5th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who lightens our burdens. Amen
Being human is hard.
I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate too much on that statement,
you’re all human, you understand the difficulty.
In his letter to the Romans today
Paul addresses one part,
perhaps the essential part of the human struggle,
the conflict that arises between expectations and reality
particularly the expectations God has for us as given to us by the law.
Often the law is portrayed as a negative thing,
a burden that God placed on us
but Remember the law is a gift from God,
initially given to help the newly freed slaves from Egypt
form life giving community with each other,
relationships that were ordered by personal expectations
rather than forced on them by another power.
the people recognized that the law was good,
and a gift
and they also learned pretty early on
that because of the presence of sin in the world
keeping the law was really hard,
over and over again
they broke God’s expectations for them
as well as their own expectations for themselves.
The whole arc of the story of God and the people of God
turns on the continual struggle
of people to live in abundant life giving relationship with God and one another
and the suffering and alienation that occur
when the law is ignored,
the expectations are broken.
And most of the time,
the people knew what they were doing,
in the beginning of each phase of the story
when the words of the prophet have finally gotten through
they lament their actions,
they realize that to live according to the law leads to a good life
and yet inevitably they break the law and the relationships it protects.
Being human is hard,
Paul expresses the frustration in our reading from Romans today
exclaiming “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate...For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. “
We all have situations in our lives
where we know, without a doubt
what the right course of action is
and yet we continue to do the opposite,
whether it is something small
like knowing that fresh veggies are the healthiest, best option
yet choosing french fries
or something more serious
like knowing that for a relationship to be healthy
open communication is necessary
yet choosing to avoid conflict.
And it’s really annoying isn’t it?
To know even as we’re doing it
that what we’re doing is wrong
and we wonder why is this happening?
It it a lack of will power,
a flaw in our character?
or is something else going on?
this is when we start using the language of sin and temptation,
sin being the insidious force
that works its way into a perfectly reasonable and ordered world
and offers options that bring pleasure in the short term
but death in the end.
On the one hand it is a matter of free will,
we make choices,
on the other hand
there a power at work
that draws us away from God and in on ourselves,
a power that makes choosing the good,
following the law
that much harder in our free will.
So with Paul we ask “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
And Paul of course answers his own question
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
and he goes on to explain,
(now this is dipping a little into the reading for next week so don’t be surprised if it sounds familiar but it’s really the point that Paul is setting up in our reading for today),
that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.”
God’s response to sin is Jesus.
Basically, When it comes to sin, we need help.
It is beyond our humanity to live up to the expectations set,
even lovingly set, by God.
So God sent Jesus
who in the gospel calls out to 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.”
the yoke is a traditional rabbinical image for the law,
Jesus came to take a load off our shoulders,
to teach us the law of gentleness and humility,
earlier in Matthew
Jesus tells the disciples that he has not come to abolish the law
but to fulfill the law
and to do this, Jesus boils it all down to one word,
some might say the essence of God; love.
Love that is first lived out in the relationship between the father and the son,
that is then shared with the world
This is love that points out that God’s will
is made known in many different ways for different people,
for some the will of God was made known in John
who fasted and lived an ascetic lifestyle,
for some the will of God was made known in Jesus
who ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners
The law of love
allows room for God to be revealed in both ways
and other ways as well
in the relationship that Jesus has with each of us.
And this was not what people expected
so they didn’t see God.
How often do the differences between our expectations for God and reality
prevent us from seeing God in the world?
We keep falling into the old trap
of trying to dictate
how or how not God’s will is make known
to those around us,
and all this trying to keep track of what is God’s business
is a heavy load
Jesus says to us ‘here, let me take that off your shoulders,
I’ll take care of worrying about my relationship with everyone else,
you just focus on our relationship
and remember it’s one of love and forgiveness,
learn how to do it with me
and it will be easier to be in loving, gentle, humble relationships with others,
which is all God has wanted for you all along.’
And that is the gospel,
that in Christ we are freed to live the abundant life that God expects of us.
That with Christ
we are able to do
what we were unable to do under the law.
As I was thinking about all of this this week
I experienced an example of the struggle between the law and the gospel
in my own life.
I hadn’t given blood for a while,
it wasn’t like I didn’t know that giving blood is a fundamentally good thing,
or that blood of my type was urgently needed,
the red cross kept calling to tell me that,
so much so that I learned which number they used
so that I could ignore their calls
and then when I ignored enough of their calls
and they switched numbers on me I learned that number too,
you see where I am going with that.
I knew I should give blood
Yet I persisted in not giving
because the last couple of times when I’ve given blood
I’ve gotten dizzy and almost passed out
and then have kind of wanted my blood back for the next couple of days
because I’ve missed it
and frankly I selfishly did not want to feel like that again.
That’s a classic struggle with the law
I knew what was the right thing to do
but I chose not to do it out of selfish reasons.
But then I went and visited Jacque in the hospital,
and while I was there she was being given a blood transfusion,
with blood that someone had freely given, that was giving life
and it was experiencing that free gift
that called me to give blood once again,
and I’ve got to say it was easier time
because I was giving not out of a sense of obligation or righteousness
but in response to a gift already given.
And that’s how the gospel works in our lives,
it, Jesus, frees us from the requirements and obligations
that make choices of living
seem like personal self sacrifice
and transforms the choices of living
into a grateful response to a gift already given to us,
a gift of life with a light burden,
filled with love
and a relationship with the creator of the universe.
“Come to me” Jesus calls out
“ 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.” Amen
4th Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who brought us from death to life. Amen
You have been brought from death to life,
This is what Christ does for us
when we are joined to him at our baptisms,
he brings us from death to life.
In our reading from Romans
we join Paul as he tries to unpack what it means
to say that we have died to sin and risen to Christ
both on the cosmic scale and in our day to day lives.
On the cosmic scale
Paul paints with broad brush strokes
and absolute statements.
“Sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law but under grace.”
“You..have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching which you were entrusted”
“You have been freed from sin”
And we say alleluia
because this is good news,
to be freed from sin, that’s amazing!
And to be freed from sin
means to be freed from death
And yet even as we shout alleluias,
we witness death in our daily lives,
whether it is death with a capital D,
of loved ones or innocent ones
or whether it is death with a lower case d,
the ending of a relationship,
a time of sickness,
a transition from one way of being to another way of being,
all times when it seems like sin and death still reign
and we wonder what difference does the cosmic make
if all this suffering still exists.
It makes all the difference in the world.
because just as God brought us from death to life on a cosmic scale
God brings us from death to life daily.
When someone goes from isolation to being a member of a community
they are brought from death to life.
When you hear “I love you” after you thought you’d never hear those words again
you are brought from death to life.
When we go from fearing the future to being at peace with what life will bring
we are brought from death to life.
To belong to Christ
means that life always has the last say,
even though death has been defeated it hasn’t given up.
but no matter how many times death tries to enter in life will be the result.
As Christians we confess that we are in the middle,
the already and not yet,
Already Jesus has defeated death
and not yet has this come to full fruition throughout the world.
And as those who have been brought from death to life,
God calls us to serve life,
to resist the powerful temptation of sin and death
and to bring life with us wherever we go
moving the world a little closer to perfection as we do so
Paul, writing to a first century audience
puts our service in the stark terms of slavery,
even as he realizes that the imagery is a little ridiculous
Paul knows that his audience lives in a reality
where all relationships are understood in terms of power over or power under
and that perhaps with the exception of the emperor
everyone was under the power of someone else.
In Paul’s terms,
before Christ we had no choice in who we served,
we were under the power of sin,
after Christ, because of Christ
we are under the power of God
and have a choice whether or not to serve sin or God
and why Paul wonders would you serve sin
when the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You have been brought from death to life,
Jesus in the gospel puts it a little more simply,
The way to serve life, God, is through welcome
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”
This teaching comes
right after Jesus has explained to his disciples
the cost of discipleship,
saying “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
putting yourself before God
is serving sin and leads to death
while putting God before yourself leads to life
God is served through welcome
all kinds of welcome,
it could be as simple as giving someone a cold cup of water
or a wandering disciple a place to stay for the night,
in the first century middle-east
where there were no hotel chains or fast food restaurants
especially travelers like the disciples
who Jesus instructed to travel light
welcome was a matter of life or death
Welcome is still a matter of life and death
though we tend not to see it that way,
in our own lives
we are seduced into thinking
that we can care for ourselves
and that since we can others should be able to as well,
but frankly all of us at some time
will not be able to care for ourselves
and this has nothing to do with our own abilities
and everything to do with what it means to be human
in a world where sin and death are still a reality
and when those times come
the matter of welcome
is still a matter of life and death
For babies, children,
welcome, how they are cared for
is a matter of life and death
for refugees fleeing violence
whether they are welcomed is a matter of life and death,
for lqbtq people especially teens
whose suicide rate is astronomically higher than the rest of the population
welcome is a matter of life and death,
for those seeking treatment and help with addiction and mental illness
welcome is a matter of life and death.
You have been brought from death to life
now it is our turn to share the gift of life
with all we encounter
in ways large or small
for the wages of sin is death
but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Alleluia, Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.