Sunday, July 9, 2017
Zechariah 9:9-12; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
So what’s going on here?
It seems to me that Jesus is saying two contradictory things.
On the one hand, we have the teaching we heard as our Gospel reading from two weeks ago. In the 10th Chapter of Matthew, Jesus offered some harsh warnings. Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but a sword. He said he came to turn family member from family member. He reminded people that those who find their life lose it, and those who lose their life for his sake find it. To me, that sounds like hard and heavy work.
But today, in the 11th Chapter of Matthew we find a Jesus who sounds much softer and gentler. A savior promising an easy yoke, a light burden, and rest for our souls.
So which one is it? The sword swinging savior calling us to lose our lives in order to find them? Or, a savior gently offering us easy yokes, light burdens, and rest for our souls?
I know which savior I prefer!
If you read the July edition of the Trinity News, I suggested that both duty and delight are part of the Christian life. A life following Jesus includes both our duties – our obligations and commitments to our families, to our congregation, and to our community; and our delights … those things we enjoy, our passions, especially when, in the words of Frederick Buechner, “our deep gladness can meet the place of the world’s deep need.”
Perhaps this is how we can hold these two teachings together? On the one hand, a life of faith calls us outside of ourselves in love and service of our neighbors. A life of faith is counter-cultural, it doesn’t just drift along with the flow, but intentionally builds relationships with the marginalized and rejected in society. A life of faith does require heavy lifting at times.
And, at the same time, we are blessed with the grace of Jesus Christ. The promise of a savior who has done the heavy lifting of the cross for us by offering salvation to us a free gift of grace. A savior who doesn’t expect us to work to earn our salvation, but allows us to respond to salvation by loving and serving our neighbors through our delights, our passions, and those things we enjoy doing.
While I think this understanding is helpful, I do, however, think there is more to the story.
Here is another way I think we can look at things.
What if this reading for today, is an illustration of the reading from two weeks ago? That the lives we are called to lose, are lives weighed down and made heavy by sin and death?
In our First Reading this morning from Zechariah we read about a king who enters the city on the back of a donkey. The Gospel writers Matthew and John reference this reading on Palm Sunday when Jesus rides into Jerusalem. They see Jesus entering Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this scripture.
According to Zechariah, notice what that entering king does! He cuts off the chariot, destroys the war horse, and breaks the battle bow. In effect, the king destroys instruments of war. At the same time he commands peace to the nations, release to the prisoners, and a double-fold restoration of that which is lost.
To a people burdened and oppressed by violence and war, this scripture is the promise of God working to sew back together that which sin was tearing apart.
War is heavy. War is a burden. War demands that a heavy price be paid.
Many sources estimate that this country has spent approximately $2 TRILLION dollars in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many point out that the total keeps rising as we honor our ongoing commitments to meet the physical and emotional healthcare needs of veterans who were wounded in those wars.
There is a term “opportunity costs.” An opportunity cost is what is given up in order to pursue a particular path. While $2 TRILLION is what we paid for war, the opportunity cost of war is what we did not spend the money on: education, infrastructure, jobs – those things the money might have been spent on to build up our society right here at home.
That is the weight, burden and yoke of war. Heavy costs to be paid. Death and destruction.
The promise of God’s work in Jesus Christ is the promise of God breaking our instruments of war, the very instruments of war we in our sin pick up and use so freely, not only as one nation against another, but as individuals in our lives against our own family members, against our neighbors and friends. Weapons of war we turn inward against ourselves.
The promise of God’s work in Jesus Christ, announced here today in water, bread and wine, is peace – peace for you and me, peace between us and between our neighbors, peace enacted through forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection.
Think about your life … what burdens do you carry because of a war in your life?
Are you at war with someone outside of yourself? Perhaps it’s with a family member or friend? A neighbor or boss? Someone here at church?
Are you at war with something inside yourself? A regret? A disappointment? A hatred of some aspect of yourself?
To you, Jesus comes today to ease your burdens, to lighten your loads, and bring you rest, breaking those instruments of war so frequently used in our lives – shame, guilt, gossip, regret, envy … and proclaiming to us peace.
God is at peace with us through the mercy of Jesus Christ. And in that pronouncement the heavy yoke of sin is removed, and in its place is the easy yoke of grace.
Friends in Christ, back to the question I started with. The sword swinging savior who calls us to lose our lives to find them, directs that sword against our sin. Destroying sin, our savior delivers us from lives burdened and oppressed by sin … delivering us for gentle rest and peace.
Yes, in faith, we are led out of heavy yokes of sin, and into light yokes of grace.
The Apostle Paul, in our second reading today, reminds us this isn’t our work. In his classic description of the human condition, Paul lamented: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
But Paul points us to our hope: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? ” he asked. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
In faith, let us claim this as our hope today. The promise of a savior who destroys weapons of sin and who announces peace to heavy souls. The promise of a savior, who right here among us, right now, is making the yoke easy, the burden light, and providing rest for weary souls, through the announcement of sins forgiven, relationships reconciled, and peace as gift for all.
Thanks be to God. AMEN.