5 Pentecost, Proper 9 – July 5, 2020
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Perception is a fascinating thing. The definition of perception is the state of being, or process of becoming aware of something through the senses. It is a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression or picture. It’s intuitive understanding and insight.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus talks about how we have perceived John the Baptist and Jesus, himself.

The crowds appear ready to judge only on the basis of their own perceptions of what a prophet should be, and whose company these figures should keep. John played the part of societal misfit, a throwback prophet whom many supposed was demon-possessed. Jesus, on the other hand, associated himself with sinners and tax collectors. Therefore, the crowds concluded, he must be “a glutton and a drunkard”. That people are so quick to dismiss a person’s merits on the basis of their perceived “affiliations” is apparently nothing new. Oh, it is absolutely not new. Just look at what we’re doing to each other right now, today.

Jesus points out that God’s will has been made known in more than one way, through different kinds of mouthpieces, and yet still isn’t recognized. So, the question today, to us all is….what are our expectations of a how to live a life in the way of Jesus? And how do our expectations, and those little conditions they contain, prevent us from recognizing the will of God in human form?  Our presiding Bishop talks about “reclaiming Jesus”. So how can we strive to focus on Jesus’ teachings and rise above, for example, political affiliations? Can we strive to rise above putting our hope in the donkey of democrats and the elephant of the republicans and put our hope in Jesus Christ.

Today’s scripture passages remind us precisely of our inability to box Jesus in. Let’s face it. We want God to match our picture, our perception of who we think God should be. Which is probably what’s so appealing about having our own pictures of God. They don’t threaten us, don’t expect change from us, don’t ask us to do all that much, and don’t do much more than affirm us. And affirmation is great, even necessary at times. But it doesn’t save.

And so God comes along – first in John, then even more fully in Jesus – in part to disrupt our pictures of God, our perceptions, to shake our hands loose from holding those pictures (which all too often can harden into idols) too tightly. Jesus is not neatly contained in ways that fit our own personal expectations and ideals.

Think about your own life. How many times have you been misunderstood? Or characterized in ways that do not truly describe who you are? How many times do we interrupt someone while they’re speaking because we have already decided we know what they’re going to say? How frustrating is it for someone to assume they know something about us based on where you grew up or where you went to school, your gender identity or the color of your skin, or any number of factors that simply do not capture the complexity of who you really are.  It is disappointing and disheartening when someone does not see you for who you really are. In order to know someone, you probably need to spend time with them and learn who they are, listen and hear them. Jesus spent time with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers and others considered outcasts, those on the margins of society.

Jesus goes on in our scripture for today to thank God for revealing things to infants, not to the wise and intelligent, and he offers rest for our souls.  Nadia Bolz-Weber, writes in her book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People:

“I’ve never fully understood how Christianity became quite so tame and respectable, given its origins among drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors… Jesus could have hung out in the high-end religious scene of his day, but instead he scoffed at all that, choosing instead to laugh at the powerful, befriend whores, kiss sinners, and eat with all the wrong people. He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy. And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love.”

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”

Wow, do I need to hear that right about now.  I am personally feeling weary and burdened. It’s a heavy time. A heavy time for most of us as social, political, public health, and economic turmoil seem to engulf the nation. It is a heavy time around the world, as the pandemic continues to take a huge toll in lives lost and economies severely weakened.

So, I hope it is well with your soul. But if, like me, you are feeling weary, listen again to Jesus’ invitation:

“Come to me,” Jesus says, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Do you notice all the first-person pronouns? It means we are not doing this work alone. Far from it. This is Christ’s church, not ours.

Jesus doesn’t simply call our pictures and expectations into question, but also gives us another picture. God is the one who bears our burdens. God is the one who shows up in our need. God is the one who comes along side of us. Nothing demonstrates this more than the cross – God’s willingness to embrace all of our life, even to the point of death, in Jesus, to demonstrate God’s profound love and commitment, love and commitment that will not be deterred…by anything.

We celebrate independence day this weekend, yesterday was July 4th.  We recognize that freedom was discovered after ‘searching through our shadowed valleys and crossing oceans of injustice and oppression’. Our ancestors kept freedom alive by possessing humility and courage. Freedom is bound to forgiveness in which we wish no harm to others.  We are Christ’s hands and feet on this earth. What we do matters. Our neighbor matters.  I share more from Nadia Bolz-Weber:

“Without higher-quality material to work with, God resorts to working through us for others and upon us through others. Those are some weirdly restorative, disconcerting shenanigans to be caught up in: God forcing God’s people to see themselves as God sees them, to do stuff they know they are incapable of doing, so that God might make use of them, and make them to be both humble recipients and generous givers of grace, so that they may be part of  God’s big project on earth, so that they themselves might find unexpected joy through surprising situations.”

“And this is it. This is the life we get here on earth. We get to give away what we receive. We get to believe in each other. We get to forgive and be forgiven. We get to love imperfectly. And we never know what effect it will have for years to come. And all of it… all of it is completely worth it.”

Jesus says it very clearly – if you are tired, come here; if you are burdened then let me take it from you; I will hold you and love you. Our hope rests in Jesus Christ.   Amen.