Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 9, 2017, Lectionary A, Proper 9
The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr.+ Rector Scripture: Matthew 11:16-30
“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:30
Take my yoke.
Let us pray. Heavenly, omnipotent Father, send now the Holy Spirit to show us how to rest in Jesus, so that we might increasingly come to know and share your love and provision for all through Jesus Christ our Lord who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Amen.
I’m tired, sick and tired of love. I’ve had my fill of love—tired, tired of being admired, tired of love uninspired. Let’s face it I’m tired. I’m tired, tired of playing the game. Ain’t it a crying shame? I’m so tired. I’m exhausted, tired, tired of playing the game. Ain’t it a crying shame? I’m so tired. She’s tired (Don’t you know she’s pooped), as sung by Madeline Kahn in Mel Brooks’ movie, Blazing Saddles, and as edited by me to stay within a PG-13 rating.
Anthony De Mello, the Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, tells the story of a dynamic young woman who was suffering stress and strain. The doctor prescribed tranquilizers, rest and a return visit in a couple of weeks. When she came back to see the physician, he asked her if she felt any different. She replied, “No, I don’t. But I’ve observed that other people seem a lot more relaxed.” (The Heart of the Enlightened. New York: Doubleday, 1989, 122.)
My doctor took one look at my gut, said Marvin, and refused to believe that I work out. So I listed the exercises that I do every day: Jump to conclusions, climb the walls, drag my heels, push my luck, make mountains out of molehills, bend over backwards, run around in circles, put my foot in my mouth, go over the edge, and beat around the bush.
A classic public service ad from the 1980’s put it this way: “No one ever says, ‘I want to be a junkie when I grow up. It just happens, usually when we aren’t paying attention. People who work in the fields of addiction and compulsion call it the “cycle of addiction” Briefly, it works like this:
You feel rotten — fear, anxiety, emotional pain, whatever. You take drugs or alcohol to feel better, which you do for a brief amount of time. You take more drugs or alcohol to extend the period of relief. Your use of drugs or alcohol becomes out of control and you can’t stop. You feel rotten for being addicted. So you take more drugs or alcohol to feel better, and on and on it goes.”
To one degree or another, each of us may have found sound identity with the scenarios, if you will, just listed. We have been tired, seriously tired, and stressed out. And the consequences of that unbearably fatigue, that unbearable burden has put us in a state of mind that at times has verged on the brink of desperation. We’ve tried it all in looking for relief—the doctor, the drugs, jumping to conclusions, climbing the walls, and perhaps even succumbed to addiction in the hope of alleviating the pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Though it is easy to point to our circumstances as being the culprit behind our dis-ease, our discomforts in life, we find St. Paul’s words from today’s epistle strangely relevant if not to the point. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Addiction to drugs or alcohol, certainly, is a clear example of being out of control. Then again, we get ourselves into trouble by others appetites—food, sex, anger, guilt, depression, anxiety. No we do not think of anger, depression, or anxiety as appetites, but we do feed upon them. Indeed, as Paul says, “[We] do not understand [our] own actions.”
I found myself just the other day recalling something from my childhood. My best friend back then told me how after some infraction, some rule he had broken, that his mother took the belt to him, going so far as to make him bleed. It was such a whipping. As she proceeded to flail into him, she told him that this would hurt her more than him. Though he surely disagreed, as he writhed under the stinging leather, he could not help but notice that his mother was crying. Whereas, we might think it was for his pain, there are certain notions of childrearing and discipline that resort to excessive corporal punishment. Perhaps, the real source of my friend’s mother’s crying was rather a recall of when she, as a child, had been mercilessly lashed with the belt herself.
Yes, there are forces within us that we do not understand, perhaps going back to things which happened to us, influenced and made us, long ago that we don’t recall or want to. This is serious business, a serious burden that cripples and distorts who we are. Just the other day in Loganville, Georgia, not far from Atlanta, a mother stabbed to death four of her children and her husband. Can we imagine? What was it that was going on in her that she so sorely did not understand? In the words of the character, played by Marlon Brando in the movie Apocalypse Now, the horror, the horror, we feel at such moments of tragedy and inexplicability.
Yes, there are forces within us that separate us not only from others, but ourselves as well. We are burdened by them. We struggle to control them. Again, as St. Paul says, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” Even after two thousand years, could Paul’s words be any more relevant to you and to me?
Let me ask, when was the last time you got excited about something? Perhaps, you had been looking forward to buying a new car. Maybe, it was a new house. Maybe it was about a medication that would finally relieve your pain. Could it have been an opportunity like the lottery to make enough money so that all your financial concerns would disappear? The prospect of anyone of these would seriously get our attention. If we knew that there was this one thing we needed to do in order to buy a new house, that perfect medication, or acquire enough money to realize our fondest dreams, it would get our attention, would it not? We would sit up and listen, even take notes. Wouldn’t we?
I saw an advertisement by Lowe’s the other day for some refrigerator—no surprise, perhaps. The commercial went on to show that on the door of this refrigerator there is a grocery list key pad. When you discover you are just about out of some item, just type it into the key pad. There’s your list. Ah, but it does not stop there. You see there is a little transmitter inside, what is basically a computer, which will send your grocery list; you got it, to your smart phone. Assuming you always keep your phone with you, when you next go to the grocery store you will have your updated grocery list right there with you. Isn’t that something? It gets our attention.
We are burdened, not all the time, and would like to think that maybe, just maybe there is a way out other than addiction, other than harming others, other than the latest new technological gadget. Where are we to look for such a thing?
In today’s gospel we heard Jesus tell us: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” What is Jesus saying? He is saying that here He is doing all sorts of extraordinary things—the healings, the miracles, playing the flute if you will, and what has been the response? They said of Him, “‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” In other words, they discounted Him, they demonized Him. In fact, that is exactly what we heard they said of John the Baptist. “He has a demon.”
The people of Jesus’ generation, indeed our own, had the answer to their problems, to alleviating their burdens, their pain, their suffering standing right in front of them (that is Jesus), and they punted. How do you explain that? Were they; are we hell-bent on keeping our addictions, prolonging our suffering no matter what? Are we cursed or is it choice that prevents us from finding the answer, the only enduring answer to alleviating our misery? What is that about? Maybe, we are under the delusion that there will ultimately be a phone, smart enough that will make everything okay; just get the right app and push the right buttons.
St. Paul, though, identifies it, doesn’t he? We hate to say it. It is politically incorrect. It is judgmental, we fear. What is it? It is that terrible three lettered word. It is sin, which darkens our minds and clouds our vision. Dismissing it as DNA or the way we are born does not change the consequences of our actions or our choices.
Perhaps, you noticed that the gospel reading has left out certain verses, certain words spoken by Jesus. They are verses 20 through 25: 20 “Then (Jesus) began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had beendone, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Is Jesus threatening us here? Is that why those who selected the readings, the lectionary, for today left these verses out? Jesus is supposed to be this wonderful, loving guy, right? He is supposed to love us no matter what and no matter how bad we have been or are, right? Have we gotten that wrong? Is Jesus not as loving as we thought? Has someone left out the small print?
In a way, we are back to an earlier question. When was the last time we got excited about something? You see, while we may think that Jesus is threatening us with doom and damnation in these omitted verses, He is actually doing quite the contrary. Look at it this way. Would we not warn our children not to play in the middle of the street? Would we tell them that it is okay to skip school? Would we tell them that it is okay to play with firearms or anything else that has the easy potential of seriously harming them? We would not. Because we love them, because we care what happens to them, we would make it very clear that if they did play in the middle of the street or something else equally as dangerous, then they could and would get seriously hurt. This is where Jesus is coming from. He does not want us to suffer or get hurt, quite the contrary. This brings us to perhaps the most important, pastoral, caring aspect of today’s gospel reading.
What Jesus offers us, indeed Himself, is not difficult, nor does it require a university degree. We heard Him say to us in verse 25: “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.” This is not to say that only children can grasp what Jesus has to say or offer. Rather, it is to say that the learning of this world (its wisdom) can be an impediment to grasping what Jesus has to offer. We know this. Reason tells us that prayer cannot heal. Reason tells us that five thousand people cannot be fed from a few fish and loaves. Science, another word for the wisdom of this world, tells us that a man cannot walk on water or be raised from the dead after four days, the number of days Lazarus had been dead.
The real blessing, indeed saving blessing, which Jesus has to offer us is found in these words of today’s gospel. “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.” Can such be really true? Just hearing the prospect of rest, of a light burden is refreshing and offers us hope, taking us back to earlier in this sermon. Remember?
We are tired, seriously tired, stressed out. And the consequences of that unbearable fatigue, that unbearable burden has put us in a state of mind that at times has verged on the brink of desperation. We’ve tried it all in looking for relief—the doctor, the drugs, jumping to conclusions, climbing the walls, and perhaps even succumbed to addiction in the hope of alleviating the pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.
No, we may not be feeling overly burden at this moment, but we have been and in all likelihood will be again. Sure, we may now be at the top of our game, at our best—good health, good relationships, good job, but trouble inevitably comes, does it not? It comes from a direction we may not have expected or prepared for.
Recently, one of our daughters’ fathers-in-law had left the office to drive home. It was the end of a normal day. If we have job, we likewise have gotten into the car to drive home any number of times—nothing special or extraordinary about that. As this father-in-law was approaching an intersection, the light turned green, giving him the go ahead to proceed. Suddenly, though someone walked right into the intersection. He slammed on the brakes, but not before hitting the man and killing him. Horror of horrors, the man turned out to be someone that he knew. They had been in the same club for a number of years. Trouble, serious trouble, a very burdensome trouble had literally walked right into this father-in-law’s life, not only his but his family at large.
Perhaps, his lawyer can relieve him of some of that burden, but that burden is one that cannot humanly be lifted by him or anyone else. We know this. We have experienced it ourselves in one form or another. We have faced burdens, the loss of a loved one, a failed marriage, poor health, or a financial crisis and the prospect of those burdens being lifted has seemed impossible. The wisdom of the world can only go so far. Then, something extraordinary, out of this world, happens. Jesus, God, comes along side of us and that burden is lifted. What Jesus tells us about His burden being light and giving us rest is no pie in the sky or false promise. He, indeed, is our savior; and this is not only some future tense of being saved and going to heaven. This is a “this side” of eternity reality found only in Jesus and nowhere else. No addiction, no medication, no doctor, no therapy, no exercise, no diet, or special indulgence can offer us this.
There really is good news here in Jesus. We have experienced it for ourselves, and He has told to share that experience with others. Call it the Great Commission if you like, but that can sound awfully officious at times. Rather call it loving our neighbor with someone, to whom all things have been handed, who is our creator, our redeemer, and whose burden is light, indeed who is a place of rest. This is Jesus, of course.
We have been given two charges this morning. One is to remember to take our burdens to Jesus. The other is to remember to tell others to do likewise.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.