Clint Bruce graduated from South Garland High School, went into the Navy and eventually became a Navy SEAL. Today, Clint and Stephen Holley run an organization called “Carry the Load.” It’s a non-profit dedicated to providing active, meaningful ways to honor and celebrate the sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes — military, law enforcement, firefighters and first responders.
Clint’s idea for “Carry The Load” started when he was sitting at a barbecue on Memorial Day. As he thought about the friends he had lost in combat, he couldn’t help but notice that the people around him had a very different view of what Memorial Day meant. No one seemed to be spending the day remembering those who gave their lives for their families and fellow countrymen. Instead, they were more concerned with bean bag toss and if someone remembered the potato salad.
Clint was upset by what he saw and to get out his frustrations, he decided to go on something he had learned while in the military called a “road march.” A “road march” is a common military exercise in which a group of soldiers carry their packs while marching. Clint went home and filled his old military pack with weight, one pound for each of his friends he lost in battle. Then, he went to White Rock Lake to march. The first Memorial Day Clint marched, he saw a lot of people, but one in particular caught his attention, a WWII veteran. When Clint stopped to talk with him, the man asked him, “Who are you carrying?”
Jesus’ answer to that question is all of us. During his time in this world, Jesus walked around a lake and talked with people. In our gospel lesson from Mark 2, Jesus told the people he met that he had come to carry away their sicknesses and more importantly, bring healing for their souls. Jesus came to heal all sinners from all time, which means Jesus came to heal you.
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
At first, it seems a little too easy for Jesus to get Levi to follow him. It wasn’t as if Jesus introduced himself to Levi, waited to get to know Levi really well and then wait for just the right time to ask him to follow him. He went up to Levi while he was at work, earning his living, asked him to come along and Levi followed.
Now, it wasn’t as though Levi had never heard about Jesus. From chapter one of Mark’s gospel, we hear that Jesus had been traveling and performing many signs. News about him was spreading throughout the area. Levi knew who Jesus was and when Jesus asked him to be one of his followers, Levi was glad and quickly joined ranks with the other believers.
Levi was also glad to open his home to Jesus:
15 while Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
It may have been easy for Jesus to ask Levi to follow him and easy for Levi to join with the other believers, but it was not easy for the Pharisees to watch. They couldn’t understand how Jesus could stand to be around all those sinful people, let alone how he could ask them to follow him. If Jesus was so good, then it didn’t make sense for him to be around those people who were so bad.
As a tax collector, Levi had an especially bad reputation. IRS agents may have a bad reputation today, but back then it was worse. The tax collectors worked for the foreign Roman Empire, they were extortionists and thieves. They were the last ones to come to mind when describing someone good or righteous. Yet, Jesus wanted a tax collector to follow him and become his disciple.
Jesus’ call to Levi and the Pharisee’s reaction may not surprise those who are familiar with Scripture. It was common for Jesus to be with sinners and for the Pharisees to disapprove of anyone they considered unworthy, but would we be more surprised if Jesus had asked someone we consider really bad to be his disciple? What if Jesus had come to this world today and asked someone who supports bombing innocent children after a music concert or beheading people because they are Christians? It’s perfectly clear why Jesus would have to draw the line at someone like that.
Yet, Jesus called the Apostle Paul to be one of his disciples. Paul who as a young man stood and watched as a believer named Stephen was stoned to death. In the book of Acts, we read that when the Sanhedrin heard Stephen’s confession of faith, “they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, (Stephen) dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Saul approved of the violent killing of a believer. As far as we can see, there was nothing about Saul that made him someone Jesus would want to associate with, yet Paul explains how it was possible for him to become a believer and apostle of Christ. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul wrote, “even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy… and Paul continued…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
Paul was convinced that he was a sinner. When he matched his life against God’s law, he saw how badly he was infected with sin. Levi too knew the effects of a sin infected life. And it wasn’t the people who despised him and his work or the Pharisees telling him that he was unworthy, it was God’s law that convinced him of his sin. When Levi and Paul heard the Word of God, these men saw their sin and need for their Savior.
We understand that we were born sinners and we trust that Jesus died for our sins, but do we really appreciate how our sin still affects us? We all believe Jesus saved us from our sins, but we can grow comfortable hearing that message. We may not be tempted to say we no longer sin or that we lead such good lives that Jesus is proud to have us as his followers. Instead, the temptation we now face is to stop listening to him.
We face the same temptation to think we can rely on our memory to remember all Jesus has done for us and to stay faithful because of our own resolve, but we can’t. When we rely on ourselves, we become every other Sunday worshippers because of sports. We become once a month Bible Study goes because of work. We don’t pick up a daily devotion or our Bible because we want more time off to relax. And we can use our families, the ones we love most to justify this behavior, but showing true love to our families means sharing with them the cure for our sin, Jesus.
When we do not remain connected to God’s Word whether in church, Bible Study or personal devotions, we turn away from Jesus’ healing power and expose ourselves to the sinful world and the devil’s lies. You and I must return to the Word to remind ourselves that we are like Paul and Levi. We are sinners who desperately need Jesus to heal us from our sins.
Jesus is the only antidote for our sin. And he tells us that through his word he will keep our faith in him strong. Through his Word he will fill us with his healing grace, forgiveness and life. In 1 John 1, we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
It is through the Word, that we hear about Jesus. Through the Word, we hear the testimony of those who were healed by Jesus face to face. We hear about the life God gave us through Jesus. Our only hope for a cure from sin and death is Jesus.
And he has called us to share his healing power with others. God calls those who have been healed to share his message with those who are still sick and helplessly searching for a cure. Moses is a great example of someone who was healed by God and then sent to share God’s healing power with others.
Moses was an Israelite, but grew up in the home of Pharaoh in Egypt. He became a great man in the eyes of Egypt, but he was not all powerful. When Moses learned that he was an Israelite, he believed he could stand up for his people suffering under slavery in Egypt by his own power, but his pride got the best of him. Moses’ attempt to stand up for his people ended with him leaving Egypt as a murderer, a liar and a man without a people.
God chose to come to Moses when he was at his worst. When God called out to Moses to be the one to go and rescue Israel from Egypt, Moses was no longer confident, but only came up with excuses. God told Moses that it was his power alone that would save Israel.
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God told Moses that all he needed to do was tell Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ God showed Moses that there was only one way for the people of Israel to be saved, by the power of the one true God. And so, it was with the people at the time of Levi.
When Jesus faced opposition from those who did not believe they needed him or his message in their lives, he said, 17 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Those who do not believe they need Jesus in their lives will not receive the benefits of his healing power. We know that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but only those who believe in him will spend eternity in heaven.
This great gift of life has been given to us to heal us from the disease of our sins. And God’s love now fills us with the desire to tell all those around us who are infected with sin about the healing power of Jesus.
That is why we had our Sowing Seeds campaign. The ultimate goal of the Sowing Seeds campaign wasn’t a building or to wipe out our debt. The ultimate goal was to share the gospel. To sow the seed of the Word of God and trust that God will bless the sharing of the gospel. And it is not only through the Sowing Seeds campaign that we believe God will bring others to faith. We know he will do it through how we live our lives.
All of us spend our lives like Jesus did when he called Levi. After he called Levi, Jesus ate with him and a large group of sinners. When you and I join together to eat at the potluck after second service today, we will be eating with sinners. When we go out this week and eat with people at work or school or friends or family, we will be eating with sinners. Those are our opportunities to sow the seed of the gospel.
When we spend time with the people we know, those are our opportunities to share the good news of Jesus. And at some point, we can ask them to join us for worship or Bible Study or personal devotions like Jesus did with Levi. The people we already know are the best ones with which to share the gospel because we know what sins make them sick and we know what burdens weigh them down.
Clint Bruce was weighed down by his observation that many people do not spend time on Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives to defend their country and those who serve every day as First Responders to keep us safe. He decided that he wanted to remind people about the sacrifices people make every day to keep us safe and free by creating his organization, “Carry The Load.” This morning between midnight and 8:00 am walkers from “Carry The Load” came through Rockwall and Garland on their way from the West Point Cemetery in West Point, NY to Reverchon Park in Dallas. They hope that their walk continues to remind people of the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Today you and I are meeting to remind ourselves that we were sick to the point of death and eternity in hell because of our sins, but because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice, we are forgiven. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven give us the sure hope that we will be raised back to life and will join our Savior to live with him in heaven forever. Jesus is the one all of us are aching for and Jesus came to heal you. Amen.