Fifth Sunday of Pentecost July 5, 2020
First Reading: Jeremiah 9:9-12
Second Reading: Romans 7:15-25a
Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Prayer of the Day:
You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised. You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you and serve you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Hymns of the Day
If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.
Come, Join the Dance of Trinity (ELW 412)
Lord of All Hopefulness (ELW 765)
Let the Whole Creation Cry (ELW 876)
I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say (ELW 611)
Come as You Are (David Crowder)
Reflection on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
by Pastor Tim Dean
“Lean on me…we all need somebody to lean on….”
I am grateful to be able to lean on this pulpit again! I am grateful to have colleagues on staff here today to lean on, as we lead worship via live stream from our Sanctuary.
I still remember when I first heard the song, “Lean on Me,” by Bill Withers. I was in middle school, and I heard it as part of a movie soundtrack. It’s the kind of song that once you hear it, you never forget it.
I don’t know if you caught the news that Bill Withers, the singer/songwriter, died in early April this year at the age of 81. I know his music will live on!
In fact, this song, “Lean on Me” has become somewhat of an inspirational anthem for many during the Coronavirus pandemic. The cities of Boston, Chicago, Dallas and other locations had impromptu sing-alongs, with neighbors singing out of their windows and porches.
If you get a chance, search “Lean on Me Quarantine” on the internet, and you will get a feast of music and articles! Just a warning, though: have some tissues ready.
“Lean on Me” floated into my heart and mind this week as I thought about this text from Matthew. The text today is an invitation to lean on Jesus, God’s Living Wisdom, and to learn his ways of gentleness and companionship.
Our reading starts with Jesus defending himself because he is eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:16-19). Jesus invites people on the margins of society, ostracized by their communities, to lean on him.
Next, Jesus prays as God’s embodied Wisdom, revealed not to the arrogant or people who have figured it all out. Jesus reveals God’s gracious will to “infants” (Matthew 11:25)—those too weak to fend for themselves, those who are poor in spirit, the “little” ones, those who are invisible in the halls of power.
Then comes what I believe to be the emotional climax of this chapter. It’s like a movie where the character looks straight into the camera and speaks to the audience.
The voice of Jesus leaps out of the story to speak directly to us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me….” (Matthew 11:28-29)
We may think of the “yoke” as farm equipment—what you would put around oxen to pull the plough in the field. But it was also used in Matthew’s day as a metaphor for faithfully listening and following God’s instruction, the Torah. It means instruction, learning, being a student.
For Matthew, the yoke was a symbol for being freed from artificial, human-created barriers in religion. It was a symbol for faith tied more closely to who God is, rather than a list of to-do tasks.
Jesus seems to be saying, “You will learn God’s instruction by hitching yourself to me. You will know God by knowing me, leaning on me.”
This invitation to hitch our lives to Jesus is truly good news. How many of us are carrying heavy emotional weight right now?
The storm of the pandemic continues to swirl around us, with cases of Covid-19 spiking here in Dane County over the last couple weeks, and in many states south and west of us. The virus will be with us for a long time, into the fall and beyond. Many have lost their lives, especially the vulnerable elderly. Many others have lost their jobs, or risk losing their jobs, or wonder how they will pay their bills. Parents face heavy burdens of caring for children, while trying to work full time.
There is a heavy weight of uncertainty about the future, leading to weariness, anxiety and depression.
On top of that, we carry the heavy burdens of racial injustice, as we struggle with the abhorrent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor and so many others. The unequal, oppressive realities for people of color in this country have been made painfully clear.
The burdens we carry today may be more personal: the care of an ill spouse, the worry about a depressed child, the divorce we are going through.
We are living in a heavy time. No surprise that a recent survey finds that Americans are more unhappy now that at any time in the last 50 years (AP News, June 16, 2020).
Dear friends, we need Jesus’ words today.
Listen again and take them to heart: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you….”
A Lutheran seminary professor reminds me that all the pronouns are first-person: come to me, I will give, take my yoke, I am gentle and humble… These pronouns tell us that Jesus himself is present to and with us. We are not alone. Far from it. This is the world Christ loves. This is Christ’s church, Christ’s community of disciples, not ours. (Kathryn Schifferdecker, Dear Working Preacher, June 28, 2020)
Jesus walks with us to carry our heavy burdens. When we are yoked to him, we let ourselves go where he leads.
And he promises rest: grace, wholeness, love—love beyond our mistakes, shame and fear. We are supported and cherished by the One who walks with us.
You and I have a role to play in this walk, in this adventure of discipleship. We are witnesses, we tell the story. We speak to what we have seen and heard and experienced.
But the important point is when we are yoked to him, we are not in charge. We are witnesses, not saviors. We are servants, not the Messiah. We have a role to play, a job to do, but Jesus has done the heavy burden lifting. For us. For you. For me.
Jesus invites us to lay down our burdens, lay down our heavy emotional weight, and learn that God is gracious and merciful and full of steadfast love. The yoke Jesus offers is light because he is the one holding us.
The good news, dear friends, is that we are yoked together with Christ. We are in this adventure of discipleship together. We will get through this pandemic together—by relying on God’s presence in time of need, and by offering care for each other. We will honestly face the world’s brokenness and turmoil, including the sin of racial injustice, together. We will continue to live and serve as Christ’s community of disciples—together.
We lean on him, and he will give us rest and strength, and take us into the future that belongs to God.
“Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend and help you carry on
If there is a load/you have to bear
That you can’t carry/I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load if you just call me…
Lean on me.”
(Bill Withers, “Lean on Me,” 1972)
Listen, dear friends. Jesus is singing these words to us. Amen.
Let Us Pray
Dear Living Wisdom and Word, thank you for your presence and loving kindness each day. Help us to lay down our heavy burdens at the foot of the cross, and know that in your resurrection, you strengthen us to live and follow you. Guide your church throughout the world, especially our faith community of MLC and our mission partners nearby and across borders. Surround with your steadfast love those who are ill with Covid-19 or other illness, and those who are grieving, full of anxiety or lacking basic needs. Thank you for letting us lean on you and receive the rest and care we need. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.