Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
July 6, 2014, Pentecost IV – Independence Day Sunday
Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:10-17, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
From the Song of Solomon:
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
There were a group of children, boys and girls, playing in the backyard of their home. They began to argue with each other to the point where they finally had annoyed their parents. The parents came out and said to the children, “stop fighting.” The children looked really surprised. One of the children said, “But we weren’t fighting, we were playing.” The parents looked at each other in surprise and said to the children, “well it sure sounded like you were arguing.” The children said, “oh no, we were playing church.”
Now why would a group of children think that playing church would mean that people would be arguing with each other? I am sure we can all think back over the years and recall some issue or issues that caused arguing and fighting in the church. We are dealing with some important issues ourselves: Whether we should sell the building and whether we should stay open or close. These are very emotional issues for everyone. I think we can all understand why there are times when conflict happens in a church, especially if we look at the larger world.
Is our time, any different from the time that Jesus lived and walked among us? Jesus says to the crowd, “But 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.’ For John came neither eating or drinking, and they say, ‘he has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is indicated by her deeds.”
All of the evidence had been presented. John the Baptist had introduced the King to the nation. Jesus had revealed His person, principles, and power. It was now up to the leaders of the nation to make their decision. Instead of receiving their King, they began to rebel against Him.
Bickering, taunting one another, nothing suits these children, they cannot play together happily. And so it has been generation after generation. It is important to realize that by the 11th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has preached to the multitudes, he has instructed his disciples and sent them out to do their missionary work. But Jesus has tasted the bitter cup of rejection and unwelcome. After sending out his disciples, he himself went out on a mission to the cities teaching and proclaiming his message by healing the sick, raising the dead, and bringing good news to the poor. And they closed their hearts and minds to him.
Why did the religious leaders rebel against John and Jesus? It was because the religious leaders were intellectually and spiritually proud and would not become little babes in humility and honesty. There is a vast difference between the spoiled children of the parable and the submissive children of this statement of praise.
In today’s Scripture passage the real point of the parable about the children is that no one can agree on who God is. They see John the Baptist as a loser, he doesn’t eat or drink normally, and he dresses in a camel hair shirt and eats only locusts and honey, he behaves like a madman or worse an animal, as if he has a demon inside of him. Surely he cannot be the one who has been promised.
And that other one, the one called the Son of Man, that Jesus character, he eats and drinks like a glutton and a drunkard. He hangs out with all the wrong people, like tax collectors, not the good people, like us. Surely he is not the promised one. Perhaps what these people want is for the dour John to dance, and, Jesus, the preacher of joy, to mourn.
Nothing satisfies this generation, and just like children who cannot respond positively to any suggestion, they end up playing nothing. In this parable Jesus is addressing those who wait on the sidelines to critique the newest disciple or prophet who has come to town. The response to John, to Jesus, and to the early Christians by “this generation” is a response of passive critics, bystanders, and dilettantes who sit and call to one another about the shortcomings of those whom God has sent to serve, while they await the Messiah that they have in mind.
The Father reveals Himself to the Son, and the Son reveals Himself and the Father to those who are willing to come to the Son in faith. These verses indicate both the sovereignty of the Father and the responsibility of the sinner. There are three commands summarized in this invitation:
The first one is “Come.” The Pharisees all said, you must do this or that according to the Law. They tried to make the people follow Moses and the traditions. But true salvation is found only in a Person, Jesus Christ, to come to Him means to trust Him. This invitation is open to those who are exhausted and burdened down. That is exactly how the people felt under the yoke of legalism – the Law of Moses (Matt. 23:4; Acts 15:10).
The character of the Law is described in four words: holy, just, good, and spiritual. That the Law is holy and just, nobody can deny, because it came from the holy God who is perfectly just in all that He says and does. The Law is good. It reveals God’s holiness to us and helps us to see our need for a Saviour. The Law is spiritual, and deals with the inner man, the spiritual part of man, as well as with the outer actions.
The old nature , knows no law and the new nature needs no law. Legalism makes a believer wretched because it grieves the new nature and aggravates the old nature! The legalist becomes a Pharisee whose outward actions are acceptable, but whose inward attitudes are despicable.
The second command is “Take.” This is a deeper experience. When we come to Christ by faith, He gives us rest. When we take His yoke and learn, we find rest, that deeper rest of surrender and obedience. The first is “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1); the second is “the peace of God” (Phil. 4:6-8). To “take a yoke” in that day meant to become a disciple. When we submit to Christ, we are yoked to Him. The “easy” means “well-fitting”; He has just the yoke that is tailor-made for our lives and needs. The burden of doing His will is not a heavy one (1 John 5:3).
The third command is “Learn.” The first two commands represented a crisis as we come and yield to Christ; but this step is into a process. As we learn more about Him, we find a deeper peace, because we trust Him more. Life is simplified and unified around the person of Christ. This invitation is for “all” – not just the people of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6).
This parable of the children in the marketplace nails every generation that has claimed to know who and what God is and what God ought to be like. We need to recognize our own voices and the voices of our world in these childish arguments. The people in the marketplace were more concerned with how Jesus lives His life, then the wisdom and the words that He preaches.
The Christian life of discipleship, of which we are all a part, bears no resemblance to the role of the bystander. Those who claim from the sidelines to know God or how His messengers ought to act, miss our God who comes to us, not as we want, but as we need.
Jesus begins to pray, saying, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants: yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Sometimes we make things more complicated than they are. Instead of just accepting, like “infants” the great gifts of God, we spend our time trying to figure things out.
Thus, God’s self revelation is totally in God’s hand. Then how can we ever know God? What Jesus prayer says, underlines for us that God’s love is first for His Son and the Son in turn knows the Father and it is through the Son that God is revealed to us. So where does this leave us?
At the heart of revelation, of knowing God is not knowledge that has to do with certainty but a knowledge that has to do with a total relationship of trust and discipleship. So why do we come to church? We come in faith seeking to feel God’s presence in our lives. We come with our questions trying to understand the message of Jesus and to incorporate that message into our lives. We come knowing that by seeking God rather than defining God we have emptied ourselves of our preconceptions and our judgments, so that we may be filled with God’s grace.
We open ourselves to knowing that nothing escapes God’s purposes. For Jesus has sent us this invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
There are many burdens in this world, but one of the saddest, “in this generation,” is the burden of being right in order to be wise – especially when it comes to God and God’s will. The wisdom that can save us from standing on the sidelines is through the message of Jesus Christ. If we follow, we enter into a life of participation, a discipleship, whose burden is easy and yoke is light, because it has already been borne for us – in all rightness and righteousness – by Jesus. This friend of tax collectors and sinners frees us from the burden of being right or righteous, frees us from the sidelines or the casual associations, and grants us the rest needed for all, who by grace, would put their complete trust in him and follow.
Come to His Sacred Table prepared for you. Take and eat of His broken body and shed blood. And Learn from His Holy Word; that through His sacrifice on the cross; His death, resurrection and ascension; He has paid the price in full for all who believe, to have eternal life, in His heavenly kingdom.
Let us pray: O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth; put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. †