Saturday, July 8, 2017

Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom: Some Thoughts on Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30 (RCL Proper 14A, 9 July 2017)

Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom
Some Thoughts on Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30

RCL Proper 14A
9 July 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30

11.16 [Jesus said to the crowd,] “But to what will I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

                  17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 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.”

                  25 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; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  27 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.

                  28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  29 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.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

            When I was growing up in the Episcopal Church in the United States, it was common to alternate between Morning Prayer and the Eucharist on Sundays.  In my home parish of Saint Michael the Archangel, we had Morning Prayer on the first and third Sundays of the month, Eucharist on the second and fourth.  If there was a fifth Sunday, we had a service called ‘Ante-Communion’ where we followed the eucharistic service up to the point when the priest would have had to stop the service if he were the only person present for the service.

            Among the prayers I remember hearing every other Sunday in Morning Prayer was the Collect for Peace.

O God, who are the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom:  Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Even as I hear the prayer now, I know that I have always pondered a particular phrase:  ‘whose service is perfect freedom’.

            When you and I hear the word ‘service’, the idea of ‘freedom’ does not immediately spring to mind.  We tend, I think, to consider ‘service’ as something that is done under the direction of a particular person or as the consequence of particular set of rules or obligations.  ‘Service’ is not about ‘freedom’; there is a subtle sense of coercion.

            Yet, when Jesus speaks of his yoke as ‘easy’ and his burden as ‘light’, he does have in mind a link between ‘service’ and ‘freedom’.  In the rabbinic tradition of his time, it was common to speak about following Torah, God’s expectations of Israel, as putting on the ‘yoke’ of the Law.  This was not a negative image; it was a way of describing the gift that God’s Law was for the people of Israel.

            Let me share an image that Jesus and his contemporaries would understand well.  Imagine you have a field you want to plough.  You know that your strength is not enough to accomplish the task well enough to feed your family and pay your taxes.  But you have oxen, powerful animals who do have the strength to do the work.  But how shall you harness the natural strength, the natural gifts I dare say, of the oxen?  You yoke them together.  The yoke transfers the oxen’s strength to the blade of the plough.  Furrows can be made.  Seeds can be planted.  Crops can be harvested.  Life can be sustained, even made easier for you and your family.

            To follow Jesus as a disciple is to take on the yoke of the good news that he brings to us and to all humanity.  It means choosing to take on the way of life God shows us in Jesus as the means of empowering our God-given talents to participate in God’s mission in the world.  God calls us to a life of disciplined freedom rather than self-indulgent liberty.  God’s service is ‘perfect freedom’ because in God’s service we are freed from the delusions and illusions of trying to be someone we are not.  God holds before a picture of who we truly are and challenges us to live into the reality.

            Right now there is a banner hanging over the front door of Saint Faith’s that declares we are a place of ‘help, hope and home’.  Why?  Because we believe there three words describe who we are when we are most faithful to God’s call to us in this time and in this neighbourhood.  It is a declaration of the kind of community we are committed to becoming.  But to be this kind of community requires discipline.  Christian discipline is the yoke that transfers the power of our time, our talents and our treasure into the ministry of ‘help, hope and home’ we strive to exercise.  Our discipline takes shape

  • in service that enriches the lives of our neighbours, near and far, known and unknown;
  • in worship that gathers, transforms and sends us into ministry;
  • in evangelism that dares to share the good news of God in Christ;
  • in education that deepens our understanding of God; and
  • in pastoral care that offers compassion and companionship in times of trouble.

            Taking on this yoke of service, worship, evangelism, education and pastoral care gives us the freedom to use our knowledge, our skills and our experiences to be more fully ourselves.  It gives us the freedom to be more fully the human beings that God intends all of us to be.  It gives us the freedom to live in ‘the already but not yet’ of God’s reign of justice and help others live in hope and find a home. 


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