Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “Freedom: Not a Free-For-All”
July 4, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell
Risen Lord Lutheran Church, Conifer, CO
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 “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.”
I’m going to ask a super fashionable question. I’m going to ask one of those questions that lands preachers right on top of the popularity scale and gets us invited to all the best parties. Now I’m not looking for an out loud answer – don’t panic – just keep your answer quietly and privately in your head. Ready? What is that thing you do that you do not want to do? What is that thing you do that you hate? …………While thinking about Paul’s words in Romans, my own answer to that question keeps bubbling up in my head without me even having to ask the question. It is as if regret and shame are ready and willing to set up shop at a moment’s notice. Listen to Paul’s words of confession, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He is so immersed in this idea that he writes it again with a bit of a tweak, a few verses later, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
But along with the regret and shame there is something else that sets up shop inside of me too. Something powerful that competes against regret and shame – there is a powerful relief. Relief that I, and my life, get named – get called out so that, even if for just a moment, the pretending that takes so much energy goes away. Thank God Paul names his humanity in Romans 7. So that even if just for a bit of time we can see our situation named too. “I do not do what I want but I do the very thing that I hate.”
For Paul, this sin is not a morality tale. Yes, sin has effect and consequence but for Paul it is so much bigger than the language we so often use of “right and wrong” or “good and bad.” There is simply that which kills and that which brings life. If I accuse you of immorality or bad theology or not-really-being-a-Christian-or-a patriot-or-a-good-person, then I elevate myself while lowering you, in a sense while killing that which you hold dear.
Matthew’s gospel gives us a perfect example of the critique that happens when others aren’t doing what we think they should do, when people aren’t living up to our standards. [Jesus said] “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.’ I hear Jesus chastising those who would superimpose their standards of right religion, of acceptable living, onto others. After all, it is so much easier to accuse you of not doing what I want you to do than to hold up the mirror of Paul’s words to our own lives – “I do not do what I want but I do the very thing that I hate.”
In part for this reason of naming the reality of sin, we began today’s Service of the Word in confession together. But naming sin is not the ultimate reason we confess together. In Matthew Jesus also says, “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.”
These are lovely words –“Come to me, you that are weary…I will give you rest.” Even saying them I get that they are full of promise. Yoking to Jesus is poetic language to be sure but what might it mean? Even Paul, who gives this litany of powerlessness to sin, ends his speech with “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Why does he do that?! Why do any of us do that?
First off, a yoke tutorial seems in order. While first century listeners would make immediate sense of this, we do not. Although some of you may have grown up on a farm or currently farm so let’s just say you’re probably light years ahead of me on being able to explain this one but please bear with me. Yoking means placing two animals together under a long, formed piece of word designed for the purpose of being able to move animals in a particular direction but also to allow the more experienced, seasoned animal to guide the younger, less able one. Yoking was a method that made the work happen and taught the animals how to do what they are meant to do.
Those of us who have struggled with attempting to control our own sin, and who have hit bottom in such a way that we don’t even recognize ourselves, understand that trying harder on our own doesn’t work. Thinking that if we just dig deeper or start over tomorrow or the next day or the day after that….we’ve realized that there are just not enough days to exert the kind of control we think we have that changes the situation for the long term. Paul would call this being yoked to sin. And that a sinner recognizes this yoke of sin for what it is and that this is the very place where grace meets us.
One of the things that Jesus has done and is doing is freeing us from this false idea of complete and utter independence from God and from each another. This freedom is not a free-for-all but it is a yoked freedom. We are not set free into a bunch of new rules – into a new morality of good and bad. We are liberated by the yoke of Christ into new relationship with God and with each other. This allows us to be in community with each other not as a community of mediocre people whom some call hypocrites. But rather draws us into a living body as a community of sinners who say that transformation is possible although it is not I but Christ who lives in me – utterly dependent on God to work in us and through us and also to forgive us whenever we hurt ourselves or each other
Audacious freedom is bestowed to you by the Holy Spirit through the waters of baptism and sustained by that same Spirit. Drawn into relationship with Jesus who saves us from ourselves and says, “I see you and I intend something quite different than you may intend for yourself. I intend for you to be as you’ve been created to be – a new creation. And now you are forgiven, now you are freed from having to do it all and having to be it all. Welcome home.”
And together with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”