Br. Bob Pierson, OHC
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 9 A - July 5.2020
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
As we celebrate Independence Day this weekend, I find myself with very mixed feelings. I consider myself to be as patriotic as anyone, and yet the love of my country does not prevent me from seeing its short-comings. As I ponder the call to “Make America Great Again,” and see the huge disparities between rich and poor, black and white, I have to acknowledge that perhaps we have a bit too much independence, and what we need is a lot more interdependence.
No where does Jesus say “Look out for yourself, and to heck with everyone else.” No, he says “Love your neighbor as yourself” quoting the book of Leviticus. The Bible does not say, “God helps those who help themselves.” No, that comes from Poor Richard's Almanac. Too many of us have confused 18th century political philosophy with the teaching of the gospel. Yes, we have “unalienable rights” but so does everyone else, regardless of their skin color, their country of origin, or their religious beliefs.
If we want to make America great again, perhaps we need to consider what Jesus says about “greatness”: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20: 25-28
Being great in the kingdom of God means being willing to serve, to humble oneself. The prophet Zechariah says the Messiah will come “humble and riding on a donkey.” And Jesus praises God for revealing the truth of the kingdom to infants, rather than the wise and intelligent. What is the message for us? If we want to be powerful and great in God's reign, we need to be like children and recognize our need to depend on God for everything. God's power is not revealed in military might, but rather in the love that caused Jesus to “lay down his life for his friends.”
Jesus says, “This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 We have an obligation to love and it is in living out that obligation in our lives that we become truly great. That resonates so clearly with my own reasons for pride in our country. We are great when we set aside our own agendas for the sake of one another in need. We are great when we come together to help those suffering from illness or injustice or natural disaster. It is so inspiring to see Americans helping other human beings in this country and abroad. Our country has done great things, and it's usually when we forget about ourselves and reach out to others in need.
Yet there are those in leadership in our government who want us to focus not on helping others but rather on helping ourselves. They want us to focus on what we don't have rather than to be grateful for the tremendous gifts that God has given our nation. By appealing to our fear that we will lose our “power,” they want to control us in such a way that we really become less than who we can be if we give ourselves over to God's commandment to love instead.
At the end of today's gospel passage, Jesus reminds us that we can turn to him when we are “weary and are carrying heavy burdens” and he will give us rest. The rest that Jesus promises is a “yoke that is easy” and a “burden that is light.” It is the yoke of our connection to one another, and the burden of caring for each other. When we take on that yoke and carry that burden, then, and only then, will we find rest for our souls.