The joy of having a mobile church is that you can worship literally from anywhere. And without some great institution telling me what to do or say, I pretty much have free range to share what God puts on my heart. For example, I can stand in my kitchen and read the ingredients on the back of a bottle of mustard if I wanted to.
By the way, did you know mustard is made with: distilled vinegar, water, number one grade mustard seed, salt, turmeric, paprika, spice, natural flavor, and garlic powder? The particular brand of French’s Yellow Mustard claims zero calories, no artificial colors or flavors, and it’s gluten-free.
Why am I doing this? Because there’s a good chance you have a bottle of mustard in your kitchen. It’s a common condiment one keeps on hand and yet we barely know anything about it.I think it’s safe to say that mustard takes up less space in one’s head than it does in one’s refrigerator.
When I think of mustard, I am reminded of a trip I took with two friends for spring break. Like most starving students, we barely had enough money for gas, and hardly enough for beer. Food was an afterthought. But we had to eat, so we hit the grocery store and grabbed whatever we could afford.
As I was standing in line with my provisions, my buddy Gordon came up behind me balancing a jar of mustard and a loaf of bread on top of three cases of beer. No cheese. No meats. No other condiments. He had no need other than those three things. For Gordon, there was nothing better than a mustard sandwich and a cold beer. Who would have thought something as common as mustard could bring a person so much joy?
I see this story in a different light now that I’ve come to understand what an ancient mystic meant when he said, “God is nothing.” That is to say God is no thing, but all things. Even a common plastic container of mustard or a loaf of bread? I think Jesus gives us some clues in his parables.
We’ve spent the last two weeks dancing around Matthew 13, skipping over some pretty import stuff. Like these two parables found in verses 31-35.
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Matthew 13:31-33
You might have noticed a theme evolving. Not just seeds, plants and things that grow. But a bigger theme that’s been hiding in plain site. And that is: The kingdom of heaven. The realm where human and divine mingle together.
Matthew first mentions this kingdom in chapter three with John the Baptist. When Jesus went to the wilderness to be baptized by him, John proclaimed, “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” We see it again in chapter four, when Jesus begins his ministry saying the same thing, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
As Talitha Arnold points out, “Jesus demonstrates that nearness every time he heals someone, reaches out to outcasts, respects women, and cares for the poor.” To expand on her point, God’s kingdom is not some esoteric far off place; it’s literally down to earth, here in this present moment. It’s as close as our breath behind a mask, or mustard on a hamburger bun.
Jesus said it’s been hidden from the world up until this point. But it’s been hidden in plain site. As these parables demonstrate, God’s kingdom can be found in every nook and cranny of our daily life. We can see it with our eyes, touch it with our hands, and taste and savor its sweetness as well as its bitterness. The kingdom of heaven is near.
If Jesus were telling these parables today, I imagine him saying the kingdom of heaven is like a maid who cleans your hotel room no matter how big of a mess you make. Or the kingdom of heaven is like a sandwich artist at Panera who gives you a little extra meat because you look hungry.
While God’s grace, mercy and love are extravagant and elegant visions of heaven, they are also as commonplace as holding the door for someone in a hurry. God’s realm is found and discovered in everyday people doing everyday things. Which tells me, what we do in this kingdom is actually pretty important.
In her award-winning book Liturgy of The Ordinary, Tish Warren looks at everyday tasks as being extraordinary ways of worshiping God. She writes, “In the overlooked moments and routines, we can become aware of God’s presence in surprising ways.” We can use the ordinary to be extraordinary for God’s glory.It’s up to us to embrace the sacred in secular life.
Recently a friend posted pictures of her trip into the redwood forest. In describing her pictures, she used words like majestic, wondrous, and heavenly. The same kind of words the psalmist used to glorify God. However, this person does not believe in God. Yet here she was giving God praise.
Eugene Peterson wrote, “Everything that is made is a clue that leads us back to God.” Every small seed and gigantic sequoia; every cry of a hungry baby; every hollow gaze of a thirsty drunk. All things lead us back to God, if we only open our eyes to see. “Our ability to see anything and understand it is because of God. Even our questions about God are evidence of God. Our enlightened minds, which we may use to deny God, are a gift from God who gives us life.”
Jesus got that. And revealed it to us in parables. Thanks to Jesus, we have the ability to see the kingdom like he did. Through him, we can embrace and embody the incarnation, the mystery of the oneness between the divine and human that was revealed at his birth.
watch the entire message unfold this way
What does this mean for us today? Let me just say Jesus isn’t merely opening our eyes. He’s calling us to open our hearts and hands too to do the kingdom work – revealing God’s righteousness in the most mundane and majestic ways.
I’m sure you’re laughing right now, believing there’s nothing divine about you. I know I have doubted this about myself more than once this week. And it’s only Sunday.
You might be doubting your ability to make a difference in God’s kingdom. You might think because you don’t have the education, or you don’t know the bible very well, or that you’re shut away in your home that you’re not worth much to God.
Think about this: In Ancient Israel, yeast was commonly used in stories to illustrate corruption and impurity. Jesus used it to describe the religious leaders who were out to get him. And yet in this parable, it’s a good thing. Just as the yeast of the Pharisees revealed God’s glory, so too can you be the same.
An ordinary seed that produces a tree of life. Corrupt leaven that can make enough bread to feed the multitudes. If this is how God’s kingdom works with insignificant everyday objects, then just imagine what God can do with ordinary people like you and me.
Because of Jesus we are not only able to see the nearness of God but we can also be the nearness of God by embracing every moment as sacred...and human as divine.
This is what it means to be the church, the body of Christ, that lives life like he lived his – loving others as he loved, forgiving as he forgave; praying, healing and caring for those in need, just like he did.
We cannot make the kingdom of heaven happen, that’s not up to us. But as the church, as disciples and students of Jesus Christ, we are called to partake in it; to play in this heaven realm and share it with everyone.
Through the smallest of acts of charity to the grandest gifts, we too can reveal the secrets of God’s kingdom and its nearness in our lives. Every smile we give is a smile God gives to that person receiving it. Every meal we make, every flower we plant, every child we teach, every wrong we let go of … a little bit of heaven is revealed.
In closing I want to leave you with these words from the great American poet, Wendell Berry who wrote, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” (read the entire poem here)
I hope that you will spend some time thinking about that. Through Christ Jesus, God has opened our eyes to see the world as God sees it – as a holy and sacred space. A place where people of every color, class, and condition can live together in peace.
As you move in the world, remember Jesus has employed and empowered you to move into those desecrated places and reclaim its sacredness by being holy and beloved children of God.
You are God’s abundance. You are the visible presence of thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
You are the mustard and bread of life, blessed by Holy Spirit to nurture and nourish the world … one sandwich, one smile, one person at a time.
Arnold, Talitha J. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Berry, Wendell. How To Be A Poet. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/41087/how-to-be-a-poet (accessed on July 25, 2020).
Peterson, Eugene. A Year With Jesus: Daily Readings and Meditations. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006.
Warren, Tish Harrison. Liturgy of the Ordinary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
In an essay published in April, Brian McLaren realized how, “We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals. But now we realize we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness.”
Doctors, ministers, teachers, nurses, parents, kids, we’re all affected by this we’re all susceptible to burnt out and to the bad things that cause it to happen. In his parables, Jesus reminds us that, for better or worse, we all share this world. At the end of the day, it’s how we live together that is going to make the real difference.
Read Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
Jesus’ “great sermon on the parables,” as Stanley Hauerwas likes to call this section of Matthew’s gospel, is filled a bunch of lessons about the kingdom of heaven. This particular parable of the Wheat and Weeds is a continuation of last week’s parable of the Seeds and Soil. Only instead of good seed planted by a good sower, here we encounter two kinds of seeds sown by polar-opposite sowers. One good. One bad.
Jesus teaches us that the seeds in this parable are not so much about faith like last’s week lesson, but about two different kinds of discipleship.The kind that is the life-giving seed of Christ. The other being a weed producer that has no use in the kingdom of heaven.
This opens the door to all sorts of questions about good and evil, or why God allows evil to persist, and so on. Truth be told, I don’t know why a God who makes all things good allows bad things to happen. Unless of course evil is part of a greater plan that has yet to be revealed. But again, I don’t have a sufficient answer for that.
watch the message here
Today, I want to point your attention to the bearded darnel. In writing on this passage, Talitha Arnold addresses this particular weed, which in biblical terms is often referred to as ‘tares’ or ‘thistles’. Arnold says, “The bearded darnel defies Emerson’s poetic notion that a weed is “a plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” She goes on to call it “the devil of all weeds” because its insidious roots surround and strangle the roots of good plants.
As Jesus pointed out, it’s impossible to uproot darnel without causing more damage to the good crop. To make matters worse, this sinister plant looks identical to wheat; yet unlike wheat, the seeds of the bearded darnel can be fatal if ingested.
Because it lacks any good qualities, Arnold points to darnel as “the perfect illustration of the pernicious nature of evil, underscoring both the necessity of eradicating it and the difficulty of doing so.”
In the eves of our home is a birds nest that’s been there for at least 8 years. Multiple times a year, the mourning doves come and hatch new babies there. This year, a swarm of wasps have decided to build their nest right next door. It’s too close to the baby birds to spray it or knock it down. I wouldn’t be able to get rid of one without getting harming or damaging the other. So, I let them live together until the time comes when it will be safe to do so.
This is similar to the parable Jesus tells. And it’s a great reminder that while we like to see ourselves as good people, doing our best to live as faithfully and kindly we can, given the circumstances we face, there’s always a little bearded darnel lurking around us intertwining itself - in our souls, our hearts, and our minds.
Think about all that’s been going on recently, all that has come to light as we’ve seen “the social and spiritual viruses spreading among us from individual to individual; causing all kinds of sickness [and death].” Evil viruses like racism, white supremacy, human supremacy, Christian supremacy, the kind of evil that is spread through prejudice and fear mongering. (McLaren)
This evil is real. It’s not a hoax or fake news. And we all are affected by it. Not even the church is immune. As you’ve heard me say before, the church is not a building, it’s people people who are susceptible and vulnerable to the world around us.
Thus, this parable is perfect teaching tool for today - reminding us to remain present and fully engaged in God’s righteousness even as evil encroaches on us. We are all in this together. And we need lean into God’s righteousness if we are going to grow through this.
When the servants want to rip up the weeds, what does the landowner tell them to do? “Let them grow together until the harvest.”
Now, you don’t have to be a farmer to understand what darnel can do to a crop, or what evil can do to your faith and the greater community. So why would Jesus want us to let them grow together? What would be the purpose for the two to intermingle?
It’s not like Jesus didn’t understand the power of evil. He had his own darnel to deal with in those pesky Pharisees who would eventually grow to killed him. Jesus saw evil reveal itself in the most unassuming places and in the most brutal of ways. Yet, it did not cause him to give up doing what God called him to do.
Jesus knew a thing or two about the goodness of God, who often used evil to reveal the greatest of God’s glory to the world. When I read this parable, I couldn’t help but see it as a call for us to be patient so God can do what God does best. Jesus knows we have to live side-by-side with others who don’t think like we do, or share the same faith.
It’s like he’s telling us that it’s in our being, in our struggle to stand in the world as people of God’s righteousness, that we can shine the light of God’s glory upon the bad things that lurk around us. That’s our job, to be the salt and light of the world.
I think Jesus is also warning us to be patient because he knows our impatience can lead us to separate from one another - using fear, anger, and violence to do so. As we draw lines between us and them, remember Jesus told us not to be so quick to judge others. Instead be patient, don’t worry about what going on worry about what you’re doing to others. Trust me, God knows which plant is good and which one is not.
I think this parable is also a model of God’s infinite patience that frees us to live with one another with peaceful intentions in this age, right now, which of course prepares us for the age to come.
Like James Finley once stated, “In light of eternity, we’re here for a very short time. We’re here for one thing, ultimately: to learn how to love, because God is love. Love is our origin, love is our ground, and love is our destiny.”
So why does landlord tell his workers to be patient and wait until the harvest? Because that’s when the true fruit of the plant is revealed. Love will always rise to the surface and make itself known.
Eventually a politician’s lies will be exposed, a criminal’s past will catch up, corporate greed will run its course but the good fruit of God’s righteousness will always reveal the glory of God’s love in you and me. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus names the very things we will be judge by. Our only litmus test, Jesus tells us, will be based on how we produce good fruit in the ways we care for one another. In the ways we love others as God loves us.
You see, this parable is about us, the church and it’s about us, the state. It’s about individuals and families and communities and a global interconnectedness. It’s about us being in the world, while not being of the world.
In his first epistle, Peter reminds us that we are only temporary residents here. He warns us to live properly among our neighbors who see the good things we do in Christ name, and when their day of judgment comes they will be able to glorify God (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Jesus knows the evil that runs amuck in our world. He knows that failure to deal with it will allow it to spread like a virus, or seeds of noxious darnel. Just as we all should wear a mask during a pandemic to slow or stop the virus from multiplying, by imitating Jesus in the way we live we can slow down or maybe even stop the spread of evil from contaminating God’s creation even further.
Love is the way Jesus invite us to usher in the kingdom of heaven. Love is the way we carry on his ministry throughout the ages. In the sermon on the parables, we can see that kingdom isn’t just “up there” somewhere, but everywhere we intermingle and grow together.
It’s here, in this time and space, that we join Jesus in sowing good seeds – in the way we love, forgive, care for and tend to the needs of others, in the way we serve even our enemies instead of demanding to be served ourselves.
Jesus invites us into this holy space, even if it looks like the weeds have taken over. For it’s here we lean into the power and glory of God, whose angels will come and reap the fields – separating the good from the bad. Just as God’s love is more powerful than any virus or politic, it’s most certainly stronger than any weed-sowing enemy.
In a world where the seeds of hatred, injustice, and division are sown daily,God is still in charge; working through us and in to bring us all back together. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort to know God doesn’t just mixed and mingle with good and evil. Through Christ, God also acts to judge and redeem as well.
While I burnout on all the bad news out there, I hold tight to the good news of the grace and love God gives us through Jesus Christ. If you are suffering from exhaustion or worried about what’s going on in the world, I hope that you will remember that “God doesn’t get burned out.”
As Henri Nouwen told us, “God is gentle and loving. He desires to give you a deep sense of safety in His love. Once you’ve allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern (who you are and) who you are being sent to in God’s name.”
Jesus is calling you to follow him on this journey. He is inviting you to open your heart to embrace the fullness of God’s glory; to shine like the sun in the kingdom of heaven; to accept your calling as a beloved child of God, today until the end of the age when we will be gathered together ... as one people... in one glory... in God’s one and only eternal love.
Arnold, Talitha J. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Finley, James. “Practice That Grounds Us in the Sustaining Love of God,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 26, 2020). (accessed on 07-16-2020)
McLaren, Brian. “We Are All Connected,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (April 20, 2020) (accessed on 07-16-2020).
My kids thought these cottony puffs were magical. They called them wish-makers. Apparently someone who hated lawns told them that if they made a wish while blowing on one ... the wish will come true. Whether or not that is true, I can say that every time my kids blew one of these puffs my blood would boil as I watch hundreds of tiny seeds scatter in every direction. Believe it or not, Jesus had something to say about this as well. Not the blood boiling part, but the scattering of seeds.
Today’s reading is a parable found in the gospel of Matthew 13: 1-23.
Jesus begins his parable with, “A sower went out to sow.” Having lived in rural Michigan for a brief moment, I learned if you are going to sow seeds, i.e. plant them, you have to first prepare the soil. It needs to be till and turn to break up the dry surface so the seeds have an easier time to take root. You also have to remove any rocks or other impediments that will get in the way as you plow the rows for the seeds to be carefully dropped in. I’m sure there are a few more steps you have to take if you want to be successful.
But that’s not how it goes in Jesus’ parable. He says, this sower just went out and started throwing seeds everywhere. There was no method to his madness whatsoever. I imagine this guy is walking along, maybe whistling a happy tune as he grabs handfuls of seeds from a sack that’s slung over his shoulder and randomly tosses them up in the air without a care in the world. It doesn’t matter to him where they land, he’s just walking and tossing.
To most people this would seem like a waste of seeds. But not to this guy. Apparently, he’s got more seeds than he knows what to do with, and he’s going to cover literally everything in hopes that something takes root.
Of course, Jesus’ parable is focused on all the different places that seed lands on. Some hit the road and get gobbled up. Others take root in rock piles but don’t last very long. Some land among some not so good plants and get twisted up into nothing good. But a few lucky ones make it into the rich garden soil – yielding an amazing and bountiful harvest.
I’m sure if you put your mind to it, you can picture someone from each of these different soil “types.” Of course, we like to believe that we are the good soil. But let’s be honest, we probably aren’t – at least not all the time. Most of us shift between one soil and another - sometimes on the same day or even within an hour. Which is why I don’t want us to focus on the soil as much as i want to focus on the seed that is being thrown around so frivolously.
Here’s what I know about seeds. They are life giving and fruit bearing. Often, they are tough and pretty resilient if not downright defiant (like the damn-de-lion). But they are also vulnerable, and susceptible to all sorts of harmful things. Strong or weak, each one carries the DNA for great potential – even the tiniest of seeds can grow into a massive tree in just a short period of time. Moreover, a seed, which begins the life cycle, can actually move through death as a means to reproduce new life. This sounds like God work to me.
It begs the question: What is it that God has in great abundance that can be so easily tossed into the wind like a dandelion puff?
If you were to guess, what would it be? I believe the answer is love. God’s love to be exact. For divine love is the first and final word of the kingdom of God. Thus Jesus gives the impression that the sower isn’t all that concerned about which soil He allows His seed to take root in. The footpath, the rocks, the weedy soil – they all get a shot.
As my friend Roxy taught me, “God isn't content just to sow in the good soil. Though the farmer would want to preserve his seed for the field, God prefers to be extravagant in casting His seed as far and wide as He can – even to those who don't care, or won't respond the way God would like.” St. Paul called this grace upon grace. And we all might be happy to receive this grace from God since most of us aren't great soil to begin with. As Roxy explained, after living in this world like we so often do, “It takes a while to cultivate our hearts to be good soil.”
I would like to point out again that God does not discriminate where this seed is scattered and sown. God doesn’t think twice about grabbing a big handful of love, and liberally throwing it at us if for no other reason but to see what kind of love it will yield.
Grace, mercy, forgiveness these are just some of the fruits born out of God’s love for us. Love is the good news, the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, the very seed of everlasting life.
I think the sower throws seed amid the rocky, barren, broken places because God’s vision for the world is often found in our brokenness. Like pesky dandelion seeds, God’s love floats all over creation, and finds its way into all sorts of nooks and crannies.
The question you must ask yourself is will I allow God’s love to take root in me? Are you willing to accept God’s love and a grow to produce the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
You see, just as every botanist knows, seed bearing plants always yield more seeds. Just as seeds produce more seeds...love produces more love. Kindness produces kind results. Same is true with generosity and gentleness.
If we choose to follow Christ, then in essence we are not merely the soil, We are also the seed and the sower as well. Jesus invites us to accept God’s love and grows God’s love and scatter God’s love all over the place without ever worrying about running out.
watch message here
Jesus knows that some of us will reject God’s love with hardened hearts, but even the hardest objects can radiate God's truth and beauty. A diamond is a perfect example. Sadly, too many of us don’t see ourselves as valuable.
Jesus also knows the abundant ways of God. He says some of us will receive God's love and even thrive in it. But when the struggles get real, those people flee. What they tend to forget is that seed has already been planted. Where there is a seed there is an opportunity for a new life to sprout even if it’s been dormant for a while. Think about Amaryllis bulbs...for most of the time they just sit buried in the ground or frozen in your freezer. But once a year they let their true beauty shine.
As Jesus pointed out some of us will work hard to grow stronger in our faith and understanding. But we have to be careful. We are vulnerable too. The ways of the world can still overpower us and draw us away from fully relying on God’s abundance.
And of course, some of us will thrive; producing a great yield - some even a hundredfold. They are the ones who give us hope and remind us of the power of God’s love to transform dark, barren soil into thriving, life giving plants.
Here’s what I hope you will remember: God is patient and purposeful; sowing the seed of love anywhere and everywhere because God’s redemptive love can reach everywhere and anywhere.
God is not concerned about which soil the seed falls on because God is confident of the power of the seed. Instead God’s attention is focused on the harvest, the spiritual food that will feed the world. God knows love has power to take root in the harshest ground, but will it bear the fruit of justice, mercy and grace in spite of the terrain? I guess it all depends on how we respond to God.
This week I hope you will take some time to think about this parable. As you do, ask yourself if there is any place in your life where you feel God is not present. Maybe there’s a difficult challenge you’re facing alone. Maybe you have fears or doubts that are causing you to look elsewhere. Maybe you’re stuck in a place you DON’T want God to be present. Maybe you’re in a dark place right now. If that’s the case, then remember this; all seeds thrive in darkness.
It’s there the shell cracks and falls apart. It’s in that dark place, the plant first takes root – descending deeper into the dark ground to find its foundation before it sprouts upwards towards the light. The darkness cracks us open so God can do something great. Eventually our faith becomes rooted enough to begin to grow big enough. And before we know it, we are bearing the good fruit of God’s kingdom – yielding a hundred, sixty, or even thirty times the amount of love we are given.
Seeds producing more seeds. Love producing more love. This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites you into.
*This is a refreshed version of a sermon originally given on July 16, 2017 which can be found at https://www.jesusnotjesus.org/be-kind/sowing-seeds-of-love
It's every writer's nightmare, one that I have had repeatedly through my decades in advertising to my decade in ministry. Of all the things that could happen to me, or someone I love, it's the blank page that is the most terrifying.
What do I have to say? And who cares to read it? This has been the argument looping in my head these last few weeks. I could blame it on the global pandemic and the isolation I've been experiencing lately.
I am used to having conversations with strangers that often feed the blank page with words. Now, I only have myself to meet. I am the stranger - one of a different ilk.
And no matter how hard I try to resist it, the page will not starve itself to death. It waits patently for me to give it a noun, a verb, an adjective or somekind of pronoun, modifier, or puncuation mark.
This is as far as I have gotten.
I'm looking and searching for something, anything, to write about. All I have right now is the contents of my desk.
What was once a table in someone elses dining room is now my desk. Only there are no plates or dirty spoons or even a glass half filled with water. It is, however, cluttered. And the leftover contents consists of billions of words from other people who while sitting around some other table they spoke and listened to tales and fables and boring snipets of life. In each one of these books, there is something said, something to add to the conversation.
Nestled among the unused pens and pencils are books with titles like "God Knows" and "Man's Search for Meaning" and "The Art of Living." On the cover of a journal I abandoned at the begining of this pandemic it is written, "Okay fine, I'm grateful." There's so much to be said about that, not to mention all the content previously written inside it.
In front of me is a book called the "Gospel According to Peanuts" which is filled with words from one man and cartoons from another. It's a collaboration between someone people know very well and someone not many have ever heard from. Yet they both had something worth saying that it got written down and published. Next to this book is a book on the TV show Modern Family that captures all the "wit and wisdom from America's favorite family" as it was written by a group of other people who are not the people in the show.
The books that taunt me the most have titles like "The Message" which is one man's translations of many other's words that have passed down from eras and times long ago. And a more modern work entitled, "Yes, And..." which calls out to me to play along. Each written by two contemporaries who culled through the volumes of life to find just the right thing to put down to paper. The kind of immortality I only dream of.
The art work on the walls, the hand carved sculpture and stereo speakers all have something to say. A sheet of paper filled with banjo chords that speaks a different kind of language speaks to me. But I am mute.
If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s even a unopened box with an Amazon Echo Dot inside it. Ask it anything and it too will fill the blank space with an endless supply of inspiration.
As for me, inside my head space is silence. I feel boxed up, unopen, ignored as if someone has yet to take the time to set me up. I can't help but wonder if it's because my sheet of instructions is blank.
Buried among the clutter on my desk is an index card where I once wrote, "This is what I want you to do." It's in my hand writing but it's signed, "God." As I stare at this blank sheet of paper, in all its emptiness of white, my heart drops. Today, I don't know what the "what" is in what I am to do.
And so I sit and stare at the swirling pastel colored cover designed by the late, great Dr. Seuss who tells me "Oh, The Places You Will Go!" If only I had written down exactly where I needed to go I probably wouldn't be in this predicament.
I’m not sure that I’ve shared this yet with you all, but ever since COVID closed down my gym, I’ve been running three times a week. I’m not telling you to brag. Although I am proud of this accomplishment.
I will admit, this wasn’t easy at first. In the beginning, I could barely make to the end of the block without cramping up. It turns out I’m was better at running out of breath than actual running. But I didn’t give up. Instead I committed to taking the next step forward. I’m happy to say that same block only hurts me on my way home.
Don’t get the wrong impression, I still frequently stopped to catch my breath.It usually happens around the time my lungs or knees are about to give out. I also know that if I am going to reach my goal, then I’m going to need to take a moment to catch my breath every now and then. It’s good for us to pause, to take those moments to slow down, so we don’t burn ourselves out.
Science agrees. Rest is important. It reduces stress, inflammation and heart disease. It restores mental energy and creativity. And if you’re the type of person who likes to work out, rest helps restore muscles. My kids know this. They've been using the pandemic as an opportunity to spend more time with their pillows. When I get upset that they are wasting away the day in bed, they are also quick to point out that most religions require a day of rest.
Of the nearly 700 laws in the Old Testament, taking a day of rest made it on the top ten. So, It’s that important. The Hebrew word is – sabbath. A day God expects us to take off from work so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. This rest was meant for you, your family, your workers, and even your animals. God also commanded us to let our land go fallow every seventh year in order to restore its health and fertility.
All of this might seem like a foreign concept in a busy culture that takes pride in working around the clock. If it weren’t for holiday weekends sprinkled into our calendars, would we ever catch our breath? I find it a bit ironic that COVID-19 has forced us to slow down while at the same time made most of us more exhausted.
Let me ask you this. Are you tired of living in the fear of getting sick? Are you worn out from the flood of depressing news that’s out there? Are you feeling fatigued from all the political divisiveness, or the angry arguments you’ve had to endure? Are you tired of struggling to get ahead or keep your head above water? Are you exhausted from keeping up appearances or putting on a brave face? Are you overworked? Over stressed? Or simply over it all?
If so, listen carefully. Jesus has something to tell you. It comes from Matthew 11:28-30.
“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.” Matthew 11:28-30
If you ask me, this is one of the best bits of advice in the entire bible. Of course, what Jesus is talking here is tied to a much greater story in Matthew’s gospel. And I don’t often like taking a small slice of scripture out of its context. But sometimes we have to let the Bible speak to us, where we are, if it’s really going to do what it’s supposed to do.
In the modern translation from the Message, this passage begins with Jesus asking, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burnt out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” That is music to my ears. Ministers are often the first to get burnt out on religion. If you are physically, mentally or even spiritually exhausted, Jesus has your remedy.
He knows how exhausting it is to be human. He knows what struggle and hard labor feel like to tired muscles. He knows what doubt and anguish can do to one’s mental health. And the toll that a corrupt system can take on a person’s well-being.
Jesus knows what you’re dealing with. He’s been there, done that. Which is why he’s offering you a solution – a teaching, a way of living to help you reclaim your life. He’s inviting you to find yourself again in Him. “Come to me. Bring me your burdens. I will give you rest.”
I invite you to think about this: What are the burdens you’re still carrying? Some shame or guilt over something you did – something hurtful that ended a relationship?
Maybe it was something you didn’t do when you should have. That weight can be just as heavy to carry. Maybe something happened to you, a past mistake or regret that’s too hard to deal with. There are so many burdens we carry. The stress alone is enough to kill you.
Jesus is calling. Offering you just what you’re in need of so you can live life abundantly. What is it that he is offering? A yoke. By that I don't mean he's offering you the high cholesterol yellow blob inside an egg. Or that heavy wooden contraption that hangs over the shoulders of oxen. The yoke Jesus is talking about is something completely different.
As Rob Bell explains so well, in an ancient Judaism, like today, it’s the responsibility of the rabbi to study scripture and interpret it in a way that people could understand what God was saying to them about how to live faithfully to God’s words.
Different rabbis had different ways of interpreting Scripture. Each rabbi had different sets of rules of what people could and could not do. That set of rules on how to live out a particular interpretation of the Torah, was known as a Rabbi’s yolk.
To follow a rabbi meant you believed his interpretation and lived it out by taking up his yoke. Most rabbis taught a yoke of a well-respected Rabbi who had come before them. Yet every once in a while, a rabbi would come along teaching a new yoke, a new way of interpreting the Torah [Bell, 2005].
Enter Jesus, who didn’t just interpret God’s word, but lived it perfectly. He was, as John describe him, the very Word of God.
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If you are burnt out on the life that you are living, Jesus is inviting you to walk with him and watch how he does things. He said, “Come to me” and “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” He promises not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” Jesus is the way, you might say, to the right way of living into God’s righteousness. And thus, into God’s peace.
This text wants us to believe that following Jesus is easy. In many case it is, and many cases it is not. What we need to remember is what Jesus offers us isn’t freedom from work but having real work to do. God’s work.
The easy yoke Jesus offers calls out to anyone who wants to see God's Kingdom realized. It teaches us a way to put God’s love, mercy and grace at the center of everything we say and do. I can honestly say, following Jesus’ yoke is not exhausting like running, instead exhilarating, life giving, true God worshipping.
Jesus said, “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.” That is his promise. However, to accept the yoke of the gentle and humble Lord means answering God’s call to embrace a life of work that puts the soul at ease.
What that means for us today is exactly what it meant when Jesus first invited his disciples to follow him. That is to say, to go out into the world and be his yoke. Go out and be the visible presence of God’s love wherever you are. In being peace makers you find your peace. In blessing the meek and the poor, you find yourself and your true worth in God’s Kingdom.
Take what the Apostles did for example. They took Jesus’ yoke and built the church. They became the visible body of Christ – teaching his way by living it. Yet sadly, somewhere along the way the church forgot the yoke of their humble teacher. Choosing instead to take up the yoke of the world.
Richard Rohr often says, “The Christian tradition became so concerned with making Jesus into its God and making sure everybody believed that Jesus was God that it often ignored his very practical and clear teachings.”
One needs to look no further than to those Christians who are willing to sell their vote in exchange for political favors. I don't recall Jesus ever doing that, do you? When did he ever put his needs, wants or desires above someone else?
Joseph Pagano warned his post-Apartheid church in South Africa, “We must guard against turning Jesus into someone or something he is not. He is not a commodity that we distribute to consumers. He is not a professor of political theory. He is not a modern therapist.” I would add, Jesus is not ours to exploit, but only to follow.
Jesus says, “Come to me.” And when we go to him, we find our peace and rest in him. For he is the personification of God’s love in the world. He is the incarnate One, the Anointed One, our Emmanuel, God with us. He is our rabbi, our teacher, our savior who saves us from ourselves.
He is calling us to be with him. It’s in our going, in our commitment to take that next step, that we learn that Jesus is the One who teaches the way of God and shows us how to live it in our daily lives.
His yoke is easy. His burden is light. It is not dominated by doctrine or dogma. But can be taught with a single word: Love. It’s what is, what has been, and what always will be. Love is who God is, Love is who Jesus is, and love is who we are meant to be.
On this day of sabbath rest, I encourage you to stop for a moment and listen to what Jesus is saying to your heart in these words. Give him your burdens and learn his way of gentleness and peace. Free yourself from all that stuff that has weighed you down - any shame, guilt or past mistakes you have made.
Give yourself over to him, put on his yoke, his way of living God’s truth in the world and see how it fits. Be the love that Jesus has given freely to you. Be that for yourself and for one another. And you will find rest for your weary soul.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Bell, Rob. Velvet Elvis. New York: Harper One, 2005.
Pagano, Joseph S. Come To Me. 06 29, 2020. episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/come-me-pentecost-5-july-5-2020 (accessed 07 03, 2020).
Rohr, Richard. Yes, And. cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”