**sermon art: Napping by Victor Tkachenko (1960 – ) acrylic on cardboard
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on July 5, 2020
[sermon begins after Bible reading; two more readings at end of sermon]
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 [Jesus says to the crowds]”But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon'; 19 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 vindicated by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “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; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Who needs a nap? Mmmm, not just me? It’s funny to me that we spend our first few years of life railing against naps and not too many years later it’s hard to drag us out of bed. I have teen-aged memories of Pops banging on my bedroom door on Saturday mornings to get me out of bed. On our vacation last week, Rob and I hiked and biked in the morning and, in the afternoons, I napped. It was dreamy. Naps are a luxury in our country and, at least for me, feel oddly stolen. But I hear from folks that there’s a lot of napping going on or a lot of wishing for naps. As a country we disagree about many things but most people seem to agree that it’s an exhausting time. Kids’ school and social lives are disrupted, adults’ work lives are on a new learning curve or gone kaput altogether, retirees are wondering about their decision to retire, and our eldest elders are leading much quieter lives than anyone could have imagined six months ago. The list of personal experiences expands from there to include political, medical, and racial chaos. Exhausting. And risky for a preacher to list a big list.
But Jesus preaches from a big list. He challenges his listeners, the crowds, about their insults and misconceptions – the way they diminish John the Baptist’s work by accusing him of demonic possession and the work of Jesus himself by saying that he was “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The missing verses in today’s reading include Jesus’ woes to unrepentant cities. Into this cultural chaos, Jesus commands his listeners. He says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The language of the scripture is an imperative. Jesus is not suggesting or inviting or sweet-talking the crowds. In the Greek, he speaks in the imperative tense of command. “Come to me…” He commands the weary. What does that even mean?! All y’all who want to take a nap…get over here?! Could be. Although he’s likely offering more than a nap.
Jesus vindicates wisdom by her deeds when defending himself and John the Baptist against insults. The Gospel of Matthew is the “teaching gospel.” Think Sermon on the Mount as one example. Three full chapters of Jesus teaching. Not surprising then that Jesus invokes wisdom and her deeds. Jewish rabbis had been invoking the Wisdom tradition for centuries before he did it here. In Jesus’ command to “Come to him…” he also says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” The language of “yoke” was often used by rabbis as symbol for Torah and teaching. Yokes were used by farmers to connect animals to harness their power for heavy lifting beyond human capacity. It makes some sense that Jesus would use it with his listeners here. He leads his followers into the heavy lifting of loving God, loving self and neighbor, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, and setting the prisoners free. Jesus aligns himself with centuries of Rabbinic tradition and engaging in wisdom teaching as he commands the crowds to learn from him because, in his words, “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” More than a nap. “Rest for your souls.”
Soul exhaustion describes our 21st century moment. Souls are the deepest part of ourselves. The soul is often how we describe our connection with God. There’s so much coming at us that demands our identities and, I would say, our souls. No matter which side or team or group we see ourselves in, pressure increases on how many of that team’s boxes we can check to fit in. And our societal disagreements have become intense because lives are at stake – all of our lives and especially brown and black lives. Our identities get swept up in the debate because the risks are real. And before we’re aware of it, we’ve given away our foundational identity in Jesus Christ. No longer are we listening to the One who teaches us to follow his gentle humility. We unyoke ourselves from the One who commands us to love and pray for our enemies only to become the very worst of our enemies. We unyoke ourselves from the One who frees us from sin, as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans, only to be “at war with the law of [our minds], making [us] captive to the law of sin,” and  We unyoke ourselves from the One who revealed on a cross that vicious insults and violence have only one end – death. Soul exhaustion is well beyond what a nap can fix.
Jesus commands us to learn from him – he who is gentle and humble in heart. The closest thing I’ve seen to this gentle humility was in one of my seminary professors – Dr. Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding was an Army veteran, a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity, a lay pastor, and an aide and occasional speechwriter for Rev. Dr. King. During my time in seminary, he was a Professor Emeritus. My most vivid memory of him was on a panel of professors. One of the younger professors had made a point about something and Dr. Harding turned to him, looked at him, and said gently and powerfully, “Professor, I am going to disagree with you in love…” And then he went on to say whatever it was he was going to say. Imagine that line coming at you all the time. “I am going to disagree with you in love…” Who knows? It might get old. But it communicates a posture towards the listener. Maybe it reminded Dr. Harding of his intention more than it prepared his hearer. Regardless, the memory is vivid because of the tension in the room AND because Dr. Harding commanded his listeners with a gentle power of humility.
Make no mistake, Dr. Harding’s life work included righteous anger that was instrumental in creating change and that remained faithful to the righteous anger in prophetic scripture. But his foundational identity in Jesus Christ meant that he saw the folks who disagreed with him as beloved in the eyes of God. He was a living example of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew and a living example of what our reading from Zechariah calls “prisoners of hope” led by a humble, triumphant king riding on a donkey. You may remember hearing that verse quoted on April 5th in the Palm Sunday Gospel reading from the 21st chapter of Matthew. Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time before he’s executed in a plot concocted by religious leaders and Rome. The crowds celebrate his arrival as he rides in on a donkey.
We, too, are prisoners of hope given a foundational identity in Jesus Christ – our humble, triumphant, non-violent king. We who are weary are commanded to come to Jesus with our heavy burdens to learn from him and rest our exhausted souls. More than a nap, resting in Jesus yokes us to an identity bearing repentance, forgiveness, wisdom, gentleness, and humility. These are gifts given as promise for God’s sake, for our sake, and for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God and amen.
And now receive this blessing…
Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. You are held by God in the name of the Father, ☩ and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Go in peace to serve and love the Lord…Thanks be to God!
 Jennifer T. Kaalund, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Iona College, New York. Commentary on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 for Sunday, July 5, 2020, on WorkingPreacher.org (Luther Seminary). https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4502
 Matthew 5-7
 Ibid., Kaalund.
 Brown and Black people are dying from Covid-19 at disproportionate numbers to their percent of the population. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/images/us-mortality-graph-animated-06032020.gif?fbclid=IwAR364jDZFSaNTYJSnLsXZpOnCItG7rk9G0Pm5wgQ2uCBritwO0lcpMG0yKo
 Romans 7:23
 The History Makers: The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection. Biography: Vincent Harding. https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/vincent-harding-41
 Zechariah 9:12
 Matthew 21:1-11
Romans 7:15-25a I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Zechariah 9:9-12 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.