Grace and Peace to you, my friends, sisters and brothers in Christ, in the name of Jesus who guides and accompanies us all on this day. Amen.
My partner James was listening to a Ted Talk on education a few months ago and heard this story. One Christmas season, a church was putting on a play for the community using their children and youth to play the Bible story characters of the Nativity. Three young boys were asked to play the three magi or wise men. When their turn came to speak the first one said, “I have come to offer gifts of Gold to the child king.” The second one, as the story goes, said, “I have come bearing myhrr for the child.” But when time came for the third boy to share his gift, he paused, bit his lip in thought, and finally said, “Frank sends this gift I bring.”
As I reflected on what I wanted to share with you from these texts, I was reminded of this story of a boy who, in an uncertain circumstance, couldn’t remember the “right” thing to say during his part in the christmas play. I remember this first because it’s sweet, and we all know that a cute antidotal story at the beginning of a sermon can be a piece of good news to those who are too tired to listen to the whole sermon. But also because it is a fantastic example of what the faith of a child can teach us. This boy forgot his line, paused to think deeply about what it might be, and without checking for certainty, he followed his gut and said what he hoped was the closest sounding thing to the actual line of “frankincense is the gift I bring,” by saying “frank sends this gift I bring.” He didn’t run scared from the stage and hide. He didn’t ask his neighbor, or his director in a hurried whisper. He didn’t even say, “I can’t do this!” and storm from the stage in a huff. He knew there was a risk he could be wrong, and went for it.
Our Gospel text this morning begins with this message from Matthew, where Christ compares his generation to children bickering on the steps of the town - a lame game of he said, she said being played by whiney grown-up babies. Just as some refused to repent when challenged by John, so, too, they refuse to join the celebrations of Jesus -- “a man, a glutton and a drunkard.” The whiners all just sit, hurling their bitter words against one another. This becomes the new game. Sound familiar?
Contemporary politics has made us very familiar indeed with the game of reducing complex issues to ideals and platitudes, picking a side, and yelling at one another. A whole lot of words and less and less action for any single issue.
Children have much less fear about getting things right than we do. In the story I told earlier, the boy knew that he has a responsibility to act - I mean, he had a key role in this play - a well known character, with a good costume and a very specific and important line! And in the effort to do so, he denied his own human fear to be wrong and said something! Really, while it gifts us all with a few chuckles, he has also gifted us with an example of childish - child-LIKE faith in action.
Now think of your own life, and the ways you have stopped yourself from acting because you weren’t sure you could do that thing correctly, or that the issue was just so much bigger than you could imagine, that you remained inactive by default.
Have you ever decided that you want to be a more ethical consumer, shopping for organic local produce, and homemade community sourced soap only to realize that your old navy sweater was made by children and women in slavery in Indonesia?
Or tried to be more green and just thought composting would be too hard for you to try?
Or wanted to help those in need on the street corners with signs, but didn’t know how so you simply avoided eye contact for the time being?
Paul gives clear voice to this flaw in our Second lesson. The problem with all our human ideas about how to be religious is not that they are failures of logic, or are inconsistent systems of ethics, or that they even ask to much of us. The problem is, we are our own enabler and enemy.
When Paul says in Romans; “I don’t understand my own actions. For I don’t do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” and again “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it;” we are all forced to nod with sad and rueful recognition. Our behaviors big and small are very seldom completely consistent with our desires, and we, like Paul, long to know not only why, but how will we ever get off this endless cycle of failure and guilt?
It’s impossible to get this right. We have all failed, and will continue to do so. Which makes it so easy to go back and note the behavior of the people in the first half of our Gospel text. The whiners and complainers who couldn’t give John the baptizer or Jesus the Christ the validity they deserved. It was too hard to say yes to someone, someTHING so big and fearfully different.
However, the second part of our Gospel text has a strong message to speak to us in the midst of this. Jesus reminds us that we are offered a place to remove our burdens and take on the gentle, caring, lighter burden of Christ’s own yoke. What could this mean of the fear that leads us to inaction? Our own burden is one of seeing injustice in our world, and being so internally aware of it that we ignore it, cover it or hide from it, pretend that the injustices we are clearly seeing aren’t really there. We are called to carry the burden of freedom and the weight of seeking justice and mercy and equity for all who have yet to receive it, while knowing full well that we can’t do this at all!! Our burden is H-U-G-E.
But if we choose to accept this yoke as Christ offers it, the yoke of Christ that calls us to action, any action, no matter how big or little, will ALWAYS be less burdensome than our previous yoke of inaction. The gospel message I have found here is this:
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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The way of Jesus will always seem hard, until we take the yoke upon us and find its ease and lightness.
amen and amen.
many thanks to lectionarylab.com for such great inspiration and directive genius! It's hard not to just preach their sermons!