4th Sunday after Pentecost
July 6, 2013
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” How many times has this invitation been a comfort when our lives feel out of control, or when we are struggling to make sense of circumstances that just knock us out. The very idea that we can just let it go and let Jesus carry us for awhile is such a relief when we are at a loss. The longer your life of faith, the more you come to rely on such comfort and relief to face the challenges that life throws at you, but even you who are young and seeking to be faithful to your promises to God find that such an invitation can be helpful. But this teaching of Jesus that we have before us this morning is not only meant for comfort, there’s challenge here as well.
The old saw is that a preacher’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Jesus is doing just that, as we listen to him this morning. Jesus is talking about those times when you feel that you can’t win. You are hired into an institution to create new systems because the old ones are no longer effective and everyone around you tells you about how things used to work, and practically refusing to work with you. Your parents are not eating properly, and have walked away from the stove with the burner it more than once; they live a thousand miles away from you, but when you come to sell their house and move them to live near you, they are bitter and blame you for betraying them. When you look at the family issues, the political issues, the institutional issues of our time, finding an answer that satisfies all the requirements is often nearly impossible, and the contingencies involved are awfully quick to point fingers and assign blame, often in language that is scathing and ungracious. More and more, it seems, you just can’t win.
The same for Jesus. His example contrasts John the Baptizer and himself. So, he says, when John came speaking of God’s punishment for sin and living in the desert apart from the sinfulness of the city, people said he was harsh and weird. Now when I come, speaking of God’s love and reaching out to include everyone, even outcasts, people say that I am immoral and impure. You can’t win. But, he says…., but what people do because they are God’s people is their vindication. That means that God’s people do what God would do and that it is a big win for them with God, no matter what anyone says.
So then Jesus thanks God that he is not too smart to overlook the simple things that are the most important. People who think they are really wise in the ways of the world, or who put way to much confidence in their ability to figure everything out for themselves, often miss what God really had in mind. Matthew, the writer of this Gospel is always defining what righteousness looks like. His stories of Jesus ministry emphasize the difference between “doing the right thing” in the eyes of the world, and “being righteous.” The righteousness that Matthew lifts up is all about listening for what God would do out of love for the world and it’s people, and then doing that. So if doing the right thing in the eyes of the world means excluding people because they have made mistakes in their lives or because they are different than you, you might be on the wrong track. Or if getting so caught up in how smart you are because you know your Bible so well, but forgetting about being generous and forgiving and available to your family or your neighbor, then you are probably missing the point.
Our example of God’s love and care comes from Jesus, who gave up his Godly Realm to join us in our limited earthly life. He suffered the joys and sorrows of human life, so that we trust that he knows first hand what our lives are like. Talk about “you can’t win;” in living out God’s love for humanity, he ran headlong into the religious and political authorities of his day, who didn’t appreciate his failure to live by their rules and his accusing them of failing to live by God’s rules. They got rid of him in the most gruesome way they could, condemning him as a terrorist and seeing him crucified.
But God’s love and power always triumph, and Jesus rose from death to defeat the final enemy that can separate us from God. We are saved by God’s power to overcome death, and by God’s love to include us in the Kingdom of God, our final resting place. It’s simple enough that even a baby can understand it. We don’t have to do anything more to be God’s people than to trust that it’s true. Then we will want to live out that love in our lives. But Jesus’ story tells us that to listen closely to how God’s love compels us means that we will sometimes be at odds with the world, and that when that is true, we can rest in Jesus’ love. Live according to the love I have lived out, says Jesus, and you will find the strength to live with joy. Even when the world doesn’t agree, even when the world hassles you, God is always faithful and gives you the power and strength to be faithful in return.
So there’s your challenge: to live faithful to God’s love for humanity will sometimes put you at odds with the world, maybe even at odds with your fellow Christians. But as you pray and listen for the gentle and humble way of Jesus, you will find the burden lighter. And there’s your comfort, for Jesus is always holding you close, no matter what you have to bear, and giving you the rest and strength to continue living as God’s own.