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July 9, 2023

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

Zecheriah 9:9-12

Psalm 145:8-14

Romans 7:15-25a

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

from the one whose yoke is easy

and whose burden is light. Amen

I think our readings for today can be summed up in two sentences:

It’s hard to be human.

It’s less hard with Jesus.

And the hymn of the day is…

I kid but that is the essence of our readings from Romans and Matthew

It’s hard to be human. It’s less hard with Jesus.

In Romans we hear Paul’s frustration with himself,

that he can’t seem to follow the law,

this good gift from God

meant to help people be in right relationship

with God and one another.

‘I don’t get it’ Paul exclaims

‘I know the law, I know that I should follow the law,

I have every good intention of doing so

and yet I don’t!

Every time I turn around

I’m doing something that I hate.’

Paul then briefly considers the thought

that the law is to blame,

a thought he quickly rejects,

the problem he realizes

is not the law but sin,

which is not the breaking of rules

or individual actions

but the distortion of relationships,

the turning of us from God-centeredness to self-centeredness.

The way Luther described sin is as a turning in on oneself,

navel gazing- the center of the universe is my bellybutton kind of thinking.

And it is this sin

that has taken hold of the law

and is now using the law for its own purposes,

to further turn people in on themselves

and away from God and neighbor.

Paul is starting to realize

that there are greater forces than himself at work here

and that it is sin that has made him believe

that he could follow the law to perfection,

and when he got frustrated with the law,

sin made him believe that he was failing

because he wasn’t trying hard enough.

For Paul the law is still good

because it shows him how far from perfection he is

but now he’s realizing he can’t use the law to save himself.

He can’t depend on himself,

he can’t depend on the law,

where is he to turn?

He cries out “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

and here is the key,

we can’t save ourselves.

We need Jesus.

Don’t you hate that?

The realization that in some aspects of our lives we are powerless?

That no matter how hard we think or will or act

we can’t think or will or act the problem away,

we need help, outside help.

In college,

I struggled with some severe anxiety,

and I went to a therapist,

and I did everything I could,

except take medication-I did not want to take medication.

And when I’d tried everything

and still wasn’t feeling well

it got to the point where the therapist bluntly told me,

look if you could have willed this away you would have,

this is outside your control, it is a chemical imbalance,

and I agreed, as a last resort to try medication,

and wouldn’t you know it?

I started to feel better,

more like myself.

I couldn’t fix myself.

Sin is like that,

we can’t fix ourselves.

We need help.

We need Jesus.

Oh but it takes so much for us to get to the point

where we admit this,

in addiction recovery people often have to bottom out,

hit their lowest point before they can admit

that they are powerless over their addiction

and come to believe that only a power higher than themselves

can restore them to sanity

- those are the first two out of twelve steps-

whether it’s addiction or mental health

or something else that is out of control in our lives as individuals,

or as a community

we humans have a hard time admitting that we need help,

so hard that we will reject any offer of help

or suggestion that we can’t do it on our own

no matter what form that suggestion takes.

Jesus points to this in our gospel for the day.

Word has spread of his signs and teachings,

all the way to John the Baptist in prison,

who sends some followers to ask Jesus

if he is the one to come,

Jesus sends the followers to tell John what they’ve seen him do

- all things that fulfill the prophets.

Then Jesus turns to the crowds and says

‘you humans are so fickle’

“John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

humans seem to like neither of the extremes

in one sent from God to offer help.

Commentator Lance Pape observes: “God’s ways can be both too little and too much for us--God’s agenda somehow simultaneously too ‘conservative’ and too ‘liberal.’ We chafe under John’s unapologetic insistence that a moment of decision is at hand for each of us--that we must examine our hearts, let the chaff burn away, and embrace God’s future with our whole lives. However, Jesus can also rub us the wrong way. In his irrational exuberance he just does not seem to grasp that some people are beyond hope--that we must keep select company in order to keep our lives on an even keel. Both of these messages are a threat to our hard-won autonomy. We long to maintain a happy medium between John’s stifling demands and Jesus’ frightening inclusiveness. So we keep changing our tune, insisting on the moderation (or is it the mediocrity?) that we can secure for ourselves, not the extraordinary future that God dreams for us and the world.”[1]

We prefer mediocrity of our own making

over an extraordinary life of God’s making.

We believe we can think or act our way to God’s extraordinary life

-just like Paul-

and we get frustrated and despondent when we just can’t.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus thanks his father

for hiding things from the wise and the intelligent,

instead revealing them to infants.

God, truth, is come to by revelation,

and we can’t think our way to revelation,

we receive revelation by noticing when it happens,

and often those who are so busy thinking wise things

don’t pause to notice what is going on around them,

what others have to offer them,

particularly if what is offered runs contrary

to what they think or imagine will happen.

Infants on the other hand take in the world as it comes to them,

as it is offered to them.

It’s so hard being human.

Jesus knows this

and he’s here for us.

“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.”

We all have heavy burdens,

made heavier by the fact

that we are trying to carry them all by ourselves,

trying to lighten them by ourselves,

and that just won’t work,

Jesus reminds us that we are not alone

that he is here to help,

he has a different way of life to offer, a different yoke.

A yoke was a rabbinic metaphor

for the difficult but joyous task of obedience to the Torah[2] the law,

the law that Paul had so much trouble with.

But with Jesus it is different,

there is still work to be done certainly,

but because Jesus has saved us,

he has removed the burden of us trying to save ourselves,

freeing us to follow the law of loving God and neighbor,

for the sake of our relationship with God and neighbor.

And when sin creeps in

Jesus offers us grace

Forgiving us and turning us once again

Away from our bellybuttons

and out toward the world that God so loves.

Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.

[1] Pape, Lance. “Matthew 11:16-19, 25-39 Homiletical Perspective.” Feasting on the Word Year A vol.3, Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, Ky. 2011. Pg 215. [2] Harper Collins Study Bible

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