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Sermon Transcript 7.16.23

Last week we talked a little bit about this passage in Matthew 11, where Jesus says to “take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I'm gentle and humble and heart and you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” This week I want to put that into some more context. We had a long reading from Matthew 11 into Matthew 12. I want to put it in still larger context than that, in the course of that reading that Mille just shared with us, Jesus talks about God's gracious will and says God's gracious will has “hidden things from the wise and revealed them to infants.” What do we mean when we talk about God's will? Especially when Jesus talks about God's will in parable and apparently counter-intuitive language?


God who is love. God who creates. God who wills us to be; who creates US - male and female, in the image of God. Does God need us to exist? No. God is perfect in God's self and yet God limits God's self. God wills creation in to being. Let there be light and earth and sea and day and night… creatures in sky and sea and land. Let there be! God desires relationship. God desires partners kn God's work.


During World War II, a pastor named Leslie Weatherhead wrote a book called The Will of God -trying to make sense for his congregation, in the midst of the London Blitz, how a good and powerful and loving God could allow these things to be happening. Wrestling with what God's will is - how to confront evil. I'm going to come back to Weatherhead's work in a couple of weeks. I want to set the the groundwork for that today by wrestling a bit with some difficult texts. Today in Matthew 11, Jesus is talking with the crowds. These people that have been following him for some time - but I want us to be aware as we hear these words, that in Matthew 10 Jesus has just sent the disciples away. The twelve have been equipped and sent out in mission. They are to do what Jesus does - to heal, to teach, to cast out evil spirits. He has sent them out in pairs and told them to take nothing with them - to be utterly reliant on the provision of those they go to minister to. Then in Matthew 11, he talking to the crowds – people beyond that inner circle that have followed him to hear his teaching or to be heal. John the Baptist, who is earlier in Matthew announced Jesus as the Messiah, John the Baptist is now in prison and he hears what Jesus is doing and apparently he has questions. He sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus: “are you the one or are we wait for another?” Because apparently what Jesus is doing, what Jesus’ disciples are doing, isn't quite what John expected!


Jesus responds to John's disciples and said to go and tell John what you see and what you hear! The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, good news is given to the poor! Go and tell John what you see and hear… and then it turns back to the crowds and Jesus asks them - what did you go out to see when you went to see the Baptist baptizing in the River Jordan and preaching in the wilderness? What did you go out to see? Were you looking for soft robes? Were you looking for comfort or we're you expecting a challenge? A prophet! Yes – and more than a prophet. In fact ,if you were willing, Jesus says, think of him as Elijah - which means yes, I am the Messiah - even though I may not be doing what you were expecting the Messiah to do!

This isn't about just overthrowing the Romans or putting a different human power structure in place. This is about the Kingdom of heaven inbreaking! This is about justice and wholeness. it's about a whole new way of being! A restoration! A new creation


John does not fully understand. The disciples do not yet fully understand. Jesus is working on us too, here and now. I'm convinced to this day Jesus is working on us, challenging us. And in Matthew 11 before that comfortable assurance of the shared yoke - Jesus is very challenging to What shall I compare this generation to? He says in the parable of the children of the marketplace. “We played the flute but you didn't dance. We mourned…we wailed but you didn't mourn with us! You're not behaving as expected. You're not joining in!


And then he goes on and he gets more challenging - woe to you Chorizim… and he named cities that he has been to. He nams cities that his twelve came from. He goes back to the Old Testament - he names cities of the Old Testament -stories, cities that have been destroyed. Cities that are no more and he says it will be kinder for them on the day of judgment that it will be for you who are seeing but not serving who are hearing but not taking my words in.


Challenging passage… but those aren’t cities we know… so maybe we gloss over it.. but I'm guessing your ears crooked up at one… there's this long list of cities and their funny names and we don't know their stories all that well but then he gets to Sodom and Gomorrah. We know that story. It's about those other people…you know and so it's almost comforting in our day and age but if we turn to Scripture: what does Scripture tell us about Sodom?


The prophet Ezekiel in the midst of a diatribe that is using sexual immorality as an example of Israel's failure goes out of his way to make a point “this was the guilt of your sister's Sodom. She and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not hate the poor and the needy.” Maybe a bit close for comfort in our culture, eh? Ezekiel that makes it about us… it's uncomfortable. It's challenging. How do we read Scripture?


Is the scripture about them over there? Is Scripture about us? Scripture about challenge or comfort… Yes! Both! But it's not just about challenging them and comforting us. Very often it's about challenging us - those of us who would claim to be insiders, to be followers of Jesus.


We get the challenge. Those who are excluded and outcast very often, they get the comfort!

The Bible is not a straightforward text. It was never intended to be a simple list of instructions or rules to follow. It is storytelling for meaning, to wrestle with; to develop depth of relationship. Jesus uses scripture extensively, he quotes what we call the Old Testament extensively. We cannot understand the New Testament without wrestling with the often-difficult texts of the Old Testament. So I want to turn back to that parable in Matthew 11. The children of the marketplace and I am indebted to Diana Butler Bass, a wonderful scholar and theologian, for some of this insight. She points out that in Jesus’ parable, he uses the Greek word paidion, the diminutive form of pais. paidionrefers to either a little child - or a servant or a slave. One who is under discipline, quite literally it means “one who is under the whip.” One who has no power or authority of their own. They are completely dependent on, formed by, and controlled by someone else. Children have no place of privilege in the first century. It's somewhat akin to say in the last couple of centuries in much of this country if somebody said “boy” - now that might mean child… but it also means you are “not a man.” You have no power. You have no authority or autonomy. You are subject to me and my culture. “What should I compare this generation to?” Jesus asks… now that word also has a positive connotation of child, of innocence. In a few chapters, in Matthew 19, Jesus will use that same word let the paidion come to me and by this he clearly means the innocent, the little children. But I think he means more than that here in Matthew 11 and to illustrate that, he goes on with a prayer, in front of the crowds, aloud he prays “I thank you Father that you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to children and here it's a different Greek word. Our translation this morning made the distinction by saying infants. You have hidden from the wise and you have given this knowledge to infants that word is nepios - an infant the stage of childhood before paidion These are people that have no responsibility. They are not under authority, they are too young yet to be trained; to be useful. They are truly the innocent, the infants, the babes. Jesus is telling us something here. Jesus is challenging us here. It's about what forms us. What controls us. What defines us. How do we understand ourselves? How do we interact with others positively? We are made in God’s image… yet we have gone astray. We have been mis-formed by systems and powers and traditions. We are God's children, yet we are called to be born again. You remember when Nicodemus, the teacher of the law, goes to Jesus at night confused about Jesus’ demand that he be born again or born from above or born of the spirit? When we are born again, we are spiritual infants ready to be re-formed. We begin to grow. We begin to learn. In Matthew 11 Jesus is saying we have been formed by the wrong things. it's not a condemnation of the people but rather of how the nation and the dominations systems have formed us. A critique of the assumptions that guide us. The trap that we fall into is making sin about other people or labeling a behavior and drawing hard lines to exclude, instead of acknowledging of our own brokenness or greed or excess or violence. Jesus is challenging us to live our lives like him, gathering people in, healing, comforting and saving our challenge for those who are so sure of their own answers and wisdom that there’s no room for Jesus in them.


Last week I talked a little bit about how important Puye Mesa is to me. This ancestral place of the Santa Clara Pueblo people. It is not my place. They are not my stories and yet, by the Santa Clara sharing with me their space and their stories, I began to understand what it is to be born again: to recognize what has formed me, to make conscious decisions to reject that which does not lead to good fruit. To dwell in that does seem to bring good fruit. To be willing to be born again and to be born again and again and again - never to think that I am done learning or growing or being guided by the yoke of Christ. I gained that insight or some of that Insight in this place. I was humbled. I was broken. I was made whole. I was healed. So I looked from the top of this Mesa with my Seminary peers - we had these deep conversations. The week we had spent there was forming and reforming us. We looked at the Sangre de Christo mountain range, so named because most of the year, morning and evening, the snowcapped peaks light up red like the blood of Christ. We looked at the other ranges that surround this place. We understood more deeply the stories of the Santa Clara


At one point, we asked our host to tell us one of their creation stories and I will never forget this moment as long as I live. Mr. Joseph smiled and looked at us and he said “which one?” We, perhaps confused, said, “any of them.” “Well, I know four or five, but it's not time for a couple of them… the others I'm not allowed to tell you!” See our stories are sacred. We lost some of that understanding when we in Western culture move from oral storytelling to writing. Now I am a huge lover of books. I don't want to get rid of books. I value written culture and literacy. I value media culture and the internet and the changes that we're going through right now in terms of how we share information - but different kinds of cultures have different assumptions and norms and boundaries and oral storytelling is different from written storytelling. Oral storytelling reminds us that there are times to tell a certain story.


I was sitting with a family.. I'm doing a funeral this week for a family with First Presbyterian and um they were telling stories… and I remember this through my own family too… sometimes when you're sitting around with a pastor and you're telling stories you have to clarify “we don't want to share this one in the service.” That's not the time for that story. The story is true. it's funny… but there are times… there are boundaries. Oral storytelling respects those boundaries and understands that stories don't all have to fit into one clean narrative. They don't have to fit.


Too often we forget that most of the Bible comes from oral storytelling collected and written down – we should read it, especially the Old Testament, with the boundaries and assumptions of Oral storytelling in mind.


While I was with the Santa Clara, I had the profound opportunity to do a deep dive in Scripture. A group of us and a number of indigenous folks, who are primarily Roman Catholics and United Methodists while recovering and incorporating their Kiva religion. They talked about how those different traditions shaped them and connected them to others. How it is sometimes challenging to be a part of a western religion given history of the Native American peoples and our guide chose for us, for our Bible study, passages from Joshua and judges… The stories of the land of Canaan being conquered. Reading these genocidal texts with indigenous people who were on the land before my people were on the land was challenging and life-giving. I was challenged on how I understand scripture. How I apply scripture. How scripture forms me. How it forms my interactions with others.


Sometimes the stories are triumphant and to be celebrated … the humility of Joshua and the Israelites to trust that God will do what God says and instead of attacking, to March for seven days around Jericho, trusting that God will open the way. There are readings in the text where God demands that the Israelites completely slaughter on other people, saving not even a trinket or animal… and then punishes the Israelites when they failed to do so.


Hard texts to read, especially when you're sitting in a room full of indigenous people but I also learned that the texts are not straightforward. In both Joshua and Judges sometimes God has depicted as willing genocide, demanding it… and sometimes God is depicted as cautioning the people about how they treat the alien and the foreigner and those who live among them in the land. And sometimes God is even depicted as willing the foreigners to live in the land as a test for the Israelites. Now either God is a bit schizophrenic or these stories are being told for different reasons! The stories don’t fit together neatly – but they all reflect ways we think about God, ourselves, and others. If we affirm that God is unchanging, we need to wrestle with these texts. If we affirm that God is love, we need to look hard at text that demand genocide because … is God's love only for those who are in our in-group? Or do sometimes perhaps we mis-understand the will of God or project our own will, our own sense of desire for control and even dominance - our own sense of desire for certainty…. to draw lines that are too harsh and too hard and to exclude others to try and fill that hole in ourselves instead of being humble and vulnerable and Christ-like. After all, if we read the text of Joshua and Judges literally and absolutely, one of the key things that we must never, never do is engage in any kind of interaction with Moab. Moabites are evil and to be shunned. Excluded. Avoided.

Yet… in the Bible we find the Book of Ruth, included, right alongside Judges as a sacred, inspired, text. You likely know the story. Naomi and her husband and her sons flee a famine and they'd gone to Moab and they are taken in, they are cared for. The sons marry. Yet tragedy befalls the husband and both sons die. Naomi is left with her daughter-in-laws. She sends them away to find husbands among their people. Naomi cannot care for them… and yet Ruth is faithful. Ruth continues to serve and care for Naomi. “Where you go I will go, your God will be my God, where you die and I will die.” Ruth the Moabite becomes the example of faith in the story… not the Israelite the Moabite! Ruth and Naomi go back to Israel to find Naomi’s relatives and they are restored, and Ruth becomes one of the great grandmothers of King David and therefore an ancestor of Jesus. This Moabite is essential to the story of God’s people…. Different stories, told for different purposes, one of which, I believe, is to make sure in our zeal to do right, stay pure, and avoid diluting who we are, that we don’t draw our lines and our traditions too tightly and exclude people who God sees as essential to the story.


I want us to think about March 30th, 2023. That’s this year. On March 30th, 2023, the Pope, the Roman Catholic Church formally rescinded the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery for 500 years guided Western culture. The Doctrine of Discovery basically said wherever white European men set foot, they can claim that for the Kind and for the church. The people that are there don't count. They're not really human beings or if they are they are a burden the white man carries. That was an official policy until March 30th of 2023. It has shaped our culture in the U.S context even though most of the founders didn't particularly like the Roman Catholics that much, yet the idea behind the Doctrine of Discovery had formed and shaped our culture.


In the United States in the 1800s it became known as Manifest Destiny. Clearly God had given this land to the people and the people that were already there weren't really people. Therefore they were to be moved, massacred, excluded and our triumphant stories tell us that that's what we did. We “won the West” and yet much like Scriptures… the people of the land are still here. Many of the tribes have been moved. They've been largely confined to reservations, but they are still present. Next week Courtney Freeman Fowler who's a Mvskok Creek and who is a former lay leader of the Great Plains United Methodist Conference, will be here to share some hopeful news about current events with the Oklahoma Indian Mission conference and the Great Plains Council on Native American Ministries. We have numerous churches in the Great Plains… United Methodist churches, that are planted by the Oklahoma Indian Mission conference doing wonderful work here and Courtney’s sermon will be: “Walking together: Celebrating Native American Ministries” I'm really looking forward to it. This week when Friends of the Fort does wonderful work hosting of the Osage ballet and telling the Osage story through art and music and dance, I’m delighted to welcome Courtney to talk about our current United Methodist Ministries with indigenous people. How do we tell our story? How do we hear other people's stories? Do we whitewash our history? Do we only celebrate triumph? Do we recognize where we fall short or misunderstand or misuse God's holy name for our own control,. our own comfort. Our nation is having this debate right now. How do we tell our stories and I think we could learn quite a bit from our Native American neighbors and our Jewish ancestors about storytelling. About the right time to tell certain kinds of stories. To recognize that our stories should sometimes make us very uncomfortable. That we could learn from the past that we would not we repeat the mistakes and the sins. That we would grow in and into the beloved Kingdom. That we would be willing to tell our stories even when it doesn't make us look good because that's how we grow and learn and become Christ-like. Jesus quotes the Old Testament sometimes approvingly, sometimes in challenge. Sometimes saying: “the way you were formed has misunderstood this crucial lesson.” Or where you've understood it but you've applied it in such a way to advantage yourself and oppress others. “Take my yoke upon you… my burden is easy… my yoke is light. God is love. God is revealed in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit. God desires relationship. God creates diversity. My story is not your story. My place is not your place. Together we can find our path, we can share our journey. Here we can delight in God's creation. We can take the next step towards being and becoming a new creation. God isn't finished with us yet, not you not me. Not our nation, not our world. God is still speaking, the wind blows. Take Christ's yoke upon us. Let us learn from Christ, share the burden with Christ, take the Holy Spirit be guided by the wind recognize that wind can be life-giving and renewing and, as we saw just recently, sometimes wind is destructive. Scripture is like that - when it's misused when it's misapplied. When it becomes a burden we lay on others or an excuse to exlude. When we project our desires as God’s will.


Let us follow Christ. Make sure that we are gentle that we bear good fruit that we don't insist on uniformity. Let us see the variety of God's creation. Let our lives engage in love, that is more than a fleeting feeling but at the core of how we treat ourselves and others. That we have joy that is not mere happiness, but an assurance, a presence,. Peace that is not merely the absence of violence but the presence of justice. Patience, patience that lets us sit with incomplete stories and develop a willingness to stick with the process even when it's uncomfortable. Kindness and goodness that it comes from compassion, a conviction of basic Holiness that permeates all things. An awareness that God is present, that Christ's spirit is present, even with those who are different from us - that we can learn from one another, not chew each other up and consume one another. Faithfulness - honoring commitments… okay any idea, any idea how many treaties the United States government has broken with our indigenous populations even to this day? That's not ancient history that's how we are choosing to live now! What does faithfulness look like in this oh so very “Christian” Nation if we do not bear the good fruit of honoring commitments to one another? And yet gentleness with ourselves, with others, with engaging with stories in ways that are not harmful or shameful but edify and unite even as we wrestle with difficult, even horrific truths. And self-control to marshall and direct our energies wisely individually and collectively. We are called to bear good fruit, or in a Wesleyan context the laws of the general Societies - the way we first organized ourselves as Methodists, were to do no harm. To actively do good. And in all things, stay in love with God. To tend to God’s ordinances and commandments, to study scripture deeply not as simple rulebook to apply to others, but to wrestle with these stories. To recognize the time and the place and the meaning To let them form us and reform us that we might be a new creation. That’s what I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen.



Benediction

Let us be a people who hears and does let us be a people that knows what it means to offer Mercy and not sacrifice be compassionate as Christ is compassionate not rule-bound and harsh let us be in partnership with God that we and those we meet might be and become a new creation Let It Be Lord let it be.


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