Sermon: Pentecost 4 / Proper 9 RCL A – “Accept His Love”

burdenThere is a law on the books in Billings that states, “It is illegal to bring a bomb or rocket to city council proceedings.” It sort of concerns me that there needs to be a law stating this.

In Louisiana, “Biting someone with your natural teeth is ‘simple assault,’ while biting someone with your false teeth is ‘aggravated assault.’”

In New York it is possible to receive a $25 fine for flirting.

And in California, “Women may not drive in a house coat.”

These are some of the crazy laws on the books, but I did come across one in Alabama that I thought was appropriate, “It is illegal to impersonate a person of the clergy.” Clergy are so holy and perfect that I don’t see how anyone could impersonate us, but I’m glad to have it on the books just the same.

Most of us are familiar with the laws that govern us, at least the more obvious ones: speeding, stealing, etc. Even the people that break them are aware of the fact that they are doing something illegal. When we consider The Law of the Old Testament we are referring to 613 laws that were established by God to govern the people. In our Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,.”  It was these laws that he was referring to as a “burden.” Who could keep them? No sooner had you made atonement for the sins you had committed when you discover that you had already broken another.

A Jewish parable told by a Rabbi helps to demonstrate the point. The Rabbi says, “There was a poor widow in my neighborhood who had two daughters and a field. When she began to plough, Moses said – that is The Law said, `You must not plough with an ox and an ass together.’ When she began to sow, Moses said, `You must not sow your field with mingled seed.’ When she began to reap and to make stacks of corn, Moses said, `When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it’, and `you shall not reap your field to its very border’. She began to thresh, and Moses said, `Give me the heave-offering, and the first and second tithe.’ She accepted the ordinance and gave them all to him.

What did the poor woman then do? She sold her field, and bought two sheep, to clothe herself from their fleece, and to have profit from their young. When they bore their young, Aaron (i.e. the demands of the priesthood) came and said, `Give me the first-born.’ So she accepted the decision, and gave them to him. When the shearing time came, and she sheared them, Aaron came and said, `Give me the first of the fleece of the sheep’ (Deut.18:4). Then she thought: `I cannot stand up against this man. I will slaughter the sheep and eat them.’ Then Aaron came and said, `Give me the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach’ (Deut.18:3). Then she said, `Even when I have killed them I am not safe from you. Behold they shall be devoted.’ Then Aaron said, `In that case they belong entirely to me’ (Num.18:14). He took them and went away and left her weeping with her two daughters.”

The Law was the burden that the people were carrying and to that Jesus says, “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.”

There is a legend concerning Jesus which tells of his carpenter years. The legend claims that Jesus was one of the master yoke-makers and folks came from miles around for a yoke, hand carved and crafted by him.

When customers ordered the yokes they brought the oxen with them and Jesus would take precise measurements. After a week or so the owner would return with the oxen and Jesus would carefully place the newly made yoke over the shoulders of the oxen, then he would “fine tune” the yokes, removing rough spots, smoothing out edges that would eventually rub sores, making the yokes a perfect match for that pair of oxen.

When Jesus says, “my yoke is easy”, a more accurate translation of the Greek would be “well-fitting”. My yoke is well-fitting. Jesus is not saying that there will be nothing for us to carry, because we also know that Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The burden – that is the cross – must be carried, but through Jesus it is one that is well-fitted for us. It is one that can be borne by us.

So, we are no longer burdened by the Law as given by Moses. We have exchanged that for the yoke of Christ which is well fitting and light. If this is true – which it is – then why do so many of us still carry around such heavy burdens? Such heavy loads? If you dare look in the mirror, you’ll see the answer. So often, the yoke over our shoulders is not the one that has been tailored made by Christ, instead it is one we’ve made for ourselves. And so often, we carry these self imposed burdens because of our inability to receive the unconditional love of God.

You all know the story of the Prodigal Son. He received his inheritance before his father’s death and went off and squandered it. Ended up broke and starving. So he says, I will return to my father and be a servant, because at least his servants are treated well. Scripture says he returned, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him.” When his father saw him, what did his father do? He yelled at him and said, “Step one foot on this property and you’re a dead man!” No. Scripture says that the father “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Yet we hear that passage and we can’t imagine that it is speaking about us. Sure, it is true for everyone else, but not me. We can’t sort it out in our minds and our hearts that Jesus would allow me to exchange the burden of my self-made yoke for the love of God.

That parable of the woman and her two daughters that explained the continuous demands of the Law: well, we are no longer under that Law, but that parable is representative of the continuous demands – the conditions – we place on ourselves before allowing ourselves to receive God’s love. “I can accept God’s love if I do this,” but once we have done “that”, then we say, “God would love me if only I could be forgiven of this”. But it doesn’t stop there, because once we finally forgive ourselves we say, “I will be accepted by God when… if… after… etc… etc… etc.

Think back on the story of Lazarus, the one that Jesus raised from the dead and the brother of Mary and Martha. Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and tells those gathered there to roll away the stone, but Martha objects, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been there four days.” Jesus says to us, “Live! Come out of your tombs. Throw down your burdens and accept my love” and we say, “Lord, I can’t. I’ve been dead in sin for so long that I stink.” We don’t believe that we are ones who are worthy to receive the life, the love that he is offering.

Thomas Merton asked the question of himself, “Who am I?” Then he wrote the answer, “I am one loved by Christ.” We must divorce ourselves from our self imposed burdens. We must throw them off and learn to say with Merton, “I am one loved by Christ.” Say that with me, “I am one loved by Christ.” Now, believe it. Yes, we were dead, there was a stench, but we have been raised with Christ because of God’s great love for us. We are given new life and “the old order of things has passed away.”

There is the burden of your own cross that you must bear, but it is well-fitted for you. Unlike the Law, it is not a burden that is carried out of command or compunction, but is one that is given and carried out of love, and there is the difference. Jesus says, “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.” Set down your self imposed burdens and allow yourself to receive the love of God.

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