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Proper 9 (14) - July 5, 2020
- Zechariah 9:9-12
- Psalm 145:8-14
- Romans 7:15-25a
- Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
How Would You Like Your Yoke?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are almost done with discipleship in the lectionary. Sort of. Okay not really. Matthew’s gospel is best seen as a manual for discipleship so pretty much everything in the gospel points back to being a disciple of Jesus. After today, we leave the intense "missionary discourse" that we have been in here for the past couple of weeks, and move into the parables. Last week we were in chapter 10 and you notice that the lectionary has us moving straight through Matthew 11, but notice we are not at verse 1. We have skipped over a great deal of verses; verses that we need in order to understand the context of Jesus' words. I find myself am always interested in the verses that the lectionary skips over. Like, what do they not want me to read? Why do they not want me to read that?
Let’s spend some time looking at the skipped over verses. Matthew 11:1, you will never hear read in church. It is not a part of the lectionary because it makes no sense, sort of. It is just Matthew telling us that the context to where Jesus was preaching has changed. Important to read in Bible Study, not really necessary for worship.
Matthew 11:2-11 has already been read in worship back on the 3rd Sunday in Advent. It was the questioning of John the baptist to Jesus as to whether he is the one whom he prophesied would come. And Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Then things get violent, which is probably why they are left out these next verses out of the lectionary. “12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15Let anyone with ears listen!” These words from Matthew here in chapter 11 really set the scene for our appointed pericope this morning.
On the surface, it seems like Jesus is really upset with the crowd because he is a grumpy, old man. In some ways, I don’t even think he is angry with the crowd gathered to listen to him. Really, it seems like his frustration/anger is with his cousin's questioning of his "messiahship." "To what will I compare this generation?" It almost sounds like Jesus can’t stand the younger generation of people. However, I don’t think that is what meant. Jesus is not so much upset with the crowd, but is upset with anyone who can’t see beyond the Messiah being a great warrior.
So, after Jesus expresses his frustration, the text takes another violent turn, but we skip over this portion. Verses 20-24 involve Jesus apparently cursing two cities: Chorazin and Bethsaida for rejecting him. We are getting a really conflicted message from Jesus. Should we be frustrated with people who reject Jesus’ message or should we show them grace and love? The answer, it is all in how you read the Bible. Rejection is a whole lot easier to do. Anger is a whole lot easier of an emotion to have. Love. Love takes works and patience. To find the love, we must look at the big picture.
The big picture of Matthew has to be taken into account when reading Matthew 11. In Matthew 5 Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Remember way back in January I told you all that we needed to remember to always read Matthew's gospel in light of the Beatitudes? There has to be grace even in a passage largely dominated by woe and frustration.
You know, my brothers and sisters, sometimes people will just reject anyone whom God sends. Some days it is like talking to a wall. Some days, the wall does more for the spreading of the gospel than the disciples do. Some days, some days, it feels like you got nothing left to give the world because they have tied your hands and they have beat you to the point where it hurts to talk. I get what Jesus is saying here in verses 18 and 19. You try to do everything right and people will just reject you, not listen to you or worse yet, make fun of you.
And then, after the cursing and woes, our Lord prays. At first it sounds a bit condescending, but it really isn't. The reason for Jesus' prayer is the fact that even after Jesus has just said all those woes about Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, he asks his Father not to bring wrath to them, but that God would reveal this hidden message to them—that Jesus is the messiah, the one who can save us from our sin. There is hope in this prayer from Jesus. Jesus has hope that all is not lost for these people and that there is time for them to radically reorient themselves to God through Jesus.
You know, Jesus isn't out to bring fire and damnation to you or anyone. That is the world’s job. That is the devil’s job. God is not in the business of punishing you. Quiet frankly, I feel like we are our own worst enemies most days. Do you remember what Jesus says in the beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the peacemakers. The culmination of Matthew 11 is not in the woes but it really found in verse 28. 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.”
Verse 28 does not say, "Come to me, all you are that fine and who have no worries." No, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
That's the gospel. That's the good news. You that work day in and day out to further the kingdom of God, there is hope, there is life, there is rest for you. Even in the midst of these difficult days of being a disciple, even in the midst of Covid19, discipleship still happens, the work of the church continues on and Jesus is here with the strength to bear you in his arms, to share the load of what we cannot bear anymore.
The cross shows us a weary man who is carrying a huge burden on his shoulders and that even in the midst of that very hopeless situation when Jesus was at his weakest, God came and brought hope back to life. Even in the midst of whatever trial you are facing or whatever cross you might be bearing this day, God will come and bring you hope.
As disciples, the greatest gift we might be able to give each other is a break—a rest from this weary and tiring work. As Matthew reminded us early on in Advent, Jesus bears the name of the one promised by the prophet Isaiah: Immanuel, "God with us" (1:23). God is with us this day, my brothers and sisters. Can you feel our Lord’s presence? Take a moment right now to breath in the spirit of our Lord. Take a moment a little bit later today, and tomorrow, and the day after that and the next, and the next, and the next and breath in the spirit. For our Lord is with you, he has placed that yoke around your shoulders and will carry you if necessary.
Discipleship has so many unknowns. Where is God going to send you? Who are you going to speak to? What will your work be? Will they accept you or will they run you out of town? Being a disciple does not come with many guarantees except for one—our Lord’s presence is guaranteed. You are all disciples of Jesus and you all have had the yoke of discipleship placed on your shoulders which means, God is with you. Remember that. Remember that God is always going to be with you, wherever you go, wherever you are sent, whatever befalls you, whatever pandemics await you in the future—remember our Lord’s name—Emmanuel—God with us.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Matthew 26: 38, 39, 42, 44
38Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’…42Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’… 44So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
Whenever we have this reading from Acts, I feel like the church finds itself dreaming of the good, old days. The days where we faced no problems, where growth required no work on our part, where everyone seemed so happy and there was no conflict, and when we could safely gather together with no restrictions. The problem with reading Acts 2 in this idyllic way is that it does not take into account that problems, yes problems and conflicts existed in the church. Ideally, we should read this that the church existed and did its work, experienced God’s blessings and growth all while dealing with problems, conflicts, and challenges. In many ways, this better describes what we face each and every day as the church in this post-Christian/post-Christendom world—the church still can do its work, feel and experience God’s blessing, all while dealing with problems and conflicts. Ministry is not void of conflicts or problems, however, sometimes ministry is void of leaders who are willing and or able to deal with the conflicts presented today.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers...All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The problem was that the disciples/apostles are busy. They need to devote themselves to the word and this conflict of division is keeping them from this holy task. The people are dividing themselves into two different groups. The Hebrews, who are Jewish/Christian converts and the Hellenists who are also Jewish but share a different language and culture. And if you are keeping track, this is a common problem that the church has faced throughout its entire history—problems of race, ethnicity and gender…but that is another sermon for another time.
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ 5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
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