Sermon for Proper 9, Year A July 9, 2017

Zechariah 9:9-12               Psalm 145:8-15

Romans 7:15-25a              Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

Our reading from Romans begins with Paul saying something I believe we can all relate to:  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  It has been said that what we hate in others is true of ourselves, and I have certainly found this to be true in my life. I get angry with others for doing the same things I find myself doing when I’m feeling stressed.

It is easy to overact when what we see in others is that very characteristic in ourselves that we do not like.  If I go on a diet and I see someone eating what I consider to be unhealthy foods, my thoughts tend to become judgmental even if they are doing so in moderation.  I know how hard it is to do what I want to do, I know what Paul means when he says, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Why then, do I not feel empathy for others when I see them doing the very things that they do not want to do?

When I get angry at someone, I have learned to look at myself and what my anger says about me.  There are times when my anger is justified, but often my feelings are rooted in my frustrations with myself for my own inadequacies and failures.  Jesus taught us not to concern ourselves over others without first addressing our own problems when he asked, “How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

Part of seeing clearly is to see that we are no different from the people we tend to judge.  Yes, our sins may be different, but so are our opportunities and the support we have from others.  I know that I like to think I am better than others – but I am not.  Jesus does not call upon us to help others who are less than us.  Instead, Jesus calls us to help others who need help – just as we ourselves need help from time to time.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  There are times when each of us are weary and we find ourselves burdened.  When I was in seminary, I had a professor remind us of this passage.  As a priest I do find myself carrying the burdens of others – I grief with you when you lose someone you love, my heart aches when a relationship ends or is stressed, I hurt when I see you suffer from a disease – or loss the ability to do something you have loved doing.  My professor reminded us that Jesus tells us to come to him, and Jesus will carry the burden for us.  Still, I can’t simply offer this pain to Christ in prayer and let it go.

In this passage, though, Jesus not only offers us rest, he tells us to learn from him, “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.”  I would think that the burden Jesus carries is far heavier than I could imagine.

Yet, he says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  First, however, Jesus says he is gentle and humble in heart – so perhaps that has something to do with the ease in which he carries our burdens.  To be gentle and humble in heart suggests we need to approach others with concern and compassion, rather than judgment.  And, it suggests to me that when we share our burdens, we are not weighed down by them.

What I believe we have to learn from Jesus is the fact that we are all connected and that no one need struggle alone.  What we need to learn from Jesus is to accept the help of others and to offer our help.  This is not something we can do unless we are able to see clearly.

To see clearly, we must accept forgiveness.  When Paul talks about doing the things that he hates, these are the things that we do that we regret and feel guilty about having done.  Guilt is perhaps the greatest burden we have to carry, and Jesus offers to free us from the burden of carrying it.  Being freed of guilt, we can be humble in heart and we can find rest.

I can be your priest because I do not have to do it alone.  I can’t simply turn it all over to Christ, as my professor seemed to be suggesting, but I can be a part of this community of believers, Christ’s Body, where we care for one another and then reach out to help others.

Let us pray.

O Lord, you are our strength and our guide.  Having freed us from sin, fill us with compassion that we might be gentle and have a humble heart and help lighten the burden of others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.