Last month, I found myself returning to Belzoni, MS to do a funeral for a friend who had passed away. For me there was quite a mix of gratefulness and sadness. I am continually so glad and thankful for all the dear friends in this Mississippi Delta town, as well as I am glad and thankful for the friend who died, William Jones Faulkner. But there was anxious sadness for me, as I said good-bye to my friend Bill. The circle of friends in which I got to know Bill consists partly of what I could call “proudly unchurched” compatriots. Some of them I believe have a personal, saving relationship with the Lord Jesus, and some I am not sure at all. But this was also my circle of friends, and perhaps one of my favorite circles of friends. And Bill and this company welcomed this “preacher boy” genuinely and warmly. In other words, this funeral brought me back full circle in terms of both friendships and Gospel ministry, to which all Christians are called.
Bill actually had been a been a childhood friend of my father, had travelled much before settling down as a farmer. By the time I moved to Belzoni, he had retired. I was trying to get my bearings in a new place, and his genuine generosity of friendship opened his house to me, opened his friends to me, and opened his weekly gatherings on Wednesday nights. This was called “choir practice.” While most churches have Wednesday services, the Faulkners had “choir practice”! Let me just say, this was not your church choir practice. But it played a special part in my life. And now I found myself before a crowd where I could feel an urgent Gospel opportunity for those deeply hurting in loss of a friend and loved one and deeply hurting in a greater spiritual lostness as well.
So I preached from the parable in Luke 14 of the man who threw a great dinner party. Those originally invited to the banquet each gave petty excuses as to why they would not be part of this party. So the man invited the poor, the dirty, the lame in the streets, and “compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” I simply honed in to Bill’s genuine generosity of friendship that drew me in and meant so much to me. Then I wanted that to be a window on the generous love of Christ to draw those in who have nothing to offer their way into this dinner party. Jesus invites us to a banquet of his favor and presence in which He has paid fully for our tab!
“Choir practice” at the Faulkners may not have involved a church choir, but there was music involved, It was pretty much the same soundtrack every week on the speakers. It was the live concert, The Last Waltz by the Band. Perhaps people know the most popular song, “The Weight.”
The chorus goes as follows:
Take a load off Annie, take a load for free.
Take a load off Annie, and you put the load right on me.
It’s a vaguely impressionist song with much debate on the meaning. But it at least gives the impression of a weary traveler who pulls into the town of Nazareth, “feeling ‘bout half-past dead,” on a mission to do a good turn for a friend. But as the song goes, he keeps running into these interesting characters who all want some favor from him. And this weight or load (of trying to do the right thing as well as trying to juggle some vices as well) keeps building. So the refrain: “Take a load off.”
Every one of us has a weight, a burden, a load, on our lives. It’s the load or burden of trying to do the right thing in life but failing. This is the weight of sin, of brokenness, of loneliness. And either you will try to carry that load of sin (which you cannot do), or God sends His Son to take the load of sin in your place. And he prepares a great meal for you and He opens up his home and his bar of splendors to you! Jesus in effect says, “Take the load off, sinner; take a load for free. Take a load off, sinner, and put the load right on me.” Jesus does just that! He says in Matt 11:28, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So me leave you with the question which I left with my friends in Belzoni: Where will you bring the load of your losses, your weaknesses, your sin?
Grace and peace,