Sermon delivered Sunday July 3, 2011
at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Marco Island, Florida
Proper 9, Year A:
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
I wish you all a joyous celebration this holiday weekend. We’re celebrating Independence Day –– and we’ll be revisiting the declaration that says “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” In a word we’re celebrating our freedom.
I’m really rather excited about being here on Marco for the 4th this year. I’m especially looking forward to the fireworks on the beach tomorrow night. In many ways Marco Island feels like a small town, set apart in a way from the suburban sprawl of the rest of Southwest Florida – and in this sense it feels like the small town I grew up in during the early ‘70’s in southeast Ohio.
As a kid, I belonged to an organization called Up with People; we got together to choreograph and rehearse music that was patriotic, community building – the message was always positive and spirited. Each year, one of our biggest performances was the community 4th of July celebration in the high school football stadium -and, of course, there was a fantastic fireworks display at the end of the evening.
One of the Up with People Songs has been ringing in my mind’s ear this week – the words are “Freedom isn’t Free — Freedom isn’t Free – you’ve got to pay a price, you’ve got to sacrifice – for your liberty . . .”
The consistent reminder at all our national holidays is that there is a cost for our freedom – it involves sacrifice, and we’re reminded that our response to the gift of freedom means expressing gratitude for those who have sacrificed (are sacrificing) first, to win our freedom and then to protect our freedom whenever it’s threatened.
While we are celebrating the freedom we enjoy in our nation, our political and civil freedom, we find the lectionary readings this morning focusing on freedom as well.
The scripture readings point to a somewhat different kind of freedom – the spiritual freedom of Jesus Christ and His eternal kingdom – a heavenly kingdom as opposed to an earthly one. Both Paul’s epistle and Matthew’s gospel point to Jesus’ ultimate promise: that His Truth will set us free and bring us peace and rest. But here again we find that freedom; whether secular or spiritual comes with a price tag.
Jesus said: “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is inviting us – all of us actually, because we are all, in some sense, weary from carrying extra baggage – Jesus is inviting all of us into a relationship with him.
These Gospel words have an especially deep meaning for me. I carried these words with me on a piece of paper — in my pocket — every day as my husband lay unresponsive, on life support in an intensive care unit. I’d pull out the paper and reread it from time to time during those long hours when I was sitting by Dave’s bed. As the days turned into weeks and Dave was not responding to the treatment, the internal chaos and pain for me kept growing – I felt like I was forced into a corner with no way to escape – I could not accept what the future held.
One day about two weeks into this horrible ordeal, I pulled that piece of paper out of my pocket again – and this time the Word broke through my resistance. “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Suddenly I knew and accepted that Dave would die – and yet an incredible, unexplainable peace surrounded me, filled me and I knew I would never be alone again. Light filled the darkness – Jesus filled my heart. My life was forever changed. To use the familiar vocabulary to describe what happened, I was” born again”.
“Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Then Jesus continues: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle an humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The unexpected, unexplainable peace and rest that came with the “born again” experience continued to carry me through the grief of Dave’s death. I continued to keep that same piece of paper in my pocket and I read it often. It was only after things began to settle down somewhat that I began to hear and focus on the yoke. “Take my yoke upon you.” I wondered what that meant? Was I being asked to sacrifice my freedom? Was this a price to be paid for the grace I received? Was this price too high – more than I could, or wanted to pay?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this price “the cost of discipleship.” (Do you know about Bonhoeffer? He was a German pastor who remained to lead the “confessing” church in Nazi Germany, standing quietly yet effectively in opposition to Hitler’s regime. He became a martyr in this mission.) Listen to what Bonhoeffer wrote about cheap grace and costly grace in his book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship”:
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, [it is] baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without contrition. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross — grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
On the other hand, Bonhoeffer says: “Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living work, the Word of God which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ ”
Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart.” Indeed by sharing his yoke we learn gentleness and humility; we learn how to carry the burdens that the world lays on us. All suffering and pain must be born, must be carried, in order for it to pass. We have the choice to try to bear our pain alone and be crushed by it or to let it fall on Jesus who, in His love, overcomes all the world’s pain and suffering – on the Cross.
Obeying the call to follow Jesus is hard; it is unbearably hard for those who resist. This obedience is the meaning of traveling the way of the cross. But the good news for those who are willingly to commit is that being yoked with Jesus, sharing the load with Jesus, is easy – and the burden is light. True freedom comes to us through the grace of God – it is the gift of God – but it is, indeed, not free. It comes with a cost – a cost that takes the form of a cross.
Let us pray: O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.