October 26, 2014

Pentecost – Proper 25

Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 23: 34-46


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Our reading from Deuteronomy this morning tells the final moments of Moses’ life,where he dies just before the Hebrew people finally enter the land promised to them by God.

The fact that Moses dies before entering the Promised Land is very significant. Here is Moses, the most successful Hebrew leader up to that point – he followed God’s call to liberate the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt, he spent forty years of his life in the desert with the Hebrew people. That’s almost forty years of non-stop complaining he had to listen to. 

Yet, Moses is not allowed to enter – he can only look at it from a distance atop a mountain. All that he has worked for - everything he has done – and it doesn’t seem that he gets to enjoy the fruit of his labor, by watching his people enter the land God promised them.

Many years ago I watched a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks slowly create intricate designs out of multi-colored sand on the floor of a museum. The patterns were beautiful in their detail. I learned that these circular designs are called mandalas. A week or so later I returned to the museum where I saw the monks working. I was excited to see the final and completed work of art. It would be a magnificent sight, I told myself. When I arrived, the monks, and the mandala they so tirelessly worked on, were gone. 

A curator at the museum explained to me that mandalas were not created to be permanent. After the monks finished, after all those hours of detailed work, the sand thy arranged with such focus, dexterity, and effort, was swept away. “What do you mean they sweep it all away?” I asked. The curator patiently explained that what matters with the mandala is not its beauty, but rather its creation, and release.

We tend to see God’s prevention of Moses’ entering the Promised Land as unfortunate. I have learned to see it differently, as an act of God’s mercy. Moses’ God-given purpose was not to arrive there, it was the journey itself. That was his job. 

Was it all for nothing? All those days in the wilderness, the building of the tabernacle, the great tent that contained the Ark of the Covenant within it, the establishment of the priesthood - - all of this Moses oversaw. Of course it wasn’t. Upon the top of that mountain, near his death, Moses released all he had worked for, all the people, their religion; he released it like the sand of the mandala, into the air. What an act of mercy! Moses wasn’t punished by God – he was freed.

Much of our life is spent in pursuits we will not likely be privileged to see the results of. 

Our lives, even when we reach the end, will still be incomplete. This is not a tragedy. It is holy; indeed it is holy to not see the fruit of our labor. Because then we entrust our work to God in faith, as Moses did. And when we let go of what we do, when we release it, it becomes God’s work – and it is there that new life always begins. AMEN.


July 6, 2014

Pentecost – Proper 9

Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45: 11-18; Romans 7: 15 – 25a; Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25-30


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I say that because I believe that freedom is worth celebrating, but I also love barbeque, and I really love fireworks. On the fourth this year I re-read the Declaration of Independence, and was reminded of the freedom we have from political oppression we so often take for granted. Among many things, all of the barbeques, backyard celebrations, grand fireworks displays, all point to this one thing – freedom. 

As a country we should be proud of the freedom we have and thank God for it every day. It is a blessing for which many have given their lives for us to enjoy.

But as much as we focus on the freedom of this great country, as much as we value our independence to honor it, as individuals, many of us struggle personally with freedom. There are many in this country who simply are not free. An obvious example are the incarcerated, but also those thousands of immigrant children crossing the southern border into the United States. And there are plenty of others whose freedom in this country is negligible at best.

But I am not talking about their lack of freedom, obvious, thought it is. I am speaking about you and me. We live in a country that esteems freedom, but despite that, many of us live lives that are indentured or enslaved. While we are politically free, many of us are spiritually or emotionally bound. We are imprisoned, or enslaved to addiction or to the pervasive idea (and sin, in my opinion) that what we have is not enough. We don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough friends. We are imprisoned by our envy of others we deem more successful, or more attractive than ourselves. Are any of us truly free?

Christ comes to each of us everyday, saying “Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” It is a straightforward invitation, though we often misinterpret it. Jesus is our Redeemer, Savior, and Advocate. But Jesus is not a magician. 

The promise of rest does not mean that Jesus will magically dismiss our weariness with a wave of his hand or lighten our burdens by casting all that weighs us down into oblivion. That is what we would like, of course, but it is not what we will get. Jesus offers rest to the soul, freedom of the heart, by sharing our burden with us, not by suddenly lifting it off our shoulders.

The image Jesus uses to demonstrate this sharing of the burden is a yoke. A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals that allows them to pull a heavy load when working in pairs. When we draw near to Jesus, when we shoulder his yoke, we do not receive the relief we would like, but we receive something far greater: our freedom.

We may harbor the unrealistic expectation that with Jesus sharing our load, life will be easier, spiritually and in all other ways. Such will probably not be the case. We are yoked to Christ, not so that our burdens magically become lighter, but rather, so that we can all shoulder more, and paradoxically become free. The true paradox of the Christian life is that it is not until we surrender to bear that yoke, to bear that weight with Jesus, that we are truly free. Elsewhere Jesus says the same thing when he teaches that those who lose their life for His sake will truly find it. Jesus is our liberator, the one who truly makes us free.

And if we are yoked together with him, we can also expect the same mixed reception that Jesus himself received: some acceptance mixed with much rejection. But this should not really surprise us. Because the yoke Jesus is talking about is not a beam shouldered across two oxen – it’s the cross. The cross is a stumbling block to common wisdom and intelligence. Nothing about the cross suggests freedom, until you look at it with the eyes of faith.

Only by looking to the Lord of heaven and earth are all contradictions resolved: our intelligence cannot reconcile a yoke giving rest while harnessed for hard labor. But faith knows that the yoke shouldered bestows true independence, freedom, and relief. AMEN.