The following sermon was preached on July 5, 2020 at Glory of God Lutheran Church in Wheat Ridge, CO. The gospel text for this fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Pentecost 5A) is Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. Season And Story subscribers may also download this sermon manuscript as a PDF.
Matt. 11:16 “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.’
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.”
Matt. 11:25 At 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; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 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.
Matt. 11:28 “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.”
Hello, Since I am new here I want to start from a common place. Let’s start with a traditional Lutheran call and response: the Lord be with you…
Thank you for blessing me with that word that Christ will be with me. I need to hear it as I step into this first of five sermons while Pastor Emily is away.
OK! Let’s get to know one another a little better. I’m going to start by sharing a photo of me as a seven year old. I’m the second from the left, the middle boy. This is me and my siblings playing violin at our paternal grandparents 50th wedding anniversary celebration. If you’ve read my newsletter postings then you likely already know that I’ve spent most of my life playing music, but music hasn’t just been my tradition; it’s a family tradition.Pictured here is my great grandfather John Jurkovic’s violin; he and many other family members were and are gifted musicians. Family traditions are an important piece of where our Gospel text has taken me this past week. For the next few minutes of this sermon I want to shift from the musical traditions of my birth family to the faithful traditions of our congregation, synod, and life together in the family of Christ. To make this shift into a conversation about our communal life I want to highlight something that’s happening in our reading from the book of Matthew. Jesus isn’t being nice. Jesus isn’t turning the other rhetorical cheek in the opening verses of our reading. Instead, he is showing his deep love by challenging the damaging assumptions others are making. Jesus compares the leaders of his time and place to whining, manipulative children and then cites how both he and John have been misunderstood, scapegoated and demonized by these same community leaders.
In the verses that are not part of todays reading, verses 20 through 24, Jesus really brings the noise, so if you’re interested in a direct example of speaking prophetic truth to power you can find it in these four verses which have been excised from our reading. I find it really unfortunate that we don’t read verses 20 through 24 because these verses lean into a very important part of our life together, something that we started with this morning: confession.Verse 20 reads: “Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent.” Repentance and confession go hand in hand. Simply put, confession without repentance is not a right confession, so it’s important that we have a common understanding of repentance: it is to make a change of principle and practice under the direction of the Holy Spirit; it is holistically hearing Jesus saying to us “go and sin no more!” as if spoken to all and not just someone else. It is to live the experience of being reformed in one’s life in, with, and through the Spirit of Christ! Martin Luther found repentance to be so foundational to the whole of the reformation that he helped to ignite in 1517 that it is the focus of the first of his 95 theses. Theses #1 reads:
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (in Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” So when Jesus says in verse 19 that “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” I hear Jesus speaking into verse 20 in which wisdom is shown to be lacking through an absence of repentance.
Am I making you nervous? I mean this is just the first of five sermons?! These are some deep waters we’re wading into and the burdens of our times are very heavy. Are you asking yourself at this point if you might just start a new tradition of sleeping in for the rest of the month? Let me try to find some commonality with you again: the Lord be with you…
In these past few years I often felt so overwhelmed by the racism I experienced and most often indirectly witnessed at my seminary that I gave myself a few mantras, little self imposed liturgies like the Lord be with you (and also with you) to address my stress. Over the course of my 2018 and 2019 classes I wrote a quote from Bayard Rustin into almost every paper. Rustin was a civil rights organizer and advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. The quote that gave me courage similar to when I hear you bless me with “and also with you” is this:
“to be afraid is to behave as if the truth is not true.” These words from Rustin are an important reminder to me today because they do not dismiss my fear as unreal nor insignificant. Bayard Rustin is saying to me that to be afraid is human, but there is a truth that is greater, there is a truth in love that can and does break through our behaviors of confession without repentance. Jesus does something similar in our reading today when he acknowledges the weariness and heavy burdens of his listeners. Let me speak to you now as Bayard and Jesus have spoken to me. The weariness you are feeling is real. The heavy burdens you are shouldering are not imagined. The threat that we might be crushed under this weight imbues our minds and limbs with fearful energy, but the Spirit of Christ wants something more for us over these five sermons and for however much time we may share in community. When I say “the Lord be with you” this is my deepest prayer and to hear this prayer echoed back a profound joy! So – the Lord be with you…
Let’s now turn to these beautiful words from Jesus which conclude todays reading. I think there is something getting lost in translation for us in 2020. After my study I am hearing Jesus proclamation of “and I will give you rest” in a whole new way! The shift in my thinking centers around the word “yoke”; it’s not a word we’re very familiar with in our urban context but I’m guessing many of you can envision in your minds eye the bar that is often placed upon an animals shoulders which helps multiple animals propel the weight of a wagon or plow.
What I found out in my study is that this word that we translate as “yoke” in our English bibles is also utilized to reference the balancing bar of a scale. The Spirit of Christ is speaking to both her hearers then and to us as her readers now that a balanced yoke is part of this promised rest. Jesus’ yoke is easy because it is balanced. In Christ, balance in the here and now and the here-after are being addressed. Jesus utilizes the present tense, the here and now, when he says “my balancing yoke is easy, especially when you compare it to what the scapegoating world is doing to distract you from the truth that being in communion with me in a beloved community lightens everyones burdens. When Jesus speaks of giving his hearers rest he is not only speaking to individuals, he is speaking to a community in which Jesus bears these burdens in, with, and through the beloved community. One of the authentic ways in which we experience the rest Jesus promises both then and now is through the community of Christ.
Jesus isn’t speaking exclusively about rest for our individual souls. He is also addressing our communal rest and the sinful separations that we’ve created in this world when we scapegoat individuals or demonize whole peoples and regions of a world wholly loved by God. There is an immediacy to “my yoke is easy” in which Jesus wants to act on, in, and through us in this world. And for me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to return to reading these words from Jesus as only a heavenly promise of rest in the sweet by and by. It may just be that applying American individuality to this reading is a profound example of missing the point of Christ in our midst.
I’d like to tie this sermon up with a nice bow and put it on the shelf to look back on it months or years from now with satisfaction, but I know Jesus’ words here are still working on me. And, honestly, I hope these words are working on you too. I hope that as these transforming words work their way through your spirit that you’ll reach out to me in the coming weeks and that in those future conversations we will increasingly see Jesus in our midst.I know that one of the reasons I’ve been thinking about my early years of playing the violin and all of my family traditions around music are tied in my mind to the stories of the young violinist Elijah McClain who was harassed, died and then mocked by officers of the peace after his death in Aurora. I bring this up in closing not to scapegoat these police officers for their gross individual acts nor to minimize these acts as part of a system of ongoing violence which demonizes with zealous clarity.
Jesus clearly shows in this reading that scapegoating and demonizing is not the way forward in Christ. If there is any Christian Wisdom in our response to Elijah McClain’s death then Christ’s Spirit of Wisdom will show forth in how we lament the loss of Elijah McClain as we repent through policy changes and communal practice of a fuller life together.
To this end, I’ve spent some time this week finishing a song in my office here at Glory of God that was started many years ago. It’s called “I’m with Jesus” and I hope it will bless this community as a work of wisdom in the midst of an age of conflict. My hope is that this song may be a reminder of our Lutheran family tradition to look for Christ in everyone we meet. Later this week you’ll be able to hear the full song at seasonandstory.com. Here’s the first verse:
I’m with Jesus, standing right here, his name is your name, to be perfectly clear, if I can know him I need to know you, and walk with you hand in hand through your bright and your deepest blue…
The Lord be with you…