Sunday, July 10, 2005

3rd Sermon (1st Communion sunday) July 3

Matthew 11:25-30
25 At that time Jesus said, "I thank F85 you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. F86 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

From the moment of birth and through our young childhood, we are in a right relationship with God without doing a thing about it. Christ says in the 25th verse of this selection “I thank you father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” Jesus once again flips our preconceptions about what it takes to be a follower of him.
Jesus is constantly praising the spiritual wakefulness of children. A popular image of Jesus is that of him sitting on a stone, or in the grass with children in his lap, smiling, gazing, sharing with them the secrets of God, which they seem to already grasp. Jesus commends children as the bearers of the kingdom of God. If you want to make Jesus indignant, one of the few things you can do is to keep the children at arms length, like his disciples try to do in Mark 10. He tells them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Sometimes it seems Jesus has more in common with the children than with his “grown up” disciples. Take for instance the boy who volunteers his 5 loaves and 2 fishes to feed the thousands of people who have come to hear Jesus. I can just picture the insider’s wink Jesus shared with the boy who gave the fish and bread despite the disbelief and worry-some demeanor of Jesus’ disciples.
In Mark 10, Jesus says to his disciples when children are being brought to him to bless, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” What is it that the children GET that grown people just don’t get? How do they know how to enter into the kingdom and we don’t? I think the answer is communicated in the same passage, which is unique to Matthew. “Come to me all that are weary and 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.” Children understand that our burden is light—they have not yet succumbed to the heavy burdens that we put on ourselves as we grow older. We are a race of self inflicted beasts of burden. When we are children, we have not yet been yoked to our future drivers. Children are just naïve, we say to ourselves. As they grow older, they begin to care about what kind of shoes they are wearing and who gets picked first and last to play this or that game. Soon these concerns mutate into what kind of car they are driving and how “cool” their friends are. Then as we become adults, we begin to be concerned about how our salaries compare to others, and who has the largest house in the best parts of town, and how well we can “provide” for our families. In our adult years, we have heavy burdens because though it is our soul’s disposition to travel toward God, our minds and bodies are yoked to burdens which pull us in the opposite direction.
Many of us are yoked to the burdens of materialism, self-centeredness, laziness, and prejudice. What is your load? Christ’s call to us is to come to him, and he will give us rest. Christ wants us to come to him so he can show us that we are gripping the reigns and pulling these burdens purely of our own volition—of our own free will. When we turn around and examine our load—we expect to see someone at the top of our heap of troubles cracking the whip. Who is cracking the whip for your load? When we look in our own hands, we see the whip. We are prodding ourselves along imagining there is someone else driving us, someone else at fault, but it is just a figment of our poor, tired imaginations. When we have this heavy burden, our master is self-gratification. Yes, children are naïve to this master—and Jesus is naïve too. Webster defines naïve by saying that it “implies a genuine, innocent simplicity or lack of artificiality but sometimes connotes an almost foolish lack of worldly wisdom. This is what makes children and Jesus so beautiful. If “worldly wisdom” is wrapped up in “self-gratification,” I think it is safe to say that the Kingdom of God is closely affiliated with naivety.
When I envisioned Jesus speaking about this yoke and lightness of burden, I saw myself at the beach. When I have before gone to the beach, there is something I first always do. I go out into the ocean, about waist high, and I lay back on my back. I let my feet drift up until I am entirely supported by the salty water. It is if in the lapping of the waves, the ocean is speaking to me. It says, I who span the globe, support all the life in my bosom, the largest life on earth, not to mention all man-made vessels, continents, I who give and sustain life through the cycles of precipitation, evaporation, condensation,again and again and again. The Ocean says, All that begins in me ends in me, I who have been here before people, animals, plants, land, day, night, time. I who have been and who will always be, I who have the power to nourish you and cool you, I also have the power to destroy you, Yet….I have the strength to support you as well. Lay there, do not fight my support, If you do, you will sink. I am so large I can keep you and all you carry. In my domain the things you carry become lighter. They become……weightless. I believe that the ocean represents the Christ quite well. Christ wants us to experience the weightless support of his awesome power and love. I see this ocean of Christ the same way as I see Jesus wrapping his arms around children who are brought to him, as is told in the Gospels. ~Sundar Singh, an Indian itinerant preacher and holy man in the early 20th century said. “In comparison with this big world, the human heart is only a small thing. Though the world is so large, it is utterly unable to satisfy this tiny heart. The ever growing soul and its capacity can be satisfied only in the infinite God. As water is restless until it reaches its level, so the soul has not peace until it rests in God.” Though our minds may “grow up” and become accustomed to and satisfied by the ways of the world, our hearts and souls remain children. As the children long to sit in the lap of Jesus of Nazareth, our souls long to be in communion with the Christ.
Jesus the man carried tremendous burdens—oppression from Rome, mistrust and disbelief among his own people, homelessness, family fracturing. Jesus carried many of the same burdens we do, but there is one burden he carried that we do not carry. He carried the weight of all the sin of all humankind from beginning to end. He was yoked to humanity. There has never been a heavier burden….yet in this passage he tells us that “his yoke is easy, and his burden light” //////////What gives??????????????////
When we give up our burdens, the weighty burdens of pride, self-centeredness, materialism, and prejudice—those things that pull us away from our destination --When we go down into the water for refreshment--When we trust God’s hand to hold us up as we trust the water’s density to keep us afloat, this is when we hear our intended burden. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” Christ asks us to walk out of the water. We are to be those who help other people carry their burdens to the beach. We are to find those miles away from the beach. We are called to encourage them, to assist them, and to offer them backs to carry their labors. Better yet, we are to help them realize that the only master they are pulling for is self-gratification, and they can put down their load. When we leave the water to go back out into the world, we are indeed carrying a new burden, but this is why Jesus, with the heaviest burden of all exclaims that it is light and easy. Because when we leave the water in search for those who are weary, we are propelled by God. Now we have a purpose to our burden we carry, and this burden is weightless.
I’ve heard a Rabbinical saying, "My burden has become my song." It is not that the burden is easy to carry; but it is laid on us in love; it is meant to be carried in love; and love makes even the heaviest burden light. When we remember the love of God, when we know that our burden is to love God and to love creation, then the burden becomes a song. There is an old story which tells how a man came upon a little boy carrying a still smaller boy, who was lame, upon his back. "That's a heavy burden for you to carry," said the man. "That's no burden," came the answer. "That's my wee brother." The burden which is given in love and carried in love is always light.
Is a full heart heavy or light? /////// When we take up the yoke of the Savior, our hearts are full, and I believe this lightens the weight of what we must do in the world. I think Jesus describes his yoke as easy and his burden as light not because they are free of challenge, but because they generate justice and cultivate community. A yoke, after all, is still a yoke, and a burden, however light, is still a burden. The followers of Jesus are called to carry a load that makes life better, that heals brokenness and restores relationship. The yoke we are asked to put around our necks is a yoke of forgiveness, of grace and of mercy. Sometimes forgiving someone isn’t easy, but it does ease the weight of anger, and it does ease the pain of brokenness. The burden we are asked to carry is the burden of justice-building and peace-forging. I wouldn’t call working for peace and justice a light burden, but it does lighten the weight of oppression and violence on the backs of the marginalized and victimized.
Jesus calls us to practice disciplines of joy – to take seriously the regular discipline of generating the deep joy that comes from knowing God and from struggling along God’s side for justice. Taking up this burden is a joy for those of us who know and experience God’s love. Wearing this yoke is a joy for those of us who believe in a just God, whose main desire is for us all to live together in peaceful community. As Christians, our call is to be vigorous in our happiness, relentless in our pleasure. And to model for others, through our own unending love for each other, the love of God found in Jesus Christ. The easy yoke around our neck is joy. The light burden we carry is love. If we are like children, we will remember that these things come naturally to us. Young children don’t see rich or poor, black or white, intelligent or dull—they see people. Children have to be taught to distinguish these things. It is in this teaching that we are yoked to the burdens of the world.
I call you today to do the hardest thing in the world to do. It is the hardest thing for us to accept because we have built our identity around the worldly burden we carry. We do not see that we are our own driver. We think we are working in the grand design---((((Ironicly))))) God means for us to worry about money, how we appear to others, or whom we associate with. We convince ourselves of this despite Jesus recognizing these flaws, and telling us point blank—do not worry about what you will wear or who will feed you, look at the flowers in the field, they do not tarry with such things, and the Lord provides for them. The Christ is in perfect company with children and flowers, but he wants us to be with him too, he wants us to take his mission, to find those who need fulfillment and rest and to point them to the beach. He wants us first to do the hardest thing in our lives to do, put down our worldly yokes. We will not disappear when we stop wasting our time with such things, we will finally appear. We will finally be real, we will be empowered, as promised in the New Testament, and we will be propelled by the Holy Spirit to show others to the Grand Cosmic Ocean of God, who has enough strength to carry us all.
Today we celebrate the communion—a holy meal that gives us a tangible expression of this burden we are to carry. As you approach the chancel today to take communion, if you feel led to do so, I invite you to write a burden that you feel encumbered by on the slips of paper I have laid out on the pews. As you kneel to receive communion, leave that slip of paper on the chancel, and open your hands to take instead the burden of joy—which is symbolized by the communion elements. Take your time at the chancel—this is the central ritual of our church. Pray for God’s grace to help you put down that heavy burden in your life and instead shoulder the joyfully light burden of kingdom making. I pray that God gives you a sense of lightness in the feet as you return to your pew.

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