July 5, 2020 – 5 Pentecost A, Proper 9
Zechariah 9:9-12; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19,25-30
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans sound very much like the words of an alcoholic or an addict. They are the words of a man who is reflecting on the power of sin in his life. Sin is much more than making the wrong choice. Sin has to do with all that leads us to make those choices. Yes, the alcoholic chooses to take the drink. Yes, the addict chooses to engage the substance. But the alcoholic and the addict are powerless over the process that leads them to the brink of that choice. It is the choice, and all that goes before the choice, that Paul is addressing. Sinfulness is making the wrong choice but it is so much more. It is our basic condition. We have the power to choose. But we do not have the power to change our condition. And so we make choices that we really don’t want to make. “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.”
There’s a popular book right now entitled I’ll Push You; A Journey of 500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair. Justin Skeesuck has a debilitating disease similar to ALS that is taking away all his ability to control his muscles. He and Patrick Gray decide that they are going to do the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The book is the story of Patrick pushing Justin in his wheelchair over the 500 mile trail beginning in France, crossing the Pyrenees, and continuing across the north of Spain all the way to Compostela de Santiago. It’s an impossible journey but they eventually make it. But what they learn is that they cannot do it alone. They have to admit their need for help. Justin, who is confined to a wheelchair has already had to learn that lesson. Patrick, however, is brand new to that realization. As hard as the pilgrimage is on him physically, it is much harder emotionally and spiritually. It is only when he is broken and has to admit his need for help that the pilgrimage becomes possible. As with all pilgrimages, they come to know that the path, rather than reaching the goal, reveals the lesson.
Life is not about seeing what we want to accomplish and then working hard so that the prize may be won. Life is more about coming to see what we truly desire – which is a pilgrimage all its own – and then coming to see that we cannot attain what we truly desire on our own – another pilgrimage unto itself – and then coming to see that what we truly desire is being provided for us. Life is not about seeing what is good and going out and doing it. Life is about seeing what is good and coming to admit our need for help in accomplishing the good. Life is not about becoming good. Life is about seeing that there is goodness and that goodness is slowly permeating me and you and everything else. Life is about opening myself to the goodness that is in the very fabric of creation.
As long as we are focused on willing what is good and doing it, we are lost. Willing what is good seems like such an honorable endeavor. And we really have to work through that part of the pilgrimage before we can move on. We have to give ‘willing the good’ our best shot because if we don’t give it our best shot, we’ll always think that, had we just tried a little harder, we could have done it. But after we have tried to will what is good and not been able to bring it about, then we can come to the deeper part of the pilgrimage.
Jesus challenges the listeners today. He comments that when John the Baptist came along, the people said he was too strict but that now they are saying that Jesus is not strict enough. I know a woman who told her sister one day that their mother was always on her because she didn’t have a drink in the evening. The sister replied, “That’s funny because she was just telling me I shouldn’t have a drink every night.” As long as I am focused only on what is right and wrong, I’m stuck. Invariably I will come to rationalize the wrongs in my own life and judge you for the wrongs in yours. That’s the sort of adolescent approach to life that Jesus is talking about.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” After you’ve carried that burden of focusing only on right and wrong longer than you can really carry it, then you can come to a place of giving it up. The holy breaking point in the spiritual life is coming to know, not where I need to be, but coming to know that I just can’t be where I am any longer. Then I can let go of the burden and find the rest that my soul desires. And it’s not even until I come to that breaking point that I can even know exactly what it is that I truly desire. When I realize I just cannot handle where I am, then I can come to know the grace of Jesus Christ. We can’t know that by reading a book, or listening to a sermon – at least not one of mine – or trying harder and harder. We only know the grace of Jesus Christ by admitting I cannot go on like this.
What is your burden in life? You either have one that you cannot carry on your own or you are working up to the point of discovering what that burden might be. If you haven’t identified your burden yet, you’re probably just going to have to keep on with your current approach until you hit a wall and realize you need some help. If you have already hit the wall, you’ve already realized you cannot do life on your own. If you know what your burden is but you haven’t hit the wall yet, well it’s coming. We really want our faith to be some kind of magic tool to help us avoid hitting the wall. Faith doesn’t come until after we hit the wall.
Jesus’s words are what we call the comfortable words. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” “For my joke is easy and my burden is light.” If you are weary today, there is rest for you in Christ Jesus. If you are not weary today, you will be soon enough. Either way our work today is to admit that we cannot do this life on our own, we need help. When we do that, the heavens open up and we see the light Christ offers. Today I just want you to hear that the light of Christ is there and it will save you whenever you let go and admit your need for help.
And then, get ready, because when grace comes upon us, it forces us to change every aspect of our living. When grace comes upon us, it forces us to become more generous, more forgiving, more compassionate, more empathetic, more political, more courageous, more involved, more concerned about others than ourselves, more like Christ himself.