Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday after Pentecost – July 3, 2011
“What’s wrong with this generation?” I’ll bet that all of us here have either asked that rhetorical question—or have been the brunt of the question. It has always been thus and in today’s gospel passage, Jesus is expressing his skepticism and disappointment over the generation of his acquaintance—the crowds to whom he preached.
Jesus compares them to obstinate children who refuse to join in each other’s games. They would neither dance to the music of the flute nor mourn with those who wailed. They are just totally unresponsive. The wailer is a metaphor for John the Baptist, who came to preach severe words concerning God’s reign and the need to repent. Jesus, on the other hand, came preaching a more upbeat message of good news. These children are his growing number of opponents—those whom he just can’t please no matter what he does. I suspect many members of the clergy can relate to this.
A few years ago I read an article in The Christian Century written by a Lutheran pastor who recalled a wedding he attended and observing a mother trying to lure her little boy onto the dance floor. She tried to get him to dance a slow dance and then tried again when the beat was faster. She winked and cajoled and pretended to be sad having to dance all alone. He wouldn’t buy it. Finally, she gave him one last look of desperation, then turned her attention to a little girl who was more than eager to join her. They twirled around the dance floor giggling in delight, never even glancing in the direction of her stubborn little grump of a son.
The good news we hear today is the invitation that God in Jesus extends to all of us— those eager to boogie, those who are too tired to move their feet—even the grumps: “Come to me…”
He calls to us in our weariness and in our heaviness and offers us his yoke to ease the weight of the burdens we carry. He doesn’t tell us he will take away the heavy burdens we carry but that he will replace them with the lighter load of the life he wants to offer us—a life that is free of the perpetual famished craving driven by a society totally focused on material wealth, a society where the ultimate burden is born by the poor because they just don’t matter enough to get a slice of the pie.
Those who responded to the invitation of Jesus when he first spoke these words were just that—the poor—not the educated or the sophisticated, but those who simply wanted to change “yokes” and lay their burdens down. They were the “day laborers” of their time, those burdened by the system of economic and religious oppression imposed on them from those on the top of the socioeconomic scale and high up on the ladder of the Temple’s hierarchy. They were the unclean and disenfranchised—the tax collectors, shepherds, lepers, and prostitutes.
We may not be cut from that cloth and are, by the grace of God, more educated, free, refined, and—by comparison—wealthy. Yet we are no less burdened and, in some ways just as poor—for there is a place deep inside each of us that longs for peace and refreshment. God’s invitation to us to “Come to me” is given today—not just two thousand years ago—and to you and to me—not only to our ancestors in the faith—because God knows how desperately we need to hear it.
The Lutheran Pastor who wrote about that little boy who refused to dance with his mother continued with this reflection: “We hear the invitation to come, to step out into new patterns that offer revelations and wisdom that are so often hidden from the wise and the accomplished. We know the gospel. We even believe it. But it’s hard to trust it, to put on a new yoke and to set new standards for what it means to be human. We’re caught between rest and work, between the yoke of the world and the yoke of Christ.”
“Come to me,” Jesus beckons us this morning. What is it that gets in the way of our doing that? That keeps us off the dance floor? What in our life, what heavy load, what problem, what situation is so consuming us that we risk missing the very joy of living by our obsession with it? Maybe it is time to exchange our yoke, to explore new solutions, to try a better approach or discover a new pattern?
We’re not alone in taking those steps. Jesus is there with hands outstretched, luring us onto the dance floor like that mother at the wedding, maybe even coaxing us with the sweet melody of his heavenly flute.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.” Jesus made this offer. He meant it. Take him at his word and see what happens.