Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Thinking toward Sunday

Preaching, of course, is a large part of my life as a priest. I do two sermons a week - three, really, since the two Sunday ones tend to be slightly different. Currently, I preach without a text; however, I preached from a text for five years and have saved most of those. Sometimes, an old sermon will help "write" a new one. Here's the text from my sermon on this Sunday's Gospel from 2005.

Proper 9A RCL
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Have you ever played house? Or school or doctor?
Almost all children play at what they see grownups do or what they think grownups do.
I remember my sister Helen and her friends playing hospital. Mother had gone there
to give birth to sister Barbara when Helen was two. So going to the hospital to buy a baby
was one of the games Helen played. I played house with a friend on the next block. For some unknown reason, we were a family of squirrels.

In Jesus’ time, children played similar games, imitating adult life. Today’s reading indicates that two of those games were weddings and funerals. Jesus compares the people listening to him to obstinate children. Whatever game one group proposes, the other group refuses to play.
There is a group of people who believe John the Baptist – whose dour message of repentance
is funereal – to be a prophet telling of the coming of the Messiah. Many of those people and others who have joined them believe that Jesus is that Messiah, the bridegroom who has come
to bring in the kingdom of God. But most of the people refuse to believe. They won’t join in.
In fact, they are convinced that John the Baptist is possessed of a demon. Why else would he live in the wilderness, dress in the skins of wild animals and eat very strange food? John is too weird to be a real prophet so why should they heed his warning and repent. He must be a false prophet who wants to lead the people away from the Lord.

Moses warned Israel to steer clear of false prophets. Moses also warned them about the rebellious son, one who refuses to obey his parents. How do you recognize one of these?
He will be a glutton and a drunkard. And Moses says sons like this are to be stoned to death.
Isn’t it a good thing that no one chose to play that game?

In the verses we did not read this morning, Jesus hurls some very adult warnings to those who have turned him away. “Woe to you,” he says. “For Sodom will receive kinder treatment on the day of reckoning than you will.” At the same time, Jesus, still seated with a crowd of unbelieving people, gives thanks to the Father for people who are not wise and intelligent but are like infants.

I love to hear my daughter talk about her class of two-year olds. Little children watch and listen to what the adults in their lives do and then they act and say what they have learned. Sometimes that’s a good thing but sometimes it means they learn to hit or call names they don’t yet understand but do hear said in anger or derision.

Children are like sponges. They also have an innate sense of who to trust, who to follow. Be like little children, Jesus implores us. I am showing you the Father. I am telling you about your God. Learn from me. You have been carrying the burden of the Law too long and the yoke of Torah is weighing you down with obligations of fasting and sacrifice.

Take up my yoke instead. It is the yoke of God’s will for you and it will rest easy on your shoulders and your hearts. I am offering you gentleness and warmth salvation and eternal life.

Be like infants. That is so hard for us to hear in part because we usually do not mean anything good when we call someone an infant. But good scholars are like infants. They absorb their subject, read everything they can, listen to all the experts in the field, learn the language and nuances. Then one of two things seems to happen to them. Some will reach a point at which they determine there is nothing left to learn. They know it all and expect recognition as the new experts. The wiser ones realize that what they know, what they can learn, will never be all there is. They always have new questions, find new avenues to explore. Even though they recognize their status as scholars, they do not lose their initial curiosity; they retain their child-like outlook always expecting to be amazed by something new.

Wisdom is a good thing. Knowledge is necessary, a gift to humanity given to us by the one who created us. God expects us to use our wisdom to enrich our faith, to study throughout our lives.
But when wisdom becomes the goal rather than a tool for reaching the goal, then we have perverted the gift.

The Law was given to Israel to guide the people in the new land God led them to. They would need to behave in a way that set them apart from those who worshipped other gods, false gods and idols. But as Israel gained in wisdom, the Law became less a guide and more a burden
with more than 600 extra laws to help interpret the original ten. Finally, it was so important
to keep the nation pure and to worship in a very particular way that the Law became a high wall separating the people from their God as well as from idol worshipers.

The Church has done the same thing with the Gospels, the Creeds and the teachings of some
scholars. We can and do use our intelligence to build walls protecting our faith, keeping it from being polluted by society, science, other faiths, new interpretations of ancient texts
anything that might shake that faith. Preserving the faith exactly as it was learned however
many years ago has for some, become their religion. They have stopped listening, stopped trying to see God through the life and teaching of the Son.

The Pharisees, with their rigid interpretations and myriad laws are alive and well in Christianity. How do we avoid becoming a Pharisee? We need to retain our child-like curiosity and trust.
We need to understand our study of Scripture as opening new doors through which we enter again and again into that relationship that gives us rest, grace and hope. We need to trust
in the Holy Spirit.

Open your hearts and minds, take up the yoke of the Christ. For it really is easy to wear.


Beth said...

Hi Margaret,
Congratulations on getting your blog up and going!
I especially like the part about how we use our intelligence to build walls to protect our faith. It's been my experience that during times when it feels like my faith is being tested and shaken, again and again, I am indeed given the opportunity to deepen and grow in my faith.
I now tend to hold my faith much more lightly than ever, knowing that for me, it is alive, evolving and deepeing in wonderful ways that would not be possible if I were to cling too tightly.
Love your writing, I will look forward to dropping by again. Peace to you, Beth

Margaret said...

Thanks, Beth. I'm still wondering what this blog will be. John was quite helpful yesterday and I'm kind of excited about letting myself loose here. Now I just have to figure out how to do that! I'll try not to let my need to control get in the Spirit's way. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh wow! I remember this sermon.

Ray Flanary