Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

Things Hidden from the Wise

Rev. Kathy Donley

10/11/15

 

Scripture Lesson:  Matthew 11:25-30

 

Last Sunday we celebrated World Communion Sunday.  While we were doing that, many other Christians were celebrating a different day in the church year.  They were celebrating the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.  Baptists and most other Protestants tend not to celebrate canonized saints, those people whose lives of faith have been recognized in a carefully documented way.  In the Bible, the word “saint” is used to mean every Christian, every follower of Jesus, and so at the time of the Reformation, the idea of  naming particular Christians who led memorable lives as special saints, was thrown out with many other good practices we maybe should have retained.

 

The Southern Baptist churches in which I grew up were, unfortunately, fairly strong in their anti-Catholic sentiments.  But we had saints.  We would never have called them that, but that’s what they were.  Every child and every adult in those churches knew at least one Baptist saint.  Her name was Lottie Moon.  Charlotte Moon spent almost 40 years as a missionary in China, from 1873-1912.  Her letters back to the mission board were circulated around the country, leading to the creation of local church mission societies.  She was, in her own way, a feminist, who argued passionately for the freedom of women missionaries to minister and to have an equal voice in mission proceedings.  In 1887, she proposed that the week before Christmas be established as a time of giving to missions. And every year since then, Southern Baptists receive the Lottie Moon Christmas offering which makes up about half of their annual foreign mission giving.  I recently learned that the Episcopal Church has honored her with a feast day in December. We never called her St. Lottie, but we sure knew her story.

 

Karen Baptists apparently never got the memo about not having saints, because they have a feast day for Ann and Adoniram Judson every year.  The Judsons were the ones who went to Burma in 1813 to introduce Karen people to Jesus.

 

American Baptists can claim the Judsons and Martin Luther King and Walter Rauschenbusch and many others among our saints.  It’s too bad we haven’t thought to name an offering after one of them so we that we would have an excuse to tell their story every year.

 

But I started to talk about Francis of Assisi, who is possibly the best known Saint among Protestants, especially if you don’t count Saints associated with holidays.  St. Francis is remembered for his profound willingness to imitate Jesus, his love of the poor, and his reputed way with animals.  But, as we heard in the children’s time, those things came only when he made a conscious decision to break with tradition, to resist the expectations that his family and friends placed on him in order to respond to the call of God on his life. 

 

We might call his experience a conversion.  We might call it a paradigm shift.  In our reading, we overheard a prayer offered by Jesus.  In it, he said, “I thank you because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and given them to infants.” In Francis’ life, the wise and intelligent people said to stick with being a cloth merchant.  The economy was booming.  There were lots of wealthy people who wanted fine clothes.  Anyone with sense thought that Francis had it made. 

 

Anyone with sense thought he was crazy when he stripped naked in the town square to renounce his inheritance, saying that he would rely on God from that point on.

 

They thought he was crazy when he stopped to kiss lepers, to tend their wounds.  They thought he was crazy when he talked to animals and preached to the birds, saying that they paid better attention to the gospel than people.    They thought he was crazy, . . . and maybe he was, a little bit.  I mean, many of the saints, many of the Christians we remember from history, did have a different sense of reality than their contemporaries. Many of them, including Francis, also lived lives of deep trust and deep joy.

 

“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 good, and my burden is light.”

 

So says Jesus.  In the first century, the weary to whom Jesus was speaking were those who were burdened by Roman imperialism. . . “They were afflicted by diseases and demons, by hard labor, by taxes, tolls and debts to the political, economic and religious elite.” [1]

 

In the 13th century, the weary would have included the lepers and the poor to whom Francis eventually ministered.  But perhaps it also included Francis himself.  Perhaps he grew tired of a life driven by the quest for profit and ever increasing consumption, perhaps he wanted something more. 

 

To weary people in the first century and in the 13th century, to weary people in every century, Jesus offers rest.  “Rest can refer to Sabbath rest, to the rest of death or the rest from war when enemies have been subdued.   Rest also functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath.  In promising rest, Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that Jesus is bringing into being.” [2]

 

“Come to me,” Jesus says. 

“All you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, come to me. 

All you who are tired of trying to figure it out all by yourself, come to me. 

All you who are worn out from trying to keep life under your control. 

All you who think the world is growing scarier day by day. All you who are confused and scared, grieving and exhausted, lost and lonely, come to me. 

Come to me.”[3]

 

That invitation probably sounds good to a lot of us.  Many of us resonate with some of those descriptions and some of us are just plain sleep-deprived.  Rest would be welcome. 

 

There are a couple of paradigm shifts here, some things that the so-called intelligent and wise might not understand as quickly as the infants, the more simple-minded or single-minded.   The first one is that Jesus says “rest” when the smart people say, “time is money, produce, produce, produce.”  Jesus says “rest” when the conventional wisdom says, “return phone calls, answer your e-mail, be available 24/7 because you just never know.”  Those who are able to see and respond to God’s invitation to rest are those who can resist the expectations of cultural wisdom.

 

The other paradox is that Jesus offers rest, but it comes with a yoke, not a hammock.  The rest that Jesus offers is not lying down on a beach somewhere.  It involves a yoke.  Now you probably remember that a yoke is a farm implement.  In the days before tractors and combines, and still in many places today, people plowed with horses or mules or oxen.  Imagine a young mule harnessed next to a more experienced older mule.  The older mule knows how to obey directions from the farmer.  Because they are yoked, the younger one learns the rhythm of the older one. 

 

Jesus is offering to be yoked with us.   His yoke is good or kind. That’s a better translation than “my yoke is easy”.   If we are yoked with Jesus, then we move as Jesus moves at the direction of God.  We will learn the rhythm of Jesus. 

 

 

Theologian Michael Hardin says, “the only choice we make is to be yoked with Jesus.  After that it is no longer about choice, but about something entirely different.  It is about trust.”[4]

 

Jesus invites us into a life of trust, a yoked life which relies on God for direction.  Jesus calls it rest because it is a way of life intent on Shalom, that restful well-being and peace which God desires for all creation.  It is work, being part of bringing in this reign of God.  It is costly, but good, for those who practice this deep trust also know deep joy.

 

As those who have submitted to Jesus’ yoke, we have committed ourselves to deep trust. We trust in that blessed reality which is around us even though we don’t see it.  We know our dependence on that holy reality which cannot be proved by science or mathematics, which is scoffed at by some of the world’s most intelligent and wise, yet which can be loved and trusted even by a little child.

 

The apostle Paul wrote that the cross was foolishness to some, but to others, it was the power of God.  Like Francis, who was foolish enough to practice what Jesus taught. Things like:

 

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.”

 

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

 

“If your brother or sister sins against you, forgive, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

 

And the teaching that Francis took most seriously was this:Preach as you go, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." ... You have received the Gospel without payment, give it to others as freely. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, no spare garment, nor sandals, nor staff.”

 

The cross is foolishness to some, but to others, it is the power of God.  Jesus of Nazareth, Francis of Assisi, Ann and Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, Martin Luther King, Walter Rauschenbusch and so many others chose to appear foolish in the eyes of the world to know that divine power.

 

Some of the last words of Francis of Assisi were these, “I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to do.”  

 

Sisters and brothers, let us not seek to follow in the exact footsteps of the saints of yesterday.  Instead may we seek simply to follow the one they followed.  Let us choose to be yoked with Jesus for his yoke is good and his burden is light.  And we will find rest for our souls. Amen.

 

 

 


[1] Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins, (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2000),  p. 259

[2] Elizabeth Johnson, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=970

[3] This beautiful phrasing is the work of the Rev. Shannon J. Kershner  in her sermon, Burdens, http://fourthchurch.org/sermons/2014/070614.html

[4] Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, (Lancaster, PA:  JDL Press, 2013)  p. 87

 

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