Sermon – July 6, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 11:16–30

16But 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.”

[20 Then 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.

28Come 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.”

It is OK to say no!

I love this passage of Matthew, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I will guess there is not a single soul in this room whom once did not felt exhausted by the demands of everyday living. From too much homework to severe financial constrains, to discrimination and oppression, to the unbearable weight of illness, to the searing pain of loss. How soothing is the assurance that Jesus has our back.

Nonetheless there are those who seem to never find comfort in this words. No matter how easy is Jesus’s yoke, no matter how gentle and humble of heart he may be, the burdens never go away and the soul never finds rest. Some have been angered by this passage, some to a point of loosing their faith and giving up hope. It is easy to think that our salvation by faith will grant us a life without difficulties or that its challenges will simply be wipe away. What if I tell you that what Jesus means in our gospel today is something a little different what lies in the surface?

This is one of the situations where I sincerely wished the Christian Common Lectionary would not provide us with the Gospels in bits and pieces. To understand what Jesus is doing here, first we have to see to the whole passage, including all the woes you just heard and that are not in the Lectionary, and consequently, not your bulletin. Then we need to go back a few verses to the beginning of the chapter and understand where all this is coming from. Those are actually included in suggested Sunday readings for the liturgical year, but we have last heard of them on December 15, 2013. So, I guess we need a little refreshment.

The eleventh chapter of Matthew starts with John the Baptist sending a couple of his disciples to Jesus, after the word of Jesus’s deeds had come to him. “Are you the one to come? Or are we to wait for another”, they asked. Translation: are you truly the Messiah? The reason John’s disciples came to Jesus full of attitude was because what Jesus was doing in his ministry was not exactly what John was expecting. The Kingdom of Heaven is near! He used to go out proclaiming out of the wilderness – nothing wrong with that part – but you got to repent, you brood of vipers! Or you will not be part of it”. Oops.

We should not be quick to judge them. John the Baptist was the product of a first century Judean tradition that held the historical oppression endured by the Israelites, as fruit of their collective sin as people. They had broke their covenant, departed from the trust in a faithful God and lost touch with the heart of the law that called for love and justice. Their expectation was that the Messianic King, the son of David, would drive them out of the wilderness. That is fine, but here comes the double whamming. First, without repentance from sins through the observance of the Torah, the law of Israel enclosed in the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), you would not be allowed to board the ship. Then, after the ship has sailed, the King skipper was to be an ideal priest, a server and protector of the temple traditions, and – listen to this – a warrior prince, who would defeat the enemies of Israel and restore the glory of Zion.

This is nothing like what Jesus was doing! He was declaring the forgiveness of sins, heck he was eating and drinking with sinners! He was interfering with temple business, turning tables and claiming to be able to rebuild it. He was teaching his followers to love their enemies, and he was blessing the peacemakers, for the Kingdom of Heaven would belong to them! He was no royal soldier, he was the son of carpenter, born in galilee. Nothing good came from galilee. Go back to John, Jesus told them, tell him that now “the 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.”

I hope this is not offensive to you, Jesus continued, what did you expect? “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!… And you, Capernaum, you will be brought down to Hades.” Is that what I should have said? Should I have brought down fire and brimstone to these cities because they were not willing to repent!” No!

I, Jesus Christ, the one who was to come, will not rely to violence, for I came to cut off the war-horse from Jerusalem and to command peace to the nations. I, Jesus Christ, the one who was to come, will not surrender to anger and judgement, for I came not to condemn and not to kill, but to restore souls. I, Jesus Christ, the one who was to come, will not proclaim false wisdom. Make no mistake, you will carry heavy burdens and you will fall and be crushed by the way of man; but I am the Christ, the one who is to uphold you when you fall, and lift you up when you are bowed down. I have come to provide you with easy strength and gentle courage.

Sisters and brothers what Jesus is doing here is saying NO to the yoke of the world. This yoke drives us to instant reward, to life in the fast lane. It causes us to fear and to fall in despair. It is our old traditions and assumptions about what it means to be favored, upright and righteous, that crushes us. It is OK to say “no”. May the yoke of Jesus Christ, the true revelation of the gracious God, brake the chains of sorrow and lead you to life abundant. May you be freed to become prisoners of hope.