Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lectionary 14A
Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I have a love/hate relationship with yard sales. I love picking through other peopleís junk, looking for that perfect thing. I usually go when Iím in search for something in particular, especially those things I canít find in a store. It is so exciting to find that perfect item, that thing desired. It is especially satisfying to find it for a good price. I hate when Iíve spent a morning searching through piles of junk and donít find anything. That happens more often than I like. As much as I like the quest, I have to admit that I donít spend much money at the yard sales. Sometimes I find several items, because another personís junk is my treasure.

However, they often still consider it treasure, and they put a kingís ransom price on their items. Those items are not worth that much to me. Just the other day I found a set of starter golf clubs at a yard sale. Zack didnít need that particular set of clubs, but Iíll often buy golf clubs I find at yard sales and donate them to the First Tee. Unfortunately, they wanted $50 for the set. This particular set was surely not worth that much. Starter sets tend to begin rather affordable, and this particular set was well worn with few clubs. I didnít want to spend that much money, so I told the sellers about the First Tee, and suggested that if the clubs did not sell that they could donate them. A woman told me that she doubted her grandson would be willing to take less than the marked price. Thatís too bad, because it is doubtful that heíll ever get that much for the clubs.

I see this all the time on the judge shows on television. People often sue each other for damages to items, and when they do they try to get as much out of the defendant as possible. If a computer is ruined, they want a new computer. If a dress gets ripped, they want a new dress. If a table gets scratched, they want a new table. But the judge always rules differently. He, or she, sees the item for its actual worth, not perceived worth. That computer is not new, it is well used and probably worth a fraction of the original cost. A dress can be sewn, so the judge will rule for the plaintiff, but they amount will likely be the cost of a seamstress. A scratched table can be repainted much more cheaply than replaced.

I understand. I put a much higher value on my own things. My love/hate relationship with yard sales is true in my own driveway. I like my junk, too. I want to get as much out of my junk, too. I usually find myself stuck with items because I never managed to sell anything for the price Iíve marked. I know intellectually that you should price items at about eight percent of original cost, and sometimes even that is too high. I know it is true, but I see so much more value in it. That dress I wore once is still in perfect condition. Shouldnít it be worth at least half the cost? Those craft items are still in the packages, unopened, with price tags! Canít I sell those for more? People donít go to a yard sale to buy items they can get new in a store. They want a bargain. They want something for nothing. I do, too. And I want to get every penny out of my stuff, even though I know that it would be better to just give my things to a charity to use in their thrift shops.

But alas, I do what I donít want to do and I donít do what I know I should do. Sound familiar? I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure. And in doing so, encourages us to recognize and confess our own failures.

The text this week calls us to lives of humility. Even the promised Messiah is described as one who is humble and gentle. Does that mean that the King to come is weak? Absolutely not! Humility is a state of the heart, and is a position of obedience, recognizing that there is one greater who controls the world and the circumstances of our life.

When we try so hard to do what we want, we discover that it is a much harder burden to bear. Anyone who has had a yard sale knows how hard it is. You spend hours collecting and pricing the junk. Then you spend all day setting up, waiting, selling and then tearing it all down. In the end, I rarely have more than a few dollars for my time, and a day wasted. Iím disappointed and end up taking the leftovers to the charity anyway. If I just donate my junk to a thrift shop, I do half the work, avoid the disappointment and have the joy of knowing that someone will be able to use my treasures and a charity will benefit, too. Giving it away means touching lives in ways Iíll never see, while expecting someone to value my junk more than I do will lead to disappointment. Which is the heavier burden?

I know this. In my heart I recognize the value of giving it away. In my mind I think about all the things I could do with the money I might get. I always say that Iíll give it away, but end up collecting enough to try, just one more time, to have a yard sale. I do what I know I shouldnít do, and donít do what I know I should. When all is said and done, I end up with a heavier burden.

Jesus says, ďCome unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Ē This is an awesome promise. We all would like to have someone take our burden away from us. We want to walk free, to be free, to have no worries or cares and to do what we think is best.

But we donít always know what is best, do we? Sometimes what we want is not the best thing for us.

Jesus follows this promise with a command, ďTake my yoke upon you, and learn of me.Ē Wait. He wants to give us rest, and to receive that rest, we must take up a yoke? Isnít that an oxymoron? How can we both rest and carry a burden? The point Jesus is making is that we will carry a burden, whether it is one of our making or His. Which is easier? Which is the best for us? Jesus says, ďI am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Ē Following a humble king will show us a way of living that will be peaceful, joyous, faithful.

The prophecy from Jeremiah shows us what time of King we should expect. Of course, the people were still looking for a military leader, one who would conquer the Romans and set them free from oppression and rule. They were looking for a new King David, a return to their golden age. The image in Jeremiah might not quite fit that expectation. How can there be peace with a king who humbly rides a donkey? Shouldnít the king ride with power and authority in a chariot drawn by a magnificent horse? This picture of a Messiah is not at all what the people expected. Yet, we saw this prophecy fulfilled the day Jesus rode humbly on the donkey into Jerusalem. Jesus got the peopleís attention not with a loud voice and awesome military power, but with words of hope and miraculous deeds that changed the lives of those who met.

There is reason to rejoice in this King who comes on a donkey because His burden is light. He will not burden the people as a military leader, because He doesnít seek to be greater with more wealth and property. The king that rides the donkey seeks the best for His people while the king in a chariot must burden the people with war, taxes and slavery. The burden of the humble king is one that shares the load. The king in a chariot lays the burden on the people. Jesus says, ďTake my burden because I will carry it with you, and it is light and easy because weíll do it together.Ē Which one would you rather have as king?

Yet, we always choose the bigger, the stronger, the seemingly better leader. We always seek more; we go the direction that we think will help us get ahead. We chase after money and stuff and we do not even realize how heavy our burdens have become.

We are saved by the grace of Christ. We are saved and are sanctified so that the world will see Christ in our life and in our deeds. Unfortunately, we are still living in the flesh, the flesh which is weak. We fail. We say things we know we shouldnít but the words come out of our mouths even before we realize we are thinking about them. We do what is wrong even before we realize we are doing it. We donít do what is right and do not even realize it until the moment has passed. We fail because our flesh still holds the sin which Christ has overcome.

There is a phrase attributed to Martin Luther, ďsimul justus et peccatorĒ which means ďsimultaneously saint and sinner.Ē We are saved and are assured of the hope of eternal life. We are being transformed into the saints who God has created and ordained us to be. But it is a process that takes a lifetime. While we still live in these bodies of flesh we will fail. I think that this is why Christianity is confusing to those who do not believe in Christ. They expect Christians to be perfect as Christ was perfect. They see our failure as hypocrisy instead of the reality of our human flesh. They do not realize that the Church is not a place where perfect people gather, but a place for imperfect people to be forgiven, healed and transformed. I suppose we are part of the problem because too many Christians refuse to accept their own frailty.

Jesus is in Galilee when He spoke the words in todayís Gospel lesson. He was probably hanging out in the marketplace, because that was where people gathered. He asked the question, ďBut whereunto shall I liken this generation?Ē and chose to compare it to children whining in the store. ďWe want this! We want that!Ē John led an unsullied life and he was rejected because he didnít eat and drink. Jesus ate and drank with the people, and He was rejected as a glutton and drunkard. What do they want? They didnít really know what was good for them, just like we donít know. They were chasing after a dream, but one they couldnít identify.

He was speaking these words to a wide variety of people. The marketplace was the courtroom and the forum. It was the place where people gathered for recreation. The unemployed loafed in the marketplace, and the proud showed off their success. The people got into debates, made deals, shared recipes, arranged marriages, and spread gossip. They bought food and other things they needed. They may have even bought a few things they didnít. Iím sure, even in those ancient days, one manís junk was probably another manís treasure. And Iím sure in those days, they put great value on their own treasures and little value on the treasures of others.

But when we rejoice in our King, who comes victorious on a donkey, we take upon ourselves His character, carrying the yoke of seeing value in others more than ourselves. We are set free from the prison that keeps us chasing after the wrong things, encouraging us to do turn aside from sin and live in peace. Who has control of your life? Is it God, whose burden is light and easy? Or is it sin, which burdens us with disappointment and the heaviness of self-centeredness? The waterless pit is a trap, dug by our own hands, that keeps us from living the life of joy that God promises to those who follow Him and bear His yoke.

Our work, as Christians, is not to rule the world with power and might. It is not to chase after the best or accumulate great quantities of stuff. The world will see Godís lovingkindness through the compassion given by those who have experienced it. Christians who have heard the Word and have seen the light are Godís instruments of His grace and compassion. Through us, all men will know of Godís mighty acts, the splendor of His kingdom. The psalmist praised God so that others might hear of the acts of the One from whom we receive the unmerited favor of His blessings. We, His saints, are called to sing His praise, to speak of the glory of His kingdom. We speak these words not only to praise God, but so that others might hear and believe.

Lovingkindness is proactive. The Lord God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, has shown the most incredible compassion to all. His goodness is for all He has made. His love is for everyone. Christ died for sinners even before we knew we were sinners. He died for us even before we were born. Godís lovingkindness is proactive, coming to us long before we even knew we needed it. Even now that are many in our world who do not know they need the mercy and grace of God. They do not accept the forgiveness that comes from faith because they do not believe they have anything to be forgiven. But Godís Kingdom has come for them, too. By Godís grace, we have become the manifestation of His lovingkindness, as we take His Word into the world. Thatís a burden we can carry, because it is easy and light and because our Lord carries it with us.

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