Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 6, 2014
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; 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
In the 1998 movie The Horse Whisperer, Robert Redford plays horse trainer hired by a workaholic urban magazine editor (played by Kristen Scott Thomas), to help her daughter’s horse, Pilgrim, recover from a devastating accident that left Pilgrim and its rider severely injured and another horse and rider dead. Based on Nicholas Evans’ 1995 novel by the same name, the film deals with issues of loss, brokenness, burdens, healing, hope, the power of love and sacrifice, and the fragile gift of life.
In this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus issues an invitation–a call to healing and wholeness–on the heels of a markedly frustrated response to a quibbling and simplistic question about his ministry versus that of John the Baptist. We sense and feel his annoyance with the loud clamors of various factions and competing interests that seek to divide and conquer, to devalue and destroy.
Yet our Lord, in his mercy and compassion and with his heart of boundless love, whispers a gentle call to us. Come: All you who are exhausted by life and who are carrying burdens you do not need to shoulder. In Jesus we will find rest and peace. Of course, the call doesn’t stop there. We don’t just use Jesus as our shade tree from life’s boiling noon day sun. Instead, Jesus works more like a horse whisperer, knowing our nature, understanding us at a profoundly deep soul level, and working with us to accept the yoke of discipleship, the bit and bridle of the Christian walk that will lead us to healing and completion, that will enable us to run and be strong in our faith and trust.
We are to learn from Jesus. He will not hammer us over the head and drive us by fear and violence; instead, he uses a gentle touch and reveals a humble servant’s heart. He lavishes words of love rather than lashing us with the whip of loathing. Love rules the day with this patient whisperer of souls and trainer of the faithful. Yes, with faith comes burden, but we know in Christ it is bearable–easy, light even.
Do you hear the voice of Jesus calling? Is your soul in need of God’s healing breathe of life? Are there others who are hurting and need to hear the gentle whisper of the Lord of the Dance? Does your community long for the calming touch of the divine hand guiding hesitant feet and broken lives to a place of rest and security? Listen carefully, for this is not a Hollywood movie or a blockbuster novel. This is not a simple children’s game. No, the stakes are much higher, the hurts much deeper and devastating, and the promised rest much more blessed and lasting. This is life. This is promise. This is healing rest. Real and eternal. Now and forever. Amen.
Stewardship begins with an attitude of gratitude. Why not use this week’s Psalm selection (145:8-14) to plant a seed of gratitude in the hearts of the faithful disciples gathered for worship. Take a few minutes before you sing, chant, or read responsively the psalm to talk about the nature of God and how the psalmist is using these verses of praise in gratitude and gratefulness for God. Invite worshipers to savor the words. Perhaps add some space in your bulletin for people to write their own psalm response or verse to complete this beautiful passage. Alternately, include a square sticky note in each bulletin and invite every worshiper to write one thing for which they are thankful after speaking or singing this psalm. Invite them to stick their note to the altar rail or on a designated wall space. Challenge worshipers to carry these verses with them all week long and to look for at least one thing or person or place for which to be grateful each day.Generosity and stronger community are direct results of cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Find some way each week to help instill greater gratitude within the hearts and lives of those in your community of faith. You may just be surprised at what grows from these simple seeds!
Consider using the gospel lesson to talk about what it means to be yoked with Jesus. If you are not in a rural area where teams of oxen are used or trained in 4H programs, learn a little about the process of training animals. Here’s a link to a classic video on the topic. The entire nine minute presentation might not hold your youths’ attention, but you could use clips or just explain some of the key points. If you do live in a rural area, invite a farmer or trainer to come in and talk with your youth. If possible, have someone bring in a team yoke for the youth to examine and touch. Talk about how sometimes an older ox will be paired with a younger ox to help that youngster learn to pace and not exhaust or work itself to death. How does Jesus work with us? Can pulling a load together make the load easier?
You might try a team building exercise, where the group forms a chair with their arms to lift someone or where you use your fingertips to lift someone who is lying on the ground. Experiment with what works best with your group depending on numbers, age range, and ability to pull together. In the end remind them that being yoked to Jesus as a disciples doesn’t get us out of work or necessarily make life a cakewalk; what it does do, is make the load lighter and if we learn from Jesus, it makes the journey a whole lot more successful.
The Devil Made Me Do It? This was a popular saying when I was a child. Whenever one of us made a mistake or a poor choice (such as sneaking cookies or candy before dinner), we’d usually blame the error on the old devil rather then face the consequences and own up to our actions and mischief. None of us is perfect. Not even the Apostle Paul. In today’s epistle lesson, he complains about not understanding his own actions and instead doing the very things he doesn’t want to do or hates in others. Human nature is like that. Fortunately for Paul and for us, Jesus rescues us from our own selves and our rascally natures. That’s why it’s important to stand with Jesus and let him show us the way and teach us how to follow him. Sin may cause us to do things that are bad for us or wrong, but Jesus offers us a way through him to choose another path through life. Instead of saying “the devil made me do it,” try saying “With Jesus’ help I DIDN’T do it” or “By the grace of God in Christ Jesus, I can do better.”
Say a simple prayer and ask God to help all people present to follow Jesus more closely rather than give in and make mistakes. Yep, we claim that the devil made us do it, but the fact is that Jesus will lead us through it.