Burdens heavy and light

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14, Year A
July 9, 2017

Matthew 11:16-30: “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17’We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the 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.”

20Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, 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.”

25At that time Jesus said, “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; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All 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. 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.”

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Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

On a hot summer day it seems hard to say more than “God loves you; go in peace.” We should be at the beach with our toes in the sand. We should be at a lake in the mountains, or on the back porch listening to the ball game with an iced-tea in our hands. We should be holding hands in a movie where the theater is cool. Or visiting a friend with air-conditioning and children the same age running around the back yard. Hot summer days don’t seem like the days for work.

Scripture is work. It asks something of us. It bids us listen. It asks us to see. It calls for self-examination and an open heart. It summons us to generosity and compassion and the hard work of reconciliation. It asks us to be honest with ourselves.

Scripture is work. But scripture is also promise. It comes to heal. To comfort. To reassure. To encourage. It comes to free what is bound and restore what is broken. It comes to gather what is scattered and unite what is divided. Scripture is work, but it is also promise. It bids us bend the knee, and yet raises us in an eternal embrace.

And it does both of these things at the same time. The wonderful words spoken to the woman caught in adultery say to us, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I.” I imagine the woman melted with gratitude at that moment. But then came the command, “Go and sin no more” – which is not a summons to moral reform but a call to faithful allegiance: “Go, and let nothing betray your relationship to the eternal mercy.” The same small bit of scripture is both incredible promise and work, full of wondrous but life-changing grace

The scripture is work and it is promise, and it does both of these at the same time. So it’s understandable that there is something of a whiplash in our text this morning. On the one hand Jesus says to us “If Sodom and Gomorrah had seen what you have seen they would still be here today. They would have turned and embraced the God of justice and mercy and walked the walk of faithfulness and love long ago.”

It’s a little bit like saying everybody on Wall Street would be working the soup kitchens and homeless shelters and Donald Trump would be resettling refugees in the White House. It’s a little bit like saying Nazi Germany would have given up its guns and gas and become a beacon of hospitality to the world. Or that the Tsar would have sold his treasures and given every peasant land of their own.

Tyre and Sidon were great and prosperous cites. Their ships traversed the world bringing the wealth of the nations to their doorstep. It was King Hiram of Tyre who brought the cedars of Lebanon and taught even Solomon in all his wealth and glory how to build a temple. But it was also the daughter of a Sidonian king who taught Israel how to worship prosperity and power, who built the temple to Baal and tried to kill the prophets and led the nation on its downward path to destruction.

But “they would have repented,” says Jesus, “if they had seen what you have seen.” If they had seen the lame walk and the blind see and the speechless given voice. If they had seen a child’s generosity feeding five thousand. If they had seen outcasts welcomed and sins forgiven. If they had heard what you have heard, if they had seen what you have seen, they would have embraced the reign of God with joy and wonder.

You know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were the epitome of abusive wealth and power, degrading all who came near and devouring the world. And here is the kicker: “When the day of judgment comes,” says Jesus, “Sodom and Gomorrah will fare better than you.” There will be a greater welcome in heaven for those most wicked and unrepentant of cities than for you, for they didn’t have the chance you have had. They didn’t get to see what you see or hear what you hear.

And why does Jesus say this? Because the people wouldn’t listen to John because he was too freakishly religious, and they won’t listen to Jesus because he’s not religious enough. At least, he’s not their kind of religion.

But this is the deal. We don’t get to pick the god we want. We have to deal with the God who is.

We don’t get to choose a god who blesses the status quo; we have to deal with the God who upsets it. We don’t get to choose a god who will make us rich; we have to deal with the God who calls us to give them away. We don’t get to choose a god of power and glory; we have to deal with the God who shows himself on a cross.

So Jesus breaks out in prayer, giving glory to God that he has revealed himself not to the wealthy and powerful leaders of the nation; he has shown them to the weak and the poor. It is the poor widow who understands the truth of God when her son is healed. It is the blind Bartimaeus who sees that we are called to mercy. It is the outcast Zacchaeus who is met by the grace of God and gives away half his possessions and restores justice in the land. It is the lame man at the pool with no one to help him who finds his life restored. It is the lame man lowered down from the roof by his friends in order to set him before Jesus who experiences forgiveness. It is the woman at the well, and the woman who barges into the home of Simon the Pharisees to anoint Jesus when he is treated without grace, and the woman caught in adultery – these are the weak and disregarded whose eyes are open to see the grace of God in their midst.

And it is to all these, hardened and burdened by life, that Jesus offers God’s true and ultimate Sabbath rest. It is these he welcomes into the life of grace and mercy. These he invites to live in the morning light of the new creation. These he invites to feast at God’s table.

“Come to me, all you 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.”

There is a yoke here. There is a life of service to be lived. It is not an easy yoke in the sense that it doesn’t ask much of us; it asks very much indeed. But it is light because the work of mercy and grace lifts the heart and frees the Spirit and leads to joy and life.