The Sunday Sermon: The Rest in Good Work

Happy Independence Day weekend! We live in an incredible country, to be sure. These days, as nation after nation succumbs to violence, often in the wake of elections, I am deeply grateful for the willingness of Americans to transfer power peacefully, even to those with whom we disagree. It is right and proper to celebrate our country’s founding and the democratic ideals toward which we strive. Listen, as I did this week, to the children in my daughter’s preschool class singing America the Beautiful and watch them dance, their red, white, and blue ribbons bobbing in their hair, dresses twirling, smiles wide. Why not join in the dancing circle? Perhaps we struggle to celebrate our nation because of its many imperfections. Or sometimes we allow ourselves to be too busy, or too distracted, or too cynical to know when it is time to cut the rug.

If we fail to listen to our kids when they’re inviting us to dance, we also tend to miss hearing their wails that signal a time to mourn. When the spate of mass shootings rocked our nation not long ago, I did what many others did: turn my newspaper’s page, spending only a moment to wonder when such tragedies would stop, and not noticing just how troubling such news was for my soul. I can thank Christine D’Amico, our Associate for Children, Youth, and Family Ministry, for listening to her kids — and to the cries of children across the nation during the 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook just 18 months ago — I can thank Christine for bringing this issue up at our staff meetings the last few weeks. She’d had enough, and she felt that there was more to be done by all of us. She couldn’t be more right — how is it that weapons of war are being turned on our kids in our nation’s primary places of learning? What are these events teaching them about their world? What does our society value most?

In losing our ability to listen and read the world around us clearly, in passing up both invitations to dance and invitations to mourn, we ignore our Christian calling to be grounded in the present moment, the moment in which God resides. Pay attention, Jesus admonishes us in today’s Gospel: “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, `We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ Pay attention, Jesus tells us. Sit with me, he says, and listen. Listen to my teaching, put on my yoke, my instruction that will guide you into a good work alongside those who love me. Follow me into God’s just and peaceful Kingdom.

In Jesus’ time a rabbi’s teachings were referred to as his yoke, and Jesus is inviting us to live by his teaching instead of the other yokes society offers. Jesus’ yoke is easy because it fits so well on us, it is like it was made for us, and we for it. His yoke humbles us into accepting that we are not in control of nearly as much as we think we are or would like to be. His teaching, his yoke aligns us in right relationship with our Creator and with each other, reminding us that we are not the Creators nor the Saviors of the world. What a relief! Lift that burden from your backs.

But if we are not in charge of our days, how do we plan them out? The control freak in me and the control freak in you feel the need to know what comes next, to feel some agency over our lives. I regret to inform you, however, that I haven’t found God to function in a very Type-A sort of way. And I’ve really been watching and hoping for that kind of divine behavior in my life, just a to-do list now and then I could work on for God’s greater glory, or a bit more lead time when it came to finding a job or discerning a vocation . . .

I wonder if Rebekah felt the same way in today’s reading from the Hebrew Bible? She’d simply walked to the well for some water, and suddenly she’s told that God has big plans for her — not a year from now, or six months from now, or six weeks from now — no, tomorrow. Her mother-in-law, Sarah, would have a similarly unexpected and life-changing experience in her conception of Isaac. Her future daughter-in-law, Rachel, would find herself at a well face-to-face with her husband-to-be, Jacob.

In fact, I think St. Paul’s has taken this divine way of being to heart in the way we invite folks to participate in the Eucharist every Sunday. By emphasizing during the announcements, and then later, right before communion, that all are invited to feast at the Lord’s table, we are hoping to facilitate surprising face-to-face encounters with the Risen Christ, surprising especially for those who have not been to the rail in a long time or ever before.

Perhaps because God knows we can be such creatures of habit, when something big is coming on the horizon for us God shows us mercy in revealing the coming newness only when it is right upon us. Looking back, I appreciate not knowing that I was to become a priest until it hit me over the head. And becoming a father for the first time was an adventure that definitely worked better in a I-wonder-what-today-will-be-like sort of way. I imagine that many of us feel the same way about some of the bigger and more life-giving changes in our lives. Wouldn’t many of us spend a lot more time worrying over details we couldn’t control if God gave us more lead time before the main event?

I share this meditation on God’s seemingly at-the-last-minute workings because I believe it is a truth that, if we can accept it, will do much to lift heavy burdens from our backs. We can spend a lot of time and energy dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, and in the process ignore God in the present moment. When we do this, we are in effect unhitching ourselves from Jesus’ good yoke to look around, try to figure out where we’re going, and steer our own course absent divine guidance.

There is a lot to celebrate in this world and a lot to mourn. Easing ourselves into Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ yoke, trusting that God loves us and will move us to joy and tears in God’s good time and ways, is liberating. It means that our primary daily task as Christians is to pay attention to what is happening around us and lift it up to God in prayer, to notice when we are feeling moved beyond words. I invite you to try this in the week ahead — spend some time with the news, paying particular attention to how the latest development helps or hinders the thriving of children, and hold these items in prayer. Pay attention to what moves you.

When you find yourself moved again and again by the same issue, talk to someone about it. Often, this sharing — which takes courage and conviction that God will provide — leads to action.

Christine D’Amico believes we are being called to action as members of St. Paul’s, as Christians, and as humans to do something more around gun violence in our communities. I believe we are so called, too. What about you? Send me an email or give me a call if you feel moved as well.

Jesus promised rest for our souls. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be standing still. No, God moves our hearts so that we might do a good work with our heads and hands for God’s greater glory.

The Rev Colin Mathewson

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