Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 9

Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens

We would walk up the street to the corner filling station.
That’s what we called it when I was a child—the “fillin’ station.”
My grandfather and I would walk side by side,
open up the screen door and step in.
There’d be other folks there—usually older men like my grandfather—
All catching up on the news in Wendell and Zebulon--
And they would greet us—
Hey there Ivan!
Or if they were younger men, they’d say Hey there, Mr. Ivan.
And then,
Well, hey little Jeannie! You’re growing like a sprout.
I was little back then—in age and size.
And to my grandparents’ friends I was always Jeannie.
They didn’t quite know what to do with you,
If they couldn’t add and “ie” or a “y” to the end of your name.
Timmy. Jeannie. Polly…..

Then my grandfather would reach his long arm
into the big square cooler box
and pull out an ice cold Nu-Grape Soda for me
and a Coca-Cola for himself—in one of those little short bottles.
Life was simple then.

It was summer and the living was easy.
I had an easy and truly blessed childhood.
We were not rich by any means,
but I never had to worry about basic needs.
I never had to worry that I was loved.
I had an abundance of people who loved me,
and an abundance of people who welcomed my love.
Life was good.

On Wednesday evening this week I left Asheville
to drive back to Valle Crucis.
I drive this road a lot.
Up the mountain, down the mountain.

When I get just past Linville,
I always call my husband Tom to let him know where I am
and to ask if I need to stop at the grocery store.

I had already pulled into the parking lot of the Lowe’s Food Store
and it was mobbed.
Seems like Watauga County was out in force
Getting a headstart on their holiday weekend grocery shopping
Cars were circling the lot like big metallic vultures
looking for an empty parking space to devour.

What a relief
when Tom told me he had already done the shopping.
Just come home.
Free to escape the madness and just keep going.
Come home.

Life, with all its responsibilities and demands, does not feel so simple
to us as we reach adulthood.
The past few weeks have been difficult.

My daughter and son in law are packing boxes,
soon to move back to Massachusetts.
It is a good move for them
but it is hard for me to see them leave.

A friend’s open heart surgery
did not go well.
The son of another friend arrived in town to celebrate her birthday
and died in his sleep the night before that celebration.
Our beloved Jane Blodgett
suffered a stroke three weeks ago
and died on Tuesday.

This is not about me. There are others of you
going through difficult times,--physically, emotionally, financially.
Some of these situations I know,
And some I probably do not know.
But I hold each one of you in this congregation by name
in my prayers every day.
Some days it is all I know to offer.

Today in Matthew’s gospel we have some instruction
and an invitation.
Jesus tells us that life is not going to be easy nor is it going to be fair.

Jesus shares that people criticized John the Baptist for the way he lived.
People didn’t like it that he wouldn’t eat or drink like they did.
People said John was possessed by a demon.

And then Jesus says,
So I came along, eating and drinking,
And people say I am a glutton and a drunkard,
that I keep company with the wrong kind of people.
Jesus tells us,
You’re going to have to toughen up
and not listen to everything people say.
Live your lives with wisdom and love.

Then Jesus offers one of the most generous, comforting invitations
in the entire Bible:

Come to me all you that are weary
and carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.

All you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…
I have a feeling that includes most—if not all--of us.

I read that and it makes me want to shout,

Oh yes Lord! Oh Yes!
You give me that rest, sweet Jesus!
I am coming right now
to lay my burden down.
Uh-huh! Right now.

Those heavy burdens we carry are different for each one of us—
For some it is illness,
For some it is grief
For some it is the loss of a job or no job found.

For some it is loneliness
For some it is a less than blessed childhood
or a less than blessed relationship.
For some it is responsibilities that seem too big and too many.

For some the burden is a secret
a secret they are too afraid or too ashamed to tell others.

Jesus invites us all—
to come
and to lay down our burdens
and to rest.
To rest both our bodies and our souls.

We need Sabbath time,
time for renewal and refreshment.
Many of you will take time for a vacation this summer.
We will miss you,
but taking time away is a good thing.

It may seem strange,
but another way we lay down are own heavy burdens,
is to help carry the heavy burdens of one another.
We yoke ourselves to God,
We yoke ourselves to one another,
and suddenly the heavy burden becomes lighter.

There is a wonderful article in a recent New Yorker magazine
about Holy Apostles’ Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
(The New Yorker, May 26, 2008, pp 56-65)

The article chronicles the church’s history,
a church that was founded in 1836
as a ministry to the children of immigrants—
squatters who had recently emigrated from England and Ireland
and were camped along the marshy shoreline
of the Hudson River.

Holy Apostles has had a rollercoaster history.
Growing, then shrinking.
Plenty of money, almost destitute.
Buildings falling apart, buildings repaired.

Today they are most known
for hosting the largest soup kitchen in New York City.
They serve an average of 1200 meals each day--
every single weekday, including holidays.

As a church, Holy Apostles is not large and not wealthy.
As a ministry in that Mahattan community, the church is enormous.
The soup kitchen has been going for 25 years
and has served more than six million meals to their guests.

That is what they call those who line up to be fed—“our guests.”

The soup kitchen never proselytizes or hands out religious literature.
There is no required attendance at worship or Bible study.
The volunteers from that parish just feed people.

When asked why they do this ministry,
one of the parishioners replied,

“Well, we do this because Jesus said to feed the hungry.
There’s no more to it than that.
Jesus said to take care of the poor and the hungry
and those in prison….”

She pauses and then adds,

“The bread and wine of the Eucharist
that we share with one another on Sunday”…
is what strengthens us and is our food,
so that we remember to share with our neighbors
the rest of the week.

We believe our job as Christians is to meet Jesus in the world.
We meet him, unnamed and unrecognized,
in the guests who come to the soup kitchen every day.”

Come to me all you that are weary
and carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.

Come and we will give you something to eat.
Come and sit down and enjoy a meal as our guest.

The soup kitchen grew and needed more space than the parish hall.
The priest met with the vestry
and they unanimously voted to remove the pews from the church
and open it up as additional space for dining.
During the Sunday services, the congregation now uses folding chairs.
No one complains.

And who are we?
What burdens is this congregation willing to carry for others?
What has God called St. John’s to do?

Come and build a house for someone who needs a home.
Come and prepare gift bags for women who are fearfully moving
from prison into the world.
Come and fill a basket with canned goods
so some in our community will not go to bed hungry.
Come and share our parish hall with those suffering from addiction,
struggling to find their way.
Come and go to Panama and offer medical care and healing.
Come and sit with someone who is suffering or just plain lonely.


Come forward and hold out your hands at the altar rail,
to receive the food and drink
that gives us strength for the journey.
Come forward and hold out your hands
to receive the bread and wine
that transforms everything.

You know my grandfather did not just go to the fillin’ station
to drink a Coca-cola and eat a pack of nabs.
He went there to hear who in that community needed help.
Who was having trouble bringing in their crop of tobacco.
Who was sick.
Whose husband was drinking away the grocery money.
And when we made that walk back to my grandparents’ house,
my grandfather walked in the door
and told my grandmother what he had heard--
but almost before he had finished
my grandmother was on the phone,
talking to Preacher Barrum,
calling people at the church,
Miz Goldie, Mis Luna, Mr. Honeycutt…
Because there was work to do,
People in need,
Burdens to be shared.

Over and over we are invited to come.
We are invited to share the yoke of love with Christ,
to be refreshed, to be released from our heavy burdens
so that we might release others from theirs.

Come to me all you that are weary
and carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.

+ + +

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said to the crowd, "To what will I compare this generation? It is 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.'
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
"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."

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