Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 5, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Zechariah 9:9–12 | Matthew 11:16–19, 25–30
We have a couple illustrations from Jesus today using young human beings to point to older human behavior—that is adult behavior—which, at some point we’ve seen it dawn on our all kids—doesn’t necessarily mean mature behavior. And so like children, Jesus says, there’s this arguing in the marketplace when the others aren’t doing what they want. What’s wrong with a good debate you might ask: I mean our country got its start (It’s the 4th of July weekend, after all) on the premise that pushback is okay and good for the whole; like “no taxation without representation.” To look at Jesus’ example, “if we don’t want to dance or mourn in the marketplace, that’s our right.” But to see where Jesus is gong with this, I can’t help but revisit Fr. Thomas Keating and his 3 programs for happiness that can never work—but that we always try anyway—and a couple that are at work here: 1) The need for Affection and Esteem. I mean, how demoralizing is that when you offer a fun opportunity like dancing in the streets and no one takes you up on it? Or you were leading the grieving rite, and everyone ignores you? Not only is there an unmet expectation here, but there’s a disconnect with the other for some reason. And 2) The need for Power and Control. People are not doing what we think they should. And so the issues are put aside—maybe it IS time to dance or mourn—and things like hurt and shame are triggered—which turns into a mindless competition between the flautists and the wailers, sitting in the marketplace and hollering at each other. This is, indeed, childlike behavior that “this” and any generation is not above.
But Jesus says this to something deeper: That is, the way there’s pushback on God’s identity with and among us; just for the sake of argument, to avoid facing our feelings and fears: John the Baptist was an ascetic, attuned to God and so practiced a meager diet and no alcohol. To discredit him, it is said he has a demon. Why else would you be vegan? (JK- he ate bugs.) You see what I mean? To those who challenge the status quo even if just by their very existence, the pressure is to conform. And it might look like he has a demon when he doesn’t. (For we demonize people who don’t conform to discredit their experience and what they might offer the so-called mainstream.) Then there’s Jesus, who hung out with the eaters and drinkers—and also ate and drank as was the norm—but the slur added to discredit him is the label “glutton and drunkard; friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Oh, and—ironically—he’s the man sent by God to heal and save. The actual truth got lost in the marketplace banter.
What we listen to our learning—without falling into fear, argument and accusation, this is a work of maturity; looking boldly at the programs for happiness that never work: Affection and Esteem; Power and Control; or the third, Security and Survival. And so what we hear today is that it's time to listen to that other teacher, Wisdom with a capital “W”. Or “Sophia” as she is in Greek; sometimes used in conjunction with “Logos” or the “Word.” She is the essence of what God imparts in terms of thoughts and practices that are rooted in Truth and are therefore Life-giving. She is the way that Jesus speaks in the Beatitudes that upend our Programs; it is the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty who get the “goods.” Sophia will eventually reveal what is true—her “vindication”—through our humility—not our own “smarts.”
And now, strangely, we are back to the illustration of youngsters, only this time Jesus holds up infants as the ones who can really get it. There’s that process of un-learning that is a part of wisdom, I think—that we know everything or even much at all. Otherwise, it’s really hard to see what God is up to- because it’s not necessarily what we came up with. Again, the meek will inherit the earth?
The yoke that Jesus now talks about is a metaphor for learning the ways of God- the commandments and Scriptures—in those days- which was always considered life-giving. Which makes a little sense, then, when he says that it is “easy” and a “light burden.” We get so weighed down by adulthood and all its responsibilities- “adulting” as it is sometimes called. We are confounded by the competing voices that we hear crying out. But in the midst, we are called to the political act of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a humble (poor, vulnerable) donkey—and not a war horse—that continue the dismantling that God began so long ago- of identifying where power lies: In the giving up, being-with, bearing for.
We, too, are called into the way of humble learning and openness like an infant; where we need not carry around our Programs for Happiness which can never work—but that we try anyway—Affection/ Esteem; Power/ Control; Safety/ Security) We can lay down the burden of constant recrimination and take up humility. The labor of learning anew from the one who is gentle and humble of heart- Jesus- is one that is not heavy. In fact, it leads to rest. Blessed rest. Jesus, who takes this things that we make so heavy and proclaims our freedom. Thanks be to God. Amen.