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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Burdens. that seems to be a common theme in all of today’s readings

The prophet Micah - one of my favorites-- rails against other so-called prophets who burden the people by speaking out of their own self-interest, instead of focusing on the proclamation of the Spirit, and need to live into God’s will “to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” as he says later.

One of the earliest mission statements on record.

The psalmist cries out to God, speaking from under the burdens of persecution, a heavy heart and a restless soul.

Paul also talks about burdens, and how hard he and his companions worked to not add them, as they lived among and shared the Good News of salvation with the community at Thessalonica.

Then, in today’s Gospel, Jesus chimes in.

Burdens. This is a concept that his hearers would have been really clear about.
Physical: Hard work-- no hydraulics, no labor-saving devices, no technogadgets...
Psychological: Occupied people - weight of oppression, of taxes and authority and punishment

but Jesus goes beyond anything the others do, flatly castigating the religious leaders as well! Those responsible for serving and encouraging the souls in the name of God, were doing just the opposite. Though they may have had the very best of intentions, they were in fact adding spiritual burdens to an already overburdened people. Requiring adherence to every regulation and teaching in the Torah, without exception, (as though we don’t all fall short). Making a big production of things, parading about in fancy vestments, allowing themselves to be held up as models of behavior....

You know, it occurs to me that this may be a good reminder to be hearing, after last week.

I have to tell you, that was a wondrous, glorious gift of a day. Music...
God’s people gathered, and the grace-filled presence of the Spirit called for on my behalf... and the fancy clothes were certainly there; my sister-in-law made me a chasuble and stole that is a quilter’s work of art.

But let me reassure you, my brothers and sisters, that all the congratulatory praise and admiration has not gone to my head-- at least, not for very long. Because among the gifts that day were burdens, of a sort. A series of promises that I made, before God and in the presence of the bishop and people gathered...

... to respect and be guided by the pastoral direction and leadership of our bishop;
... to be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures
... to minister the Word of God and the sacraments of the New Covenant, that the reconciling love of Christ may be known and received?
... to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve;
... to pattern my life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?
... to persevere in prayer, both in public and in private...

These are weighty promises, asking commitment to arduous tasks. I have no illusions that I can continually live up to them, day after day after day. On my own, they would be formidable burdens, indeed.

Now, don’t think you’re off the hook, brothers and sisters. Let me remind you that you have also been ordained for ministry. If you have been baptized, you have been visited by the Spirit’s power and grace, and equipped in miraculous ways to do the Lord’s work, no less than I have been. And likewise, you have made promises-- willingly taken on burdens in preparation for and in response to that gift. And we shoulder the load again every time we renew our vows in the baptismal covenant. (Pull out those prayer books, please, and turn to page 304.)

Let’s go through this; and think about the burdens we are taking on when we make these promises.

Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People: I will, with God's help.
Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People: I will, with God's help.
Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God's help.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God's help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God's help.

Heavy burdens, indeed. But the blessing is that God’s burdens are very, very different than the ones we lay on ourselves, or on each other. They are different, because they come supported by grace. As the collect says this morning, “it is only by God’s gift that faithful people offer true and laudable service.”

All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted." That’s what I think this means, brothers and sisters. Whenever we try to do it on our own, we’re going to stumble. We’re human; stumbling is what we do best. Our burdens become a load too heavy to bear; we can’t stand up under it. We fall forward, and land on our face; we trip, and end up landing hard on our backsides.

But when we admit that we are not solely responsible-- when we remember to humble ourselves enough to ask for help from God, and from each other-- share our burdens with Jesus Christ and his disciples-- when we acknowledge our need of the Spirit’s grace and forgiveness in our lives, and admit that every single person on this earth is just as entitled to it as we are... when we are willing to accept help, as well as give it... it becomes a gift beyond price. Instead of being weighed down, we are carried, and built up. The Kingdom of God is built up.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me... “ Jesus says, “...and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This is Good News, my brothers and sisters; good news worth sharing. Please pray for me, as I do for you, that we rejoice in this burden-- and that we continue to proclaim it, here in worship and the breaking of the bread, and each week after we leave this place. Not only with our lips, but in our lives.


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November 01, 2005 6:11 PM  

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