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Pentecost 5A Sermon
Matthew 11: 16-30

July
5, 2020

 

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Matthew 11:16-30

‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places 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.
Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’
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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Emma Lazarus was born in New York City in 1849 to Sephardic Jewish parents. Her father, Moses Lazarus, was a wealthy merchant and sugar refiner. This allowed Emma and her six siblings to have fine private educations. Emma loved writing and poetry. As she grew into an adult, she was able to take two extensive trips to Europe in the mid-1880s. As she began to explore her Jewish roots there, Emma became increasingly interested in the anti-semitic activities in Russia following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II – called, “pogroms.” These were riots meant to massacre or persecute the Jews of Eastern Europe.

Emma made it her life’s work to write poetry to shed light on these atrocities for Americans, and to advocate for schools for Jewish immigrants and refugees coming to New York from Eastern Europe. Emma’s most famous work is a poem called, “The New Colossus,” written and donated to an auction of art and literary works in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the gift given to the US by France for our 100th birthday in 1876 – the Statue of Liberty. In the poem, she likens the statue to one of the fabled Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes. That old Colossus was a giant statue of the Greek god Helios, said to have stood at the harbor of the city of Rhodes on the Greek Island of the same name, from 280 BC until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 226 BC, never to be rebuilt. Lady Liberty resembles it in size and likeness, and Emma’s poem lifts up this new beacon of welcome as a far more meaningful symbol:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

I know that as a Jewish person, Emma Lazarus would not have been familiar with the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading this morning: “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” But as I remember those words that she wrote, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…” I see an obvious connection between her love for her fellow Jews fleeing persecution and the call from Jesus to all people who carry heavy burdens in life, especially as they seek to be faithful disciples and love their neighbors as God has commanded all of us to do.
The assigned text for today from the lectionary committee omits verses 20 to 24 in this reading. These are the woes that Jesus pronounces on certain cities of the land – Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum - all Jewish cities on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus visited them regularly. Capernaum was even considered Jesus’ adopted hometown. Now we don’t know about any specific evil deeds for which these cities were remembered and that they had to repent. Jesus mixes them in with Gentile cities – Tyre and Sidon and Sodom – all of which were notorious for suffering destruction for their sins. Why does Jesus bring them up then? I think it goes back to his words about his ministry and John the Baptist’s ministry. John came neither eating or drinking and they said he has a demon. Jesus came eating and drinking and they called him a glutton, drunkard and friend of tax collectors and sinners. No matter what a person does or says – even if there are pure intentions behind them – people will criticize. It is in our nature to question or doubt, and certainly Jesus heard these comments from people in these Galilean cities. The New Colossus has been around so long that people accept it without much thought, even though many of us deny that these words are applicable today. I imagine that at the time there were plenty of people saying, “NO! Don’t send us your huddled masses, wretched refuse or homeless tempest-tost! Send us the good people, who have the skills to make it on their own and be productive in society!” Even though we are called to love all of God’s children with a particular attention to “the least of these,” the presence of sin in our communities will question the motives or actions of Christians who reach out in love to the hurting of the world.

That is why I insisted on reading this passage in its entirety, with the otherwise excluded verses re-inserted. Without them there we are prone to turn a blind eye to the ways that we sometimes turn inwards to ourselves and our own individual wants. It is also a good testimony on this weekend of Independence to remember that patriotism is not a blind nationalism which ignores the fact that there are still people hurting and oppressed – not only in the world, but in our own country. We celebrated yesterday our nation’s independence. Maybe today as we gather virtually for worship, it is time to reflect on how we can be better as a nation and as disciples of Jesus Christ – knowing that today people in our land are still yearning to breathe free. Jesus calls people to come for rest, but we still shoulder the burdens of life. The good news is that Jesus gives us the image of a yoke which is not only over our shoulders, but Jesus’. In fact, it is a yoke over the collective shoulders of our entire community to carry forth the call for loving the neighbor and seeking justice for all of God’s children. Today we can look at ourselves critically, knowing that we are capable of great love and compassion, AND we are capable of destruction and hate. We often confess that we are sinful and unclean, not just words we speak on Sundays which fade by Monday afternoon. These are words that describe us and our whole community that can bring renewal to our nation today, the first day of our 245th year.

That is why it is important to remember today that those of us who live in places where sinfulness exists are called to turn again to God for healing and for direction. And, that we have a savior who shares our burdens, calls us to rest in his presence, and most especially has already been there and done that. Jesus has loved all, even those who called him a glutton and a drunkard … even those who claimed that his cousin John had a demon. The only way to combat evil and name-calling is by embracing them as givens whenever love and justice are pursued, and to remain faithful in the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Dr. Fred Meuser was the president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary here in Columbus for many years, including the first three of my four years there. Dr. Meuser took this whole idea of “honest discipleship and patriotism” and wrote new words to the familiar song, “God Bless America.” On this, July 5, it is a good song to hear as we ponder the ways that God has called us free people to love all people, and to strive for justice everywhere, even in the face of criticism and name calling.

Bless all the nations, Lord, not us alone, Bless all leader with wisdom
With the light shining bright from your throne.
Bless the homeless and the hopeless All the children, lost and lone.
Bless all the nations, Lord, not us alone
Bless all the nations, Lord, not us alone.

Help us to love the world, just as you do.
Fill our hearts, Lord, with Christ’s love That we all may give glory to you.
Bless the hungry and the weary Show us all what we can do.
Help us to love the world just as you do,
Bring peace to all the world we trust in you.

Where people fight and die may conflict cease.
Touch the people in all lands With a heartfelt commitment to peace.
Heal all hatreds, calm all vengeance From such passions bring release.
Bless all the nations, Lord so wars may cease,
Give to all people, Lord, your wondrous peace.