Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pentecost 4, 2014: Yoked to God

Lectionary: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45: 11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espritu Santo. Amen,

I came across this quote this week, written by a modern theologian in the middle 1980's: "Christians are to be an active and faithful alternative community of loving, merciful, inclusive, praying, missional servants anticipating the completion of God's purposes." (New Interpreter Study Bible, p. 1746)

Anticipating the completion of God's purposes is hard to do. What looks to us like things
aren't going well, may be, in God's vision are what's meant to be to lead us where we have to go.

That's what our gospel reading is showing us. This portion of the gospel from Matthew is part of a larger story:

John the Baptist in prison about to be killed, sends his followers to ask Jesus, 'Are you the One? Or should we wait for another?' Jesus answers them with great praise of John and his ministry (they were cousins, connected even from their mother's wombs) and says this to them: "For all the prophets and law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come." (vv 13-14) John is the Elijah who is to come, and the implication is: 'I am the One.'

Jesus closes with: "Let anyone with ears listen. (v 15)

I picture a pause between that statement and where our gospel picks up: "To what will I compare this generation..." In that pause, the Incarnate One, who is fully human and fully divine, is glimpsing at the big picture. He knows what's coming. His cousin, womb-buddy, friend, the man who baptized him, a is about to die. Jesus knows he's beginning the potion of his ministry that will lead him to the cross. And he's looking around at the people gathered there and he knows, they don't get it. They don't see it.

I think, in my imagination anyway, Jesus is sad. He looks around and he thinks, 'Look who I'm talking to... Your'e like children. You can't even play nice together. One group of children says to another 'Come share our joy! Come play with us!' but the other group of children won't even dance when they play their flute. Another group of children says to the other, 'Come share my grief. I'm very sad.' And this other group won't mourn with them.

He says to them: 'John came and neither ate nor drank and you say he has a demon. I came and I eat and drink and you say I'm a glutton and a drunkard. And then Jesus goes on and says, "and a friend of tax collectors and sinners" as if that accusation were as bad as being a glutton and a drunkard.

'You don't get it.' You almost hear Jesus sighing - 'You don't get it." And he says, "Yet, wisdom will be vindicated by her deeds." Look at the deeds.

Then our gospel reading skips verses 20-24, in which Jesus talks about the places where his ministry has happened, even his hometown: Capernaum. Jesus says, the very presence of God, Emmanuel, is among you doing these amazing things, healing people, setting them free from every sin that holds them bound and it doesn't change anything for you. Nothing has changed. You don't repent. You stay the course - a course which does not lead to life - because life is found in relationship with God. Life is God. When we're in relationship with God we know that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

Then our gospel story picks up and Jesus gives thanks. In his sadness, in his frustration he gives thanks and he says to God: 'Thank you for giving these things to these infants. The Greek word for this doesn't mean 'pure, innocent, babies.' It means those on the outside. Children were not allowed the adult male society, sot his word refers to those who were on the outside, who were vulnerable, who were disruptive. Ever been in around a bunch of kids when you need quiet? They can be disruptive.

These are the ones about whom Jesus is saying, 'thank you' because to them the Son of God has been revealed - not to the powerful, not to the religious leaders, not to the rich and the wealthy, but to these outsiders who are vulnerable and disruptive.

To them, Jesus says, "Come to me..." You who recognize me, come to me. You who are wearied and are carrying heavy burdens... come to me and I'll give you rest. As you know this is one of my favorite Bible verses. I use it each Sunday as our invitation to communion. Here's the underside of that, the rest of it: this statement by Jesus is profoundly anti-empireal. The listeners of his day would have heard him saying, 'The king is carrying your burden with you... Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you...' Think about this from their point of view. The king is saying, 'I will enter into a yoke with you.

(explain yoke)A strong beast could be yoked to a weaker beast and they could go together as a team. The strength of the one carries the burden for the other. That's the image Jesus is talking about. Jesus was saying 'Come to me, to me, to God to and I will give you rest.' And it isn't just rest from the oppression of the Romans. It's rest from the laws and the enforcement of those laws and the teachings and interpretation of the will of God by the religious leaders of the time.

Jesus said 'It's simple: love God; love neighbor as self.' But the religious leadership of the time said, 'No , it's very complication. You have to obey all 600+ of these rules or you won't get to heaven.'

Jesus says. "come to me you who are weary..." Have you tried to keep all those commandments? Nobody can do that. Jesus said, "Come to me... I will give you rest." Yoke yourself to me, to God, because I am meek and gentle of heart. My burden is easy. It's light. In other words, God is saying, 'I've got this. You get in the yoke with me. I've got the burden. I'll carry it for us.' For the people of that time, this kind of statement was shocking, ironic (Jesus loved irony) and transforming. Think of the relief it provided.

Everyday of our journey we are yoked to God - if we choose that. So, every challenge, every triumph, God is there with us, walking with us. The two of us have become one.

And there will be challenges. This is what St. Paul is offering us in the letter to the Romans. It's a description of the experience of the challenge each of us faces between law and grace. I do what I don't want to do. I know what I should do and I don't do that... What is that? How do I get there? We all go through this.

It's part of the Christian journey. We all get to that point where we see that the law isn't working an we feel compelled because of our relationship with God to break the law... but what if we go to hell? For instance, Jesus was out with his disciples and they were hungry so he picked grain on the Sabbath. He broke the law to feed his folks. He's out and sees a man who needs healing on the Sabbath. He breaks the law to heal the man.

I want to do what is right, but I do the very thing I hate, St. Paul says. How do I know which way is right? By being led. By being yoked to God we can know when the law is helping us hold ourselves accountable. For instance, "Keep holy the Sabbath." That doesn't mean if you miss church on a Sunday (don't miss church)you'll go to hell. What is means is, make sure in the rhythms of your life you make time for God. We're not very good at that - especially in modern culture. We're just not very good at that. The law helps us there.

But when the law says, don't work on the Sabbath, and you see a person in need of healing, do you let the suffer because of the law? No, Jesus said, 'No, bring them the love that heals them.'

We all know what this feels like: this battle, this challenge in our heads and our hearts between law and grace. For some of us is sounds like this: 'I know I should exercise every day and I will... starting tomorrow' (and we say that everyday). Or... 'I know I should eat right, or eat less, and I'll start my diet tomorrow. (Note: don't diet. Just eat well, and don't eat too much) Do you know how many diets start on Monday, and again on Tuesday? Then again on Wednesday? Then... I'll get past the weekend and start again on Monday. Right.

What about this? Accepting abusive words from another. Being abusive in word or deed to another. Hating someone because we learned to. The great lesson of the Civil Rights movement was that people who had learned to hate one another, learned something new: they learned to love one another, to work together, to honor the God in one another - on the issue of race anyway.

Hating someone because we learned to despite what current experience is telling us. The continuing revelation of love and it teaches us to love more, love bigger, love better, love deeper. Love God and one another as ourselves.

What about this challenge between grace and law: hating ourselves because we have for so long? Because somewhere in our childhood someone told us we weren't beautiful enough, or smart enough, or worthy of love, or useful, and we believed that lie. And year after year it lived and us and now we believe it just out of habit.

Jesus showed us that we and everyone else are beloved of God. Everyone: sinners, outsiders, the poor, the hungry, the insane, the annoying, the cruel, the ignorant, the elite, the powerful - all beloved children of God.

When we don't connect to that truth, when we live in the lie that somebody isn't beloved, we have slipped out of our yoke and we're walking on our own. Then when that person comes to us - the one who annoys the heck out of us, or scares us, or hates us, we're alone. We're unguarded and we do this (motions self-protection).

But when we're yoked to God, that person comes to us and we're seeing them through the love of God to which we're yoked, and all of a sudden we recognize the gift: the gift they bring us and the gift we have to offer to them, which is love.

The other thing about slipping out of our yoke is that we lead ourselves to believe that we can handle our own burden, or even the burdens of others, but we can't - and we don't have to - we're not meant to - we're meant to be yoked to God who helps us see ourselves, others, and every circumstance in our lives through he eyes of love so that we can choose to respond with grace and mercy instead of reacting out of habit, or fear, or hatred, or shame.

"Come to me you who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart,and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Being yoked to God means not having to recognize the completion of God's purposed on earth by what we see or hear or experience but knowing everything that's happening is happening in that truth because of our faith. When Jesus was tried and executed, it didn't look like the working out of God's purposes, did it? And yet it was. It's by faith that we walk through those moments together. It's by faith that everything is moving toward the completion of God's purposes on earth because Christ has already come and inaugurated the era of salvation.

So we need protect ourselves from nothing. We need separate ourselves from no one, but rather engage everything and find the gift of God in it.

I close with a prayer from George Appleton to guide us:

"O thou Source of love and Compassion
in the sufferings of all thy children,
we offer our compassion also
for the hungry, and the sick in body, mind or heart,
the depressed and the lonely,
all living in fear and under stress,
all stricken in grief,
the unemployed and the rejected,
and those burning with hatred.
Strengthen us to work for their healing
and inspire us to build with thee
the Kingdom of love
where none shall cause suffering to others
and all be caring, loving children of thine,
Our Compassionate, all-embracing [God],
everpresent, everloving,
never failing.

Source: The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. George Appleton, (Oxford University Press, 1985) p. 370).

1 comment:

brotherMonte said...

Thank you for the closing prayer by Appleton also.