Sermon for Year A, Proper 9
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
July 6, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Are there any more comforting words in the Bible or indeed anywhere else?
These words of Jesus --
"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."
In the Rite 1 liturgy, this is one of the sentences we can choose from to say
After we have gone through the act of confessing our sins
And our absolution has been announced to us.
Although we have five different options of what to say at that moment,
I have to say I very often go to exactly these words,
Not for terribly theological reasons, but because I know that deep down,
I really need to hear them, and if I need them that badly, perhaps you might, too:
"Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you."
I wonder what it would be like if we lived all the way down
Into these gracious words of counsel and comfort.
I wonder what it would be like if we lived each day in searching expectation of this truth,
And what it would say to the world around us --
If we could just lean in to these words a little bit more each day.
Come to me, if you're weighed down; come to me, and rest.
Come to me; I'll take those burdens off your back and give you a new lease on life.
Come to me; I have this one little job for you instead of all that;
And it's nothing compared to what you're currently shouldering.
The rest of the world may be out to destroy you, Jesus says,
But I have a way to live that is easy and gentle and light.
I suppose that if God had not made humankind,
Humankind would have eventually created the idea of God anway.
It's the natural impulse to want to impose some kind of order,
To have some explanation for how and why things are the way they are,
And inventing God in our own likeness to do that, in a way, is perfectly natural,
Even though it also goes against the first three commandments!
When man fashions a god -- casts a golden idol --
It is out of the urge to better understand himself -- make himself feel better.
In other words, it's self-interest, self-serving.
But when God makes man, it is nothing but creativity and generativity and love.
It is pure self-giving in its highest form,
Just as a mother brings life into the world
And then slowly learns to let that life go into the world and live on its own terms.
The god we humans make up out of the need to understand ourselves
Is demanding, persnickety, and transactional; it is a beast we must keep fed; it is our egos.
But the God who makes us does so primarily out of love.
No god ever created by human hands would make such an offer as this we hear today:
"Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy-laden, and I will refresh you."
On many Sundays it is my unenviable task to unsettle you and challenge you in God's name:
To throw out thorns and set bear-traps and various landmines of urgent thought.
It must be the strangest job in the world --
That a preacher, if he or she takes his vocation seriously,
Makes us all squirm uncomfortably,
Like we're having surgery just here in the pews, without anesthesia.
That's all true; it's the reality;
But today's proclamation is what we find on the other side of that same coin.
A life lived in pursuit of Jesus Christ and him alone will surely unsettle and challenge.
It will take us to far-flung and deeply inconvenient places within ourselves and our world;
We will be faced with the truth about ourselves and our world;
It will turn our conceptions about "life, the universe, and everything" 180 degrees,
And if we don't evolve because of it, you have to wonder
About why you'd even start in on such a journey in the first place.
But if we can't find comfort and peace for our souls and the souls of all
At the bottom of those very same unsettling challenges,
Then what, my brothers and sisters, will have been the point of the journey?
My Dad called me to wish me a happy birthday the other day.
He reported that he had started tithing at church,
And that ever since he had started tithing, great things started turning up for him.
I listened patiently, and I did not offer my opinion to him --
That God is not some vending machine --
But by the time we hung up, I had the point perfectly well in my mind and heart:
That what we call The Prosperity Gospel --
God giving more money to people who give God more money --
Can be a highly destructive thing because it sets us up for future disillusionment.
As we're reminded in John chapter 14, God does not give as the world gives.
What we give God is everything, unconditionally, tangible and intangible;
What God gives us is everything, unconditionally:
Comfort and peace for our souls, our burdens lifted, a light yoke.
A master who is easy and gentle to us.
On Thursday evening a few folks gathered together to witness and bless the union
Of Rebecca Jane Conway and Timothy Patrick Ireland.
It was not an official marriage per se; it was a recognition of the real presence of love;
It was a blessing upon their lives together from that day forward.
We prayed in thanksgiving that they had found one another at this point in their lives.
We even read the same reading from Song of Solomon
That we read in this morning's canticle:
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away, for the winter is over and done;
Flowers have appeared; the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
So set me as a seal upon your heart.
For love is as strong as death; no water could ever quench it;
No money could ever buy it.
We did all that, and we were glad for the time.
Glad for it, knowing that Tim had to get on a plane in a few days
And fly off to locate a home that would be suitable to not just one person,
But to two people and to one very large dog!
That doesn't mean, by the way, that we're seeing the last of Becky.
It just means things are evolving some.
I'll let her tell you in her own good time.
The point is that in coming to each other,
Becky and Tim have followed the image of God like magi after a star.
There are things about love that you just can't fully explain sometimes;
You just know when you've found comfort and rest for your soul.
Good relationships are about wanting to lighten someone else's burden
While also having your burdens lifted off your own back --
Wanting to be and bring and present Christ to another,
And to seek and see and serve Christ in the same person to whom you present Christ.
And what about Ollie over there? Ollie Michael Knoepfler, who is to be baptized today?
Who is to be set upon a path of faith for the rest of his life.
Little Ollie, whose parents Ben and Mary Ann
Are seeking to give him constant comfort and peace and rest;
Whose parents are bringing him the gentlest Christ each moment of his little life.
Promises will be made this day on his behalf
That will lay him spiritually before the God who is completely self-giving
And who offers an easy yoke and a light burden.
Promises will be made by parents and godparents and, importantly, by all of us here,
To hold the faith for him until he is old enough to hold and judge it for himself.
To each of us and to parents and godparents and grandparents in particular I say
That "holding" the faith does not mean just being a custodian of it.
Faith in God, in what God is doing, and talking to God --
Well, it’s like Play-Doh:
If you work with it consistently, you can do a million things with it;
But if you put it on a shelf and forget about it, it’ll sort of dry up and crust over.
Baptism is not an easy or empty cultural ritual;
It rather demands all of our selves.
You must kindle the promises of faith within yourselves and each other
Every day from now on if Ollie is to ever really see it at work.
Because your children may well hear and obey the words you say,
But what they will herald and remember the most will be your deeds and actions.
They will do what you do and they will not do what you do not do;
For they cannot seek that which what has not been disclosed to them.
Otherwise, what sort of inheritance will he stand to gain --
A set of ideas, a philosophical notion, the lore of the faith but not its substance?
A means of largely cultural and strange patterns
Of ritual observance that don't really need to be internalized?
Or will Ollie encounter in you a God who will do whatever it takes to get to us
To show us complete, self-giving, generative, forever love, comfort, peace, and rest?
Jesus says that when a son asks for a fish, a good father will not hand him a snake instead.
He says that when a daughter asks for bread, a good mother will not hand her a rock insead.
So when one day Ollie comes to you and asks you for the faith,
Make sure that you have a beautiful, thriving faith to lend, in abundant supply.
Promise now to live your whole lives as a testimony to a God whose burden is easy --
Not because you can rattle off the Bible verse, but because you know from having lived it.
Commend to Ollie only what is true,
And he will walk strong as you teach him to do --
Tilling the ground of faith, planting the seeds, pulling up an abundant harvest.
He will seek and see and bring and present and serve Jesus Christ.
And he will tread lightly upon the earth, for light his burden will be.
You see, sometimes it really is very simple.
God loves you. Deeply and totally. God loves it all.
God loves Ollie and Ben and Mary Ann
And Becky and Tim and Max the Dog
And every last one of us down to and especially the dregs at the far margins --
The long forgotten bits of society.
God loves it all. Deeply and totally. God loves you.
Jesus Christ is the living icon of all that.
The burden he proposes is no burden at all.
It is a joy to carry. It's easily taken up. We love sharing it.
Christ is gentle and humble of heart, and he will give us rest and teach us his way.