Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
They said John the Baptist had a demon’ and the Son of Man was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Jesus chides the faithful for finding fault in God’s messengers regardless of their message. ‘To what will I compare this generation? [They are] like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:18 & 19)
I’m depressed thinking about how divisions among God’s people persist in our own day. In the red states and the blue States I wonder whether we are reading the same gospel? How can we come to such different conclusions about women, about abortion, about sexual orientation, about our political leaders, about the stewardship of creation, about American exceptionalism, about capitalism, about the pernicious sin of racism, about Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths, about what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ?
We all have the same starting place. We believe God has revealed the character of creation, for all time and in all places in Jesus. The material universe has a face. The material universe is alive and we have glimpsed the character and quality of all life in Christ Jesus. It is the life of the holy three that invites us to dwell, face, to face, to face, to face, even now, in one body with each other and with God. Holding so much in common, you might think we would all reason to the same conclusions about life–but this unity will never be enough to insure uniformity of thought—quite the opposite.
Again, and again the scriptures teach us the greatest sin we can commit is not bothering to care. You’d have a hard time finding another Christian who doesn’t agree the command to love one another as we love ourselves is central to the gospel. But how we love is up to each of us. Is there a right and a wrong way? Sure—there are better and worse ways. There is such wideness in God’s mercy as to leave the particulars of loving up to us.
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Pay attention and the school of life will be our teacher. Stay hopeful, be willing to do things that are uncomfortable, step closer to those who are suffering and get ready to learn some humbling truths, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” (Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy) Indifference might be the most toxic human emotion we can share.
We learn wisdom in hospital rooms, bedrooms, classrooms, and just sitting around the kitchen table. We find wisdom in holy communion, wisdom in the waters of baptism, wisdom in prayer. We come to the community gathered by the Holy Spirit to hear a word of grace and to discern together how best to walk the way of the cross—in other words—to learn how to be better lovers.
Whether we are Statue of Liberty Americans, or build the wall Americans matters less than the fact that we all stand in need of grace and that we are all bearers of that grace for one another. We will not find wisdom in uniformity of thought, but in the mutual respect that makes room for everyone, inside and outside the church, to express their thoughts freely and fully. That is what’s so dangerous about the current political climate in which we find ourselves. This is what the institution of the church is perfectly positioned to respond to with members in every community across the country.
It is part of the shared wisdom of our Church, enshrined in the constitution of every congregation in the ELCA, that every person who comes through our doors holds a part of the truth. Each of us must faithfully bear witness to the truth as we understand it, and prayerfully, humbly listen as others do the same. We find wisdom in speaking, and in listening more than we speak. Therefore, it is imperative we respectfully leave room for a wide range of opinions if we are to do everything possible to follow Jesus. Diversity of thought is not dividing, but enriching. This is the basis for the covenants of full communion we share as Lutherans with six other denominational partners, including Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America.
Today we hear Jesus declare, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
It seems counterintuitive to find rest in taking up the yoke of Jesus. For most of us, I’d wager, a yoke connotes bondage and servitude –a diminishment of freedom and choice. Indeed, Jesus was relentless in criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees for making the yoke of religion into a means to weigh people down with artificial demands of righteousness.
Jesus’ yoke is different from the religious zealots want to lay on you. It is the call to simply to love one another and bear one another’s burdens. In this we will discover the wisdom that is hidden from the wise and intelligent who rely on their own abilities. They will not hear the gospel regardless if it is proclaimed by John the Baptist or by Jesus. Here is the wisdom written deep within creation: being good and kind is not a chore, but a natural and gracious response to the other. It’s what we’re made for and in this we find our own humanity.
Each of us has different gifts for love and service. For decades now, this congregation has had a special gift and passion for teaching and receiving children and young people. Tutoring, after-school, play-groups, and the ECT youth group are examples of the way we at Immanuel wear the yoke of Jesus. It’s why 20 years ago Immanuel’s leaders sought out and invited Families Together Preschool to come and partner with us. It’s why vacation bible school draws so many neighborhood families and children. (I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the VBS slide show running in the narthex today.)
The yoke of Jesus is humility and concern for the despised. We bear the weight of this yoke in loving others. This is how we bear the weight of the cross. This is how we learn what wisdom is. This is how we become disciples of Jesus. This is how we heal our democracy. This is how we unburden ourselves from carrying our fear. This is how we teach our children. This is how we restore grace within our families. This is how we find rest for our souls. The yoke of Jesus is not a yoke of servitude, or of bondage but of connection, partnership, and sharing our burdens with one another and with Christ who labors alongside us.