
At the very end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul summarizes his whole argument with these words: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Now when you think of carrying a burden, what do you think of? What do you picture…? And is your picture positive or negative? In other words, is carrying another’s burden something you would like to do or that you’d rather not do? I think most of us have a negative association with bearing each other’s burdens, like it’s somehow more work for us or an unwanted pain in the butt. But what if it’s not? What if it’s a privilege, or even a joy? What if helping another through a tough time is actually uplifting, meaningful, or even fun?
I know I’m supposed to be focusing on the Beatles in this sermon series, but I don’t think Ringo and the boys will mind if I make reference to a few other rockers who understood this point at an equally profound level. Remember the Hollies, another British invasion band from the Beatles same era? They sang “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”
The road is long with many a winding turn that leads us to who knows where… who knows where
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
So on we go, his welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear, we’ll get there
For I know he would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all, I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart isn’t filled with the gladness of love for one another
Bono and the boys from U2 tried to say the very same thing in their song “One.”
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other…carry each other…One…
Did you notice Bono said, “we GET to carry each other,” NOT we HAVE to but we GET to. It’s a privilege, not a heavy burden.
I can’t help but wonder, folks, if we’ve missed out on so much of the truth and power of Jesus’s teaching, because we’ve thought of it as some sort of burden, some sort of proving ground, like it’s some awful test that we have to pass or endure, like hazing in a fraternity. What if all along Jesus’s teaching and instruction havebeen offered to us as a gift, as an avenue for joy? People misunderstand me when I say this, but I’m going to try saying it anyway. If I were to find out today that there is no heaven, no place we go after we die, that this life is all there is, that knowledge wouldn’t change a single thing about my following of Jesus or the way I live my life. You see, I don’t follow Jesus or try to do the things he did in order to get into heaven someday. I do the things Jesus did and try to live as he lived because I believe it is the most joyful and most meaningful life available to us – IN THE HERE AND NOW! In other words, when Jesus tells us to bear each other’s burdens or to share what we have with the poor, he’s not testing us or trying to see if we’re worthy of entrance into his Father’s kingdom after we die. Jesus is offering us the most abundant, amazing, and awesome life available to us IN THE HERE AND NOW! THAT is why I live the way I live. THAT is why I follow this guy named Jesus. And THAT is why we should bear our brother’s and our sister’s burdens. That’s why we should carry each other. That’s why we should give a little help to our friends. It is the most joyful thing we can do. It is the most hopeful thing we can do. It is the most meaningful thing we can do. We must never forget, folks, that Jesus said, and I quote: “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” Newsflash: He’s not talking about when we die! He’s talking about right here and right now. You want the most incredible, the most exciting, the most adventurous life you can possibly have? Then follow this guy. Practice and live his principles.
I was so blessed to receive a little help from my friends 10 years ago when I was down and out. I got by with a little help from those friends. But I’m pretty sure they got something in the bargain too, and I’m not talking about some heavenly reward. They “got” to carry their brother; they got to discover that I ain’t heavy! I’m their brother. They get to have the incredible satisfaction of knowing that I wouldn’t be here as your pastor if it weren’t for their assistance and love.
So on we go…the welfare of others is our concern. “And If we’re laden at all, we’re laden with sadness that everyone’s heart isn’t filled with the gladness of love for one another.” What a gift God has given us in calling us to care for one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to carry each other. Amen.