“Does Faith Lighten Your Spirit?”

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

July 6, 2014



Do you ever get grumpy?  A statistical study was announced recently that proposed that 70 is the age at which men, on average, get grumpy.  The thrill of retirement has worn off, a boring routine has been allowed to set in, and little irritations become bigger than they should.  I know I find myself impatient sometimes: even with myself!  Some might even wonder if Jesus was grumpy.


Some picture Jesus as stern and impatient, solemn and aloof.  In many of the historic portraits of Jesus he seems impassive and distant, formal and stuffy.  I like the picture we use on Holy Humor Sunday that pictures Jesus the way I think of him.  Many comment on "the smiling Jesus."  Jesus has a broad grin, and looks as if he is laughing, and loving life!  We need to be careful when we picture Jesus in our minds, because our image of him says a lot about how we think of him: stern and distant, or laughing and engaging.


Of course, this is all conjecture since we have no first hand portraits of Jesus.  It's why filmmakers for a long time chose to show him from the back, or in silhouette or shadow, or just to show his hands: they didn't want to create an image that would clash with our expectations. We may not have a physical portrait of Jesus, but the gospels paint a vivid picture of him.   We develop a picture of Jesus from what we read in the gospels.


In our Matthew 11 passage today, Jesus comments on his contemporary generation.  They are impossible to please.  He speaks in reference to his critics' treatment of him and his cousin, John the Baptist.  They disapproved of John because of his ascetic lifestyle, accusing him of having a demon!  Then when Jesus came as a happy partygoer, loving the company of others and eating and drinking with all kinds of people, they accused him of gluttony and drunkenness!  "You can't win" Jesus is saying! If people are determined to judge you, and find you wanting no matter how you behave, you may as well ignore them, but it's a sad commentary on the crowd's unwillingness to lighten up, and enjoy the new thing God was doing in Jesus.


John and Jesus could hardly have been any different.  John was the bug-eating prophet in the wilderness.  Jesus loved a good meal with all kinds of people.  John intentionally wore scratchy animal skins for clothes.  Jesus who used his divine power to keep the wine flowing at a wedding reception.  John called those who came to hear him “a brood of vipers.”  Jesus looks upon the crowds that came to hear him with compassion and opens his Sermon on the Mount with “Blessed are….”


Jesus says that people are fickle.  They keep changing the rules.  When John came to tell God’s message, he didn’t eat or drink, and people didn’t like his style at all.  He was too stern, and he demanded too much.  The people played the flute saying, “Lighten up, John!  Ditch the hell-fire and brimstone and dance to our tune!”  Jesus came along ready to dance and the people--not ready to dance a dance they never dreamed of: a dance with all kinds of people--called him a glutton and a drunkard.


Interesting isn’t it?  God’s ways can be both too conservative and too liberal for us!  We grind our teeth and mutter under our breath about John’s insistence on urgency and decision.  John said…  We must examine our hearts and get rid of the chaff--burn it away.  We must embrace God’s future with our whole lives--and do it now!  Many found, in his day as well as ours, that John’s thoughts were too radical.  Then Jesus comes along and his approach is just as irrational.  Jesus is so exuberant about inviting everyone into God’s family that he misses the idea that some people are just beyond hope!  We have to keep “our group” select; so that we keep things just right!


These two voices of God threaten our independence.  John….  Jesus….  We feel stifled by the demands of John.  We are frightened by the all-inclusiveness of Jesus.  So, we keep changing the tune….changing our tune so we can embrace moderation--or is it mediocrity?--for ourselves; while avoiding the extraordinary future God dreams for us and the world.


Let me suggest that God’s message is both John’s and Jesus’.  There is a need to examine ourselves and repent and do it sooner rather than later.  This is a wideness in God’s mercy.


People are capable of doing both admirable and horrible things.  The person that runs into the burning building to rescue someone.  The person that touches a child’s life and sets their creative spirit free.  The person that discovers the cure for a dreaded disease.  Love that supports and can be counted on.  The person that sets off bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon.  The person that touches a child and robs her or him of their innocence.  The person that puts together a deadly chemical and unleashes it on a crowded subway.  The selfish diabolical so-called love that imprisons and exploits.


The reality is that both the admirable and horrible can be found in each one of us.  I look around our sanctuary and in a mirror and I see basically good and honorable people.  Yet, knowing myself, I know that in each one of us, there is good and bad.  I know each one of us has done some pretty wonderful things that have helped people.  But, I also know that we have done some things for which we are ashamed at the least and some things that have hurt people.  The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote about himself, “I do the things I know I shouldn’t and don’t do the things I know I should."  Therefore, we need to hear God’s message to us, through the voice of John, and own up to our sin; get it out on the table and ask God’s forgiveness.  We need to do it sooner rather than later; for to do otherwise is to be eaten away from the inside out!  We need to do it sooner rather than later because we don’t have unlimited time.  The sands in the hour glass are running out.  Everyone is in this boat.  John’s message was and is for everyone.


We need Jesus’ message too.  There is joy in the good news that everyone is invited into God’s family!  I think there are going to be some surprises when it comes to who is in heaven and who is not!  We may find some there we never dreamed would be there!  We may be surprised to find some we were sure would be there but are not!  The point is that God wants everyone to be included.  There is a heavenly banquet and everyone is invited.  Jesus told a parable about those who were invited to a wedding made up excuses and didn’t go.  So, the servants went out and invited everyone they could find on the streets to come--and the party went on with a full house.  You see, our joy is in being in the family of God and not measured by who we think shouldn’t be included.  The joy is being home!  If we think the selection process should be more than faith--who we know, the color of our skin, our education, our orientation, etc.--then we miss God’s joy!


Neither God’s voice through John or Jesus is a burden.  “Come to me all you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


Jesus offers rest for the soul-weary.  Jesus offers rest from work is not suited for us. To those who are tired trying to live up to the law and frustrated at their failure time and time again, Jesus offers rest.  To those who are consumed with the “thou shalt nots,” Jesus offers rest.  To those who try to be faithful to God through compulsion and fear, Jesus offers rest.  To those who go through life without a purpose and a feeling that nothing truly matters, Jesus offers rest.


Jesus’ easy yoke and means…  Having something to do--a purpose that demands your all and calls forth your best.  Having a work to do that is motivated by passionate desire to see God’s work become a reality.  Working toward the world God dreams of where people will come from east and west and north and south to sit at the banquet table in God’s house.  Working with God for this vision to become a reality.


When you accept the yoke of the gentle Jesus, the humble Jesus, you embrace a task that puts your soul at ease.  If your soul is heavy today, ask Jesus to lighten your load.  As long as you and I have breath, God gives us purpose; something to do.  And, his yoke is easy and his burden is light.


"Wherever you go, God is sending you, wherever you are, God has put you there.  He has a purpose in your being there.  Christ who dwells in you has something He wants to do through you where you are.  Believe this and go in His grace and love and power."