3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 14
July 3, 2011
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
The Dance of the Liturgy: The Gospel Lesson
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading. This is a passage that many people have quoted to me over the years, when they’ve been navigating difficult times, when they’ve been grieving, when they are just tired of all the craziness of life reflected in the papers and in their neighborhoods. “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.”
This is surely the Gospel: the message of God’s unfailing, steadfast love for all those who find life unbearable. It lifts us up. It reminds us that we do not exist outside of God’s care. It is good news for our bad situation – God’s Good News. This word from Jesus is at the very center of our worship.
We have confessed our sin and received absolution at the beginning of our time together, so our hearts are relieved of guilt and reminded that God’s grace is outgoing and inviting. We have been gathered into the Spirit’s care and sung our songs of praise and thanksgiving as we rejoice in the presence of Christ in our midst. We are formed into a community that is Jesus’ very body in this time and place. And then we open our ears and our hearts to hear God’s Word. We hear a reading from the Hebrew Bible which connects to the Gospel lesson we are about to hear. We share a psalm together, one of the pages from the Hebrew Hymnbook, part of a liturgy so old no one knows exactly when some of the songs were born. And then we hear a reading from the New Testament, the experiences of the earliest church. All of these tell us how God has been present in the history and action of our forebears in the faith.
But the Gospel is different. We hear the words of Jesus who is the very Word of God himself. His word contains the very power of God itself, and can convict and reassure us in a way that comes right off the page and into our hearts. That is why by tradition, the preacher interprets the Gospel lesson in her preaching.
As Lutheran Christians, we say that God’s word comes to us as Law and Gospel. They are connected. God’s word convicts us of our failures to be God’s people. It is Law when God demands that we put God first and our neighbors before ourselves. It is law when we recognize how far we are from deserving even the kindnesses of sun and rain and the air we breathe. Law drives us to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy. Gospel assures us that the promises of God are not dependent on our deserving them, and that everything good that comes to us is simply because God loves us and forgives us in spite of our failure. Gospel tells us of God’s grace, the mercy we have received every day, and God’s continuing presence with us always. We are assured of those promises by the presence of Jesus in our history. God came in person to show us the dignity of humanity and how it looks when we are able to be what we were created to be. Jesus’ death at the hands of the religious and political authorities of his day shows us that God was willing to bear all the evil of our world. In Jesus’ resurrection we see God defeat evil through the suffering power of love. It did not happen from afar, God bore the pain in person, so that we would know without a doubt that the power of evil cannot stand against God’s love.
In the reading before us this morning, the part that is left out is Jesus chiding the Jewish authorities for their failure to believe the truth of signs and wonders he has been performing right in front of them. He’s pretty savage. He claims that if the wonders he had accomplished had been done in front of pagans, they would have no doubt that he is God, or sent by God. It is pure accusation, slamming them with Law in order to bring them to a place where they see their own failure. And so he moves from the Law to the Gospel we long to hear, the message of assurance that God is trustworthy and loving, welcoming and forgiving and ready to bear our burdens with us.
And so, in our liturgical dance, the Gospel is the place where we can stop for a minute: we meet Jesus, God’s living word, spoken in our midst, take a few minutes to dwell in that word, let the preacher lift it up, examine it with us, open the Law of it and the Gospel of it to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” And then we sing, lifting our voices in thanksgiving, celebrating what we have learned.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.