Prayer of the Day
You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised. You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Zechariah 9:9-12 The king will come in humility and peace
Romans 7:15-25a The struggle within the self
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 The yoke of discipleship
Title: Come, to What Will Be
What was. What is. What will be. Can you tell that I have just come from a tour of reunions? While in California, I officiated at the wedding of a student of mine from my high school teaching days 20 years ago. Then I gathered some of her classmates for an informal reunion. Then the producer who I worked with for nine summers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe hosted a reunion of some of the actors who had come with us to Scotland for a summer or more.
Yes, there was lots of talk about what was, what is, and even a little conversation of what will be. Under WHAT WAS: I heard stories of things I said and did (or supposedly said and did) that I did not even remember, but that carried life changing significance for the individual telling me what was. The WHAT IS was there before our eyes: spouses and children. There were careers and accomplishments to be described. And in some cases, even though as reunion, it was about looking back and catching up, there was some WHAT WILL BE discussed. Certainly the wedding provided more of that flavor. And the gathering of actors and artists had its fair share, since artist types are always talking up their next big thing.
What was, What is, What will be. Perhaps this threefold sense of time is more on my mind than usual as I come out of this reunion tour, because I just can’t help but see it articulated in today’s lectionary as well. Listen as Zechariah speaks with a clear understanding of what was. Paul is fully aware of what is. And Jesus extends an invitation to what will be.
(FIRST READING is read.)
Sure, Zechariah gives us a peace-filled picture of what will be with the coming of this humble king. But we’ll come back to that. Because the prophet also addresses what had been. And it is not easy for the people to look back. For he is talking of a time of civil war. When Ephraim (another name for the northern kingdom of Israel) and Jerusalem (the capital city of the southern kingdom of Judah) were at war with each other. There in the promised land. There where the Hebrews, the chosen people of God, freed from slavery, given the gift of prime real estate on which to build a nation, having risen gloriously to a golden age under King David and King Solomon, fell into a divisive civil war that resulted in this blessed kingdom being divided into two. And from that time forward, weakened that they were, there was one foreign threat after another. Until Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. (400 years before Zechariah is speaking his words.) Never to rise again. And Judah was defeated by the Babylonians and led away into 50 years of exile. Zechariah is encouraging the rebuilding of this nation. And speaks of what was, and makes it clear that God is doing something different. It will not be about war machines and weapons, but it will be about peace. Though the people failed God, God will not fail the people and new promises are being made, regardless of what was.
(SECOND READING is read.)
Well, Paul certainly lays out the WHAT IS quite clearly. Can you relate? Does his WHAT IS connect with a WHAT IS that is going on in your life, in your mind, in your soul? We know what we are supposed to do, and yet we do the opposite.
We know the words that would be helpful in a situation, that would bring peace to a situation, that might even bring healing, and yet we have to get one more jab in there, get one more sting in before we start the peace talks.
We know what actions will be helpful to the one in need, to the one who could use a little help. And yet we convince ourselves it’s not our problem, not our responsibility, we don’t have the time to lend a hand. And so we walk on. Convincing ourselves that what is is the way it has to be. We cave to the powers of sin that have broken us. We know we are captive to sin and, being good independent Americans that we are, since we cannot free ourselves, we figure this is the way it is.
But it’s not. That is why Paul did not let his WHAT IS, define his life and control his life. That is why, fully aware of our WHAT IS, we gather in this place, in this holy place, not because of what should be, but because of WHAT IS. And in the midst of our WHAT IS, Paul points us to Jesus.
(GOSPEL is read.)
The people around Jesus, listening to him, observing him, judging him, trying to trick him, just weren’t getting him. But we really must be careful about being too hard on them with any condemnation, because 2,000 years later, and so much of what I’m seeing pass for following Christ among American Christians today, and I’d have to say we are not getting him just as much as they were not getting him.
As Jesus describes it, using the imagery of kids in the market place – John the Baptist came hosting a funeral, calling for repentance and death to sinful self. And the critics said he had a demon.
Jesus came hosting a wedding, with eating and drinking, inviting everyone and anyone. And the critics called him a drunkard and a friend of sinners. In today’s setting some would be protesting his gatherings with God Hates signs, while others would label him a secularist, and a sell-out to cultural pressure. Jesus says, let wisdom be the judge. God’s wisdom that doesn’t necessarily flow from the ones who are most studied, the ones who insist they have it all figured out, the ones who are confident that they speak for God.
For those critics in Jesus time, the law – that covenant made with the people through Moses – was spoken of as a yoke. It was a burden for the chosen people to carry and live into, but it was a blessed burden. It was a blessing that had sustained them through the WHAT WAS of civil wars, and defeats, exiles and through homecomings. It was a blessing that had brought them to the WHAT IS of the day when the Messiah was standing among them, teaching them, healing them, saving them. A blessing that would extend to every corner and people of the earth.
And looking beyond that burden, Jesus speaks to them of WHAT WILL BE. There is a new yoke. A yoke that is easy because it is shaped by the new life that ours in the risen Christ. Like the fable of the birds who, when first created, complained of those burdensome wings, only to realize what wonderful flying could be done with them. This new yoke is light because it is formed by grace. A yoke that is restful because it is worn with trust and guides into peace.
But it is still a yoke. An instrument that is used to lead unruly ones who don’t always do what they are supposed to do. It is used for service, not passivity and complacency. It pairs for labor, because the WHAT WILL BE that Jesus brings and lovingly invites us into is not experienced alone but in cooperation and community.
What burdens do you still carry from WHAT WAS? What burdens do you carry because of WHAT IS? No matter WHAT WAS, or WHAT IS, Jesus has taken the heavy burden from us and placed it on himself. His cross is witness of the burden, the empty tomb the witness of our freedom. So hear him calling you to WHAT WILL BE. Hear him saying: Come. Come and find newness in our Savior. Be lovingly yoked into a life that is filled with rest and peace, grace and joy.
And see that Christ has been there in WHAT WAS, as the all-powerful one mocks our attempts at power by riding humbly through our divisions – looking lowly to the world but known in faith as sovereign – silencing our weapons and bringing reconciliation. Christ is present in WHAT IS, bringing forgiveness and mercy, calming our inner storms, and hushing their shaming voices, rescuing us from ourselves. So let us, with trust, let Christ lead us, into WHAT WILL BE. What we will be, as we follow and as we live into the Spirit of the risen one.
The Rev. Mark Erson,