Sunday, July 06, 2008

Pentecost 8 - Year A

Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.

It sounds so inviting doesn’t it? Jesus with out-stretched arms, calling the weary and burdened to rest in him.

Jesus, the Great Physician, the Divine Healer, calls all those who are stressed out and tired, tells you to grab a chair, put up your feet while he fetches margaritas as you lie on the beach.

Jesus the Cruise Director, making sure you’re relaxed and reposed, calming the sea sickness of life.

Jesus with a pipe and cardigan, welcoming you to the couch to warming your cold anxieties, waving your guilt away with a kind word and quiet manner.

Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.

This passage is some peoples’ favourite part of the bible. I don’t blame them. who couldn’t like this passage? Especially in our age of anxiety. Especially when Depression and mental illness is spreading plague-like around the Western world. Especially when there’ so much we need to be doing, grabbing dinner at the Drive-thru as we shuffle the kids between soccer practice and piano lessons. Especially when we’re working longer hours for less pay.

Especially when gas prices are blasting into space and we wonder how we’re going to fill our tanks each week to get to work. Especially when food prices creep towards the stratosphere and we’re starting to seriously think about buying a cow for the backyard. Especially when the roads become rivers and we flush water from our basements.

Especially when we hear that Iran is tiptoeing closer toward a nuclear weapon. Especially when a yet another Canadian soldier is killed in Afghanistan. Especially when the earth is overheating, pine beetles endanger our forests, and salmonella threatens us with death-by-tomato.

Especially when…you fill in the blank. I’m sure you can. And after you scribble in your problems, Jesus’ invitation sounds mighty tempting. Like Good News in a Bad News world. A rest from our troubles.

Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.

But when you stop and really listen to what Jesus is saying, he doesn’t make very much sense. When someone’s offering you a rest, throwing a yoke over your shoulders, strapping a harness around you doesn’t exactly close the deal. It sounds like he’s asking us to trade one set of problems for another.

And he probably is.

At the beginning of today’s reading, Jesus is clearly overheated, like he’s been pushed to the edge and finally leaps out in anger.

He’d been accused of not being spiritual enough, not being godly enough, not being pure enough. They called him a booze-hound, of wasting time in night clubs instead of going to church, of filling up at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet instead of kneeling down in prayer.

“…the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Of course, they didn’t like his cousin John any more than they liked him. Some of the religious leaders complained about John the Baptist. They accused him of having a demon. Then they said that he wasn’t preaching God’s word and that he was deceiving people.

However, people knew what John was REALLY up to. Folks knew that John was giving people a fresh start with their lives and with God. He showed them that God was a God who believed in second chances.

But not everyone wanted people to have second chances. Especially those with fancy titles in front of their names and even fancier robes in their closets. Folks who had a vested interest in keeping things just the way they were.

And they didn’t lack any supporters of the status quo. “Sure the government was corrupt, what government isn’t?” they’d say.

“The religious leaders were pompous and uncaring,” they’d point out, “Big surprise, stop the presses.”

“Of course, the temple favoured the rich and powerful,” they’d declare, “how else are the lights going to stay on?”

But Jesus and John saw the bar was set way too low, and they wanted to raise it, even demolish it. They knew what God could do and were tired of seeing people get in the way of God’s renewing power. They were tired of seeing so many people thinking God didn’t care about them only because religious people didn’t care about them.

That’s why he turned to the crowd and said,

“Come to ME, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”

Come to ME all you who are tired of struggling day after day trying to do good, trying to be the best person you can be, and you still fail.

Come to me all you who are weighed down under the heaviness of life; trapped in situations that keep you from being the person God wants you to be.

I will give you rest. I’m not like these other guys. I am gentle. I am humble. MY chains aren’t heavy. MY load is light.”

It wasn’t rest and relaxation he was offering, he wasn’t offering a vacation. He was calling then to a whole new way for people to live together with God.

While we aren’t fighting corrupt foreign occupiers, nor are most of our religious leaders official flunkies of empire, we have our own challenges, forces that pull us away from God and hinder our growth as God’s people.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that “we have our lives invested in consumerism. We have a love affair with ‘more’ – and we will never have enough. Consumerism is not simply a marketing strategy. It has become a demonic force among us, and the theological question is facing us is whether the gospel has the power to help us withstand it.” (Brueggemann, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope)

I would say that it’s not just a theological question. I’d say it’s a life question. I’d say it’s a question of how to live faithfully when there’s so much to pull us away from God.

How do we faithfully follow the poor preacher from Nazareth in the midst of plenty? How do we grow into the fullness of who God wants us to be when there are so many competing gospels? The gospels of wealth, beauty, and success? The gospels of strength, of personal power, of individual freedom?

At first glance, these gospels sound like Good News. They tell us what we want to hear and make us feel important. They make us feel like we can be more that what we are, they give us something to which we can aspire, providing tangible evidence that we’ve accomplished what we’re supposed to accomplish.

But these gospels demand a heavy price. We spend less time with our families; we disconnect and disengage from those whom we love. We cut ourselves off from each other. These gospels make us fearful that we’ll have it all taken away from us. So we become angry and suspicious of change. It brings out the worst from us rather than the best.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a different life, a gospel that draws us in to follow him down the path of compassion, by the banks of humility, beside the bustling rivers of self-giving love, through the valley of gentleness, all the way of the cross of forgiveness, not for the sake of our selves, but for the life of the world.

That’s the yoke that Jesus was talking about. That’s the burden he lays on us at baptism.

And Jesus gives us food for this journey; he provides strength to carry his yoke. At Jesus’ table we’re given what we need to follow Jesus along his path. We’re given the bread of healing and the wine of forgiveness in the sacrament of new life.

Come, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and he will give you rest. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home