Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
I recently read a sermon by Rev. Darrel Lakey called “Christian, you are upset about the wrong things.” To make his point, he uses a cuss word: ‘last night, 30,000 children died of starvation and most of you don’t give a …” And if your first response is: a pastor shouldn’t say such words…
… and here I am, not saying it…
… then his point is made: you and I are upset about the wrong things. Upset a pastor is cussing instead of how many children died.
He goes on to show, powerfully, how what we get upset about and argue about so often is the wrong thing – the wrong part of the problem. He doesn’t say cussing is good- but rather, we are spending our energy in inefficient, wasteful ways.
Correcting a person for a cuss word isn’t going to make much of a difference in the world.
Giving someone a meal is going to make some difference.
Changing the world so that food is more fairly distributed will make a world of difference.
Why get in a ruffle over the word, and instead, focus on the message? And then do something!
In our reading, Jesus, too, points out how people are upset with the wrong things and wasting their energy on appearances rather than on real issues.
He recalls to us John.
John ate honey and bugs. People were upset with him – anyone who eats such things must be demon possessed! They were upset with his appearances. When they should have been upset with the fact John had to preach his message in the desert and it couldn’t be received in the city. In fact, when he came to the city, he was murdered for his message.
So Jesus now points to himself, and says – after John, people became upset with me and my appearance. Not because I’m eating honey and bugs, but regular bread and wine like everyone else. But they say say I’m a drunkard and a glutton. And they’re upset I spend time with sinners.
People, then and now, are upset about the wrong things. People should have been upset that their religious institutions didn’t have space for sinners and thought sinners shouldn’t have access to a rabbi. They should have been upset that there isn’t enough food and drink for all to have in abundance. They should have been paying attention not to the inside of the vessels, as Jesus later says, instead of the outside. They should, and we should, know wisdom – know people – not by how they look, but by their deeds.
Wisdom is known by her deeds.
Not her appearance.
The deeds of John. The deeds of Jesus. The deeds that speak of God’s radical acceptance, generous hospitality, and abiding forgiveness. The deeds that speak Love.
Giving John a bath wasn’t the fix. Fixing the institutions driving him into the desert was. Telling Jesus to avoid sinners wasn’t the fix. Offering acceptance and welcome and forgiveness to sinners is.
Are you upset about tattoos, piercings, or cussing? I know very faithful pastors with so many tattoos, their arms are covered in as if in a sleeve. Others have multiple piercings. Some, like the one I opened with, cuss in their sermons. Should we be upset about their looks, or upset that LOOKS can deny you a job? Or housing? Or even healthcare? Does a person immediately become a better or worse worker because of a tattoo? If so – sign me up for the tattoo to make me more organized!
… Ageism is a huge appearance struggle in our country. Rather than being welcomed as a person with experience, those who are aged are seen as incompetent. And a younger person is chosen for a job… even though both applicants are qualified.
There’s a reason hair dye for men and women sell and turn a profit.
So what do we get upset about? Tell people who look older to go away and leave us alone?
Some churches concerned about this have started day cares that primarily employ elderly so that the very young and the very old share a day together. Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s hard work! But… the wizened are valued for their knowledge… and the next generation are taught that aging is a good thing.
This is how to change our world: through taking action. Changing relationships. Changing minds. Being upset about the same things that upset Jesus, and then, like Jesus, taking action.
I went to Washington DC once as a child, like many of us go. I was told to avoid the subway because it was full of “undesirables.” My mother and another mother were so offended by this word, they cut out of the official tour to take their daughters on the subway. And we saw workers, and peddlers. We saw people without homes and people in business suits. We saw Washington DC without the spit and shine of the tour company guiding us. And it was beautiful. A city of diversity.
It was also stunning and horrifying. A city with twice the average homelessness rate – 124 people – men, women, and their children – per 10,000 citizens. Homelessness so high that people can register cross roads as their mailing addresses. A city with four of the richest counties in the nation – averaging incomes of $70,000 a home. And a city where the rich live elsewhere and drive in, while the locals who are poor or middle income ride the subs. And the policy makers, the rich, never see them.
Indeed, if the tourist papers warning us of “undesirables” is any evidence, then this is very purposeful. Purposefully avoiding the “lowers.”
This was a community service trip. If anything, we should have been right there on the streets learning from the common people the wrongs the people in charge are doing to them. Learning what would really make their lives better – like access to free showers, and safe places to sleep. We should have been upset that we live in the richest country in the world and there are plenty who still starve… because those with money and food CHOOSE to ignore their need and CHOOSE instead to focus on their looks.
Are we angry, upset, with what we ought to be? Are we identifying the root of problems and rooting them out?
This is about taking responsibility for our action, and our INACTION. Our action in choosing to fight silly battles and our inaction to act with God’s grace, hospitality, witness and love.
Our Old Testament reading is a strange one to pair with today’s gospel, isn’t it? Except for the AGENCY, the action, the people in this love story have.
The first is the servant of Abraham. He could easily have chosen the first girl he came across as Isaac’s wife. However, he goes and prepares. He stands near a well which is where, in the old world, all true love stories begin. It is a trope. A theme. Then, he begins to pray. He prays for a woman to come who is so generous, she not only pulls up one jug of water for himself, but water for each of his camels. That is – twenty gallons of water for each of the twenty camels. ((Remember, the story of Isaac is one of laughter and humor. So of course this girl is a super strong woman with unheard of generosity!)) And he doesn’t care about her looks, or the clothes she wears, or if she speaks perfectly. Instead – he cares about her wise deeds. Her generosity.
And back in her father’s home? Her father does the unheard of – he ASKS his daughter if she wants to go marry the man. He gives her agency. He sees his daughter as a PERSON instead of just property.
It doesn’t matter to him that the man has told him Abraham is rich, and seen the jewelry given. He still wants this to be his daughter’s choice. And she chooses to go. And the Bible calls the relationship between Isaac and Rebecka as one of ‘love.’ One of the few relationships of the Bible called such.
Agency. Seeing others as PEOPLE instead of numbers, or undesirables, or enemies.
It’s seeing our aching world, and instead of saying ‘but what can I do?’ doing your own small part – whatever it is. Giving to the food pantries. Supporting world wide organizations like the UCC Great Hour of Sharing or the ANERA refugee fund. Doing small parts – like reading and hearing the stories of those displaced by war. Not ignoring. Even when reading and hearing is hard.
And it is practicing love. If people cannot feel welcome and accepted, loved and encouraged, forgiven and wanted here – in our church – where, then, can they find respite?
Jesus says his YOKE is light. Remember, he is on a mission saying the religious folk are heaping on burdens on the poor instead of lightening the burdens. And it’s our jobs to lighten burdens.
But a yoke isn’t freedom – not act however you will – it is a guide. Yoke yourself to me, Jesus says, and know a lighter burden. Know that with me, you can lay down your heavy burdens of getting upset over the wrong things.
You can take up the yoke, the work, of assisting the in breaking of God’s kindom.
You can spend your life doing more than correcting someone’s cussing for five minutes… or criticizing their clothes. You can tackle the real work of loving others and changing the world one relationship, one deed, one olive branch at a time.
It’s still work – but it is light work. Joyous work. Because it sets judgment and hypocrisy aside, and welcomes and rejoices with others. If one is starving, one is homeless, one is not welcome – our beloved Jesus is starting, homeless, and not welcomed. It is also foolish work – the work that the wise and intelligent often miss, but which children often see and do immediately.
It is the foolish work of dancing with those who dance. And mourning with those who cry. And being a friend.
Come, says Christ, and share this yoke. Share your burdens. In the sharing, all becomes lighter.
And that is wisdom.