Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Matthew 11: 1-30 SAP 4A
6 July, 2014
Even though we have just heard the Gospel according to the New Revised Standard version, as I was preparing the sermon for this week, I began to see that we really needed the entire context for the chapter to hear what Jesus is saying to us. The reading this week starts at v. 16 and goes through 30, but we really need to hear it from the beginning to understand it, so indulge me as I read Chapter 11 to you from the JAT Version:
Now after Jesus had finished teaching the twelve all the things we have spent the last two weeks looking at, he went on from there to proclaim his message in their cities; in their churches.
John, who was now in prison heard about all that the Messiah was doing and it confused him, so he sent some of his disciples to make sure he hadn’t messed up. They said, “Are you really the one who is to come, or are we to wait for someone else?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind are seeing. The lame are walking. The deaf are hearing. The dead are rising. And lastly and most importantly, the poor are having good news brought to them. Blessed is anyone who doesn’t take offense at me.”
So they went back to John and Jesus turned to the crowds who were with him and said these things about John: “What did you go into the church to look at? What did you go to see? Someone dressed in pretty robes? Someone in hip skinny jeans and a flannel? Look, they dress like that everywhere – fancy and hip. So, what did you go to see? A prophet? Ahh, yes. And I tell you, more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending a messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, friends, I tell you, among all the people ever born no one has risen greater than John the Baptizer; and yet in God’s Empire, the least are greater than he. From the days of John until now; God’s Empire has been under attack by the powerful; and they use whatever means they can to take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen with their hearts.
“But I don’t think that is going to happen. Church, you are too busy bickering like little children, mocking and belittling each other. The boys say, ‘Why don’t you want to dance for us?’ and the Girls say, ‘Why don’t you play war so we watch?’ You see, John came and didn’t eat or drink and they all said he was of the demons, and the Son of Humans came and he ate and drank, and they say, ‘Look, he’s a slob and a drunk, a friend of hookers and thieves!’ But seriously, Listen, wisdom is vindicated by deeds!’
Then Jesus began to take them to town – especially the churches where he had done his greatest works – because they just took advantage and did not turn around and see things the way he sees them. ‘Woe to you, Church of the Suburbs. Woe to you Church of the City. For if I had done these deeds of power in the crack dens and in the strip clubs, they would have repented long ago. But I tell you, on judgement day, you would rather be there than where you are. You will be brought to death. For if these deeds of power had been done in Sodom, they would still be here. I am telling you, on that day, it will be better to be Sodom that you.’
Then he turned to pray, “Father, Lord of Heaven, I thank you because you have hidden these things from from the wise and the smart ones and have revealed them to the ones who understand their dependence on you. Such was your gracious will. All things you have given me by you; and no one knows me apart from you, nor you apart from me and anyone I choose to reveal you.”
“Come to me, all of you who are tired of all of this and are burdened with the weight of it all. I will give you rest. Here, take my yoke upon you, let me share the burden of it all. Learn from me; follow my lead for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you are going to find rest for your trouble souls. When I carry the yoke with you it is easy, and my burden is light.”
The word of the Lord.
I hope you didn’t mind that, but like I said – to understand why Jesus is so upset, I think it is important for us to understand what got him to that point.
So, the last few weeks we have looked at heard Jesus preparing his disciples to go out and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near – that The Empire of God is coming to trump the Empire of Rome. And as he was doing that others were gathering to hear what he had to say – especially those raised in the church – or rather the followers of John.
As many know, John was the wild man in the wilderness proclaiming baptism for the forgiveness of sins and preparing the way for the Messiah – God’s anointed one. Like the Persian King Cyrus (also call the Messiah in Isaiah), this would be God’s chosen one to come and bring about the promised new Empire of God. Needless to say, there were those in power who wanted to shut John up, so they put him in jail. They took away his voice, and maybe then would stop rousing the rabble.
John, knew, thought that it was too late – he heard the voice from the heavens announce the beloved one after he baptized his cousin. And yet, he was getting anxious – John was getting antsy – why wan’t Jesus forming the army to rebel against Rome. Why wan’t he declaring that corporations can’t be religious bodies? Why were quote/unquote “enemies” strengthening on the other side of the world causing a threat to this beloved land? So, he sent his disciple to Jesus to find out. Are you the leader of the new Empire or not?
Jesus, told them: Can’t you see? The world is changing. The forgotten one are given power. The poor are rising up. The dead are coming to life. The blind see. The deaf her. God’s Reign is happening now. While everyone around is bickering and trying to see what isn’t there – looking for signs of the end times in the color of the moon, hoping for WWIII so Jesus comes back; watching while we destroy the planet – wondering why it is all so bad: Jesus has been there bringing life. Bringing restoration. Brining God’s reign to earth.
The disciples of John were satisfied, but the rest of the church just sort of chuckled at him. Jesus looked at them and told them that John was called a demon because he lived according to the laws of a Nazzerite. Jesus, himself was called a drunk because he dared to share the table with people the church cast out – hookers, LGBT folks, addicts, undocumented immigrants, adulterers, frail and elderly, hyper active kids, those who are not like us. He had to be a drunk to sit and eat with them.
But Jesus says – pay attention to what is done as well as what is said, because I am doing what I say. Wisdom is made evident in my deeds.
Then we get to the appointed reading today – Jesus calling us bickering kids. Interested in pleasing ourselves and making a show of our power. Depending on ourselves to show our righteousness.
Jesus has had enough. This isn’t Jesus meek and mild in these words. This is Jesus fed up. Tired of all the nonsense that is going on in his name.
He starts some serious truth telling: How can we even begin to show the world the new Empire of God when we are so wrapped up in ourselves? When we spend so much time sending out into the world mixed messages about who God is? Who Jesus is? Those one side are giving the world a God who is obsessed with what goes on in the bedroom, so much so, that one would think that is all God is is a great peeping tom in the sky, ready to strike down anyone who does some thing out of the so-called norm. They are held captive to a God who is obsessed with rules: that if deviates just a hair from the prescribed path, the fires of hell away. They cry out that “The Bible says,” when they have not read any of it beyond their favorite clobber passages.
Jesus is just as fed up with the other side that has forgotten that discipleship is a path of walking with Jesus and not some morally ambiguous place that if it feels ok it must be ok. A cheap grace that says, Jesus loves you and everything is ok – which while true – is much deeper and more profound than that. Jesus is fed up with those who say, I am the final arbiter of what what is right and wrong, but because I go to church then it is all ok.
Jesus says, no to all of the individualistic intentions of his people. He says to turn around – repent – and see the world a God sees it. It is an interconnected web of being.
A place where when Jesus gives sight to the blind – he his giving God’s eyes to us all – so we can see and name the injustices going on around us. So we can see the children sequestered at the southern end of this nation as refugees fleeing horrors – kids with stories that would make us tremble and not disease ridden scum that some say they are.
When he gives hearing to the deaf, he is giving God’s ears to us all – to hear the cries of God’s people. The cries of those who are in need of love that the world says they don’t deserve. The cries of those in prison. The cries of the prostitute as she comes home in the morning, feeding her children with the money her pimp didn’t steal from her. The cries of the boy who knows in his heart of hearts he should have been born a girl. The cries of the mother unsure of where the next meal is coming from. The cries of those the world has forgotten.
When Jesus gives feet to the lame, he is giving God’s feet to us all – to do the deeds he has give us authority to do. To leave the safety of our sanctuary. To move beyond the confines of our homes and into the streets. To go and make disciples. To teach of the God of grace and mercy; whose love surpasses all of our understanding.
When Jesus raises up the poor and shares the good news; he is pulling us up out of the bad news of the world. He is giving us the Good News that God is present and active in the world in the places we might not see. God is binding us all together.
That is what Jesus is saying, when he is saying we are missing his deeds of power. When it warns the church of the suburb and the church of the city that they are in trouble. He is telling them – telling us – that we have become so wrapped up in ourselves that we are missing His renewing,redeeming, reconciling, transforming, triumphant work going on all around us. We magnifying our microcosm, missing the macro transformation happing in our midst.
But This is Jesus, and you know I love that with Jesus there is always a but. He is reminding us that with them there is always hope. There is always a new way in. There is never a final no unless we decide that for ourselves. Jesus is always there to remind us; that once we are ready; once our sight has been restore; once our hearing returned; once our feet renewed; once our hearts reconciled – there is aways a second, a third, a millionth chance.
Jesus is there with the prayer that transforms. The prayer the reminds us it isn’t all about us. That we known him and the one who sent him, when instead of trying to to it all ourselves we depend on him. Jesus calls us out of our egotism, calls us out of our short sightedness, our heard headed ways and into his bosom. As suckling child dependent on his nourishment. Dependent on the community he has formed; dependent and wholly unified and made new. When we are dependent on Jesus we are empowered to fully live into the Empire of God that transcends the empire we know. We share the life giving meal with sisters and brothers, our sisters and brothers and being to share the yoke of the burden with the one who sustains us.
Jesus promises that when we depend on him, the burden will be light. There will be rest for our weary souls. When we gather at the Lord’s Table, we eat with he one who carries all the weight – we lay down our sword and shield at the rivers edge – gathered into a new and transformed body. We become part of the one who give us eyes to see, ears to hear, feet to move, good news to shout. Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus does not desire that we fight each other, but calls us to be bringers of the Empire of God. Fully dependent on his Grace. Fully dependent on his mercy. Fully dependent on his life giving love. Fully dependent on his promise that with him all things are possible. That we trust and be fully his, Fully God’s. And when we surrender it all to God’s transformative, restoring, redeeming, rejuvenating pules pounding power – we become who God has called us to be. The Body of Christ on the Earth.
Thanks be to God.