Summer offers us an opportunity to relax with family and friends and to refresh ourselves for the rest of the year’s journey. It is also the time for us to reflect on the blessings that have shaped our lives and our relationships so far this year. These are not simply this year’s blessings, for blessings are continuous, unceasing. They clear a path for us each day into a future that gradually opens up to reveal the goals and destinations to which God has called us. This summer, some of us are going through afflictions, illnesses of different degrees of severity, some may even be ultimately fatal. These do not feel like blessings but are more like burdens that weigh upon us and hold us down. Burdens, too, are as revealing as blessings. Burdens unveil the strength of soul and spirit that dawns for us at the break of day as a promise that we will be borne through the day on God’s grace. The prophet Isaiah comforts us with these words,” A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3). Burdens are not a divine test to find out just how faithful we are. God already knows that! Burdens, among which we count illness, are human events, sometimes painfully tragic but often less so. Burdens are an horizon, heaven touching earth, divine grace embracing human frailty. Because we have held our faith in front of us through our journey of health or illness, we know that we have the grace to bear our burdens for however long until we find the blessings hidden in them. Burdens are blessings in disguise, an opportunity for gratitude. That is difficult for many to hear, and as disciples of Jesus Christ we will need to find many different ways of saying that until the message is heard. Illness is itself a stewardship of grace. Illness demands that we conserve God’s grace so none of it is lost in fear and anxiety.
For us Lutherans, that stewardship of grace is embedded in “Justification by faith,” the heart of our Christian life. It throbs in health as well as in illness not only for each of us as individuals, but also for all of us together. In our community of faith, on our walk through health or illness, we live in other people’s visions and we dance in other people’s dreams. This gathered life is life that embraces the divine. St. Paulwho spoke from the depth of his own suffering says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7). The foundation of that statement is our life together in Christ. A gathered life holds within itself the promise of health and the fear of illness. One way of feeling justified is to know that God is bearing our illness and burdens until we are strong enough again to assume them. Justification, making us whole again, is God’s free gift to us, whereby through Jesus Christ grace grants us forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation makes whole again what was broken between the Lord and us, and what was broken within ourselves. Justification is a promise that God will not leave what is broken in its broken-ness, that God will not leave the sick and distressed in their distress, that God will not abandon us in health or in illness. We are stewards of that promise, even when we break for summer.