Sunday, July 5, 2020
Lectionary 14, Year A
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 (Semi-Continuous OT reading)
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah
Romans 7:15-25a The struggle within the self
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 The yoke of discipleship
Title: Foundational Burdens
This weekend our nation celebrates its founding. And, as is typical of such an occasion, it can cause us to look back at our foundation. Why did we come into being? What are the founding principles that were important then? Continue to be important? How have they evolved over the centuries, through facing challenges, debating issues, listening to new voices that were not present in those early years? Perhaps it has been a long time since we have celebrated the 4th of July in the midst of so much unrest, so much national soul searching, so much re-examining some of those founding principles and foundational values and how they are to be claimed by such an ever growing in diversity populace.
As painful as this time of might be, it is good, it is necessary, especially when we see that the foundational promises and not being kept for all people. We’ve been here before: The Civil War, the Labor Movement, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights Movement, Stonewall Uprising. As hard as it may be for those accustomed to holding the power during these times of discernment and change, we have always come out of it taking one more step forward towards a nation that offers life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people. It is foundational. It is still an ideal. It is worth moving towards. What are the foundations of our country that you most value? What are those that need to evolve or even be purged? Afterall, the founders were not perfect, our founding documents are not flawless. Knowledge and wisdom are evolving. We can’t go back and correct, but we can go forward with reform? What needed reforms get your attention?
In this morning Gospel reading, Jesus is once again confronting the Pharisees of his day. That group within 1st century Judaism that held the law – the Torah – as foundational to their faith and their identity. They insisted that the only practice for God’s chosen people was a literal and strict adherence to the law found primarily in the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture (the Torah). Jesus called them out for obeying the law for the sake of obedience and not in the spirit of love, and compassion with which God had given it to them in the first place. He accused them of boastful displays of piety, rather than heartfelt devotion in humility and for the sake of humanity. In the verses leading up to today’s reading, Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist. He says to the folks – “John brought a call to repentance – and you didn’t like it, you didn’t join in his funeral wail.” Now Jesus is bringing the celebration with the spirit of a wedding (for the bridegroom is present), and these same folks are writing him off as a drunkard. Their obedience has become an obstacle blocking the wisdom that leads to faith.
We see this today in American Christianity. There are those who hold to the letter of what they consider the law. Use it as a weapon to control and condemn others while congratulating themselves for their obedience. There seems to be none of the compassion and mercy that is at the heart of Jesus’ own ministry. But perhaps we who see ourselves as non-legalists have some self-examination to do as well. Afterall, isn’t it easier to speak of change and reform because, we believe, that is what God wants to hear, that’s what we should be saying, but then avoid the hard work of embracing the actions that will bring about the changes that will draw us closer to the foundational values of the gospel revealed in Jesus, the foundational principles of God’s reign that Jesus brings to earth and that is now our mission and ministry?
For some of our daily prayers in the past weeks, we used a prayer for Justice and Peace developed by the Iona Community. Here are a couple of confessions from that:
If, however, we have driven a wedge between piety and peacemaking, erected a wall between prayer and politics, associated the purposes of heaven with only the gentler things of earth, God of justice show yourself. And further into the prayer If we have dumbed down your Word and domesticated you Spirit because we wanted an easier faith and a tamer dove, God of justice, show yourself.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day believed it was foundational that the messiah come as a law-abiding, law-promoting, law-teaching model of obedience. What are you looking for in a messiah? What is foundational?
Did anyone think to list that it be foundational that the anointed one be seen as a glutton and a drunkard? Are you looking for a comfortable, respectable Jesus? Do we dare embrace a messiah who will challenge us to the foundations of who we are?
For those who were obedient to the Torah, they expressed their obedience as “taking on the yoke of the heavenly kingdom” In their eyes this mean obedience to the law and strict discipline. Throughout Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is presented as a new Torah; the embodiment of a new foundation. We see this on the sermon on the mount when he takes on the role of the new Moses.
However, here, before Jesus offers a new yoke, he says “Come to me, all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Foundational to Jesus’ ministry and our place in it is an invitation. Not to obedience for the sake of gaining righteousness, but to the free gift of grace and mercy that brings: salvation, healing, relief, renewal, peace, and the comfort of his presence. This invitation to “Come” is first offered in baptism and then is offered again and again and again (daily, to be sure) to return to those refreshing and renewing waters. Take a minute and take stock of the burdens you are carrying, whether guilt or anger, broken dreams or broken hearts, doubts and fears. And hear Jesus’ invitation to “Come”, bringing all to him. Setting aside any thoughts that first we must be perfectly obedient and refined before he will welcome us.
As Paul lays out in his letter to the Romans, we do need a yoke. I’m guessing we can all relate to his two-angels-on-the-shoulders struggle of knowing what is right and good to do, but doing that which we hate. How blessed we are that Jesus invites us to Come and join him in this easy yoke that he shares with us. Made easy because of his sacrifice, his wisdom, his forgiveness, his peace, his companionship.
Hear his invitation again. Sit with it. Think on it. Be renewed by it. Be encouraged by it. For it is foundational to our life as God’s people, Jesus’ disciples, and instruments of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says to you:
28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Rev. Mark Erson,