Friday, July 29, 2011

Dear Politicians...

...contrary to your apparent belief, you work for the country. Not just for those of us who live here now, not just those of us who voted for you, but for the country. And, because we live in a global society, working for our country also means thinking about the impact your decisions have on people around the world. This is not about you, this is about all of us together. That means that your job is to do things that will be in the best interest of the whole country in the long term. Not what will be best for you today, or your constituents today, or for your next election campaign.

So, if you wouldn't mind, put aside all your own crap, your ego, your ambition, and your pointless political posturing, and do your job. For all of us, and for our future.

In case you're too busy being interested only in your own gain and the "win" for your own ideological idiocy, I'll boil it down to one sentence. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU, SO STOP BEING DUMBASSES AND START GETTING SOME WORK DONE.

And for those of you who are claiming to be Christians...well, I have a lot of other words for you, but they all start with things you can find for yourself in the gospel according to Luke, or in the prophets (those are in the middle of that dusty book high up on your top book shelf...Amos is a good place to start, and is nice and short too).

You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

making my brain tired

I think I've exhausted my brain with all the reading I've been doing. This is what happens when all your holds at the library come in at the same time.
I've obviously been in need of nourishing my imagination and having plenty of time just to sit around with piles of books. I don't get to do this very often, and when I do, I'm apparently a glutton for it. Surprise surprise. I'm a glutton for lots of things. books, ice cream, kitty snuggles...and we all know that when I get obsessed with something, I just go until the end. It's why I can watch whole seasons of tv shows (well, ok, *good* tv shows) in a weekend, or spend a day doing nothing but watching the Lord of the Rings, or playing facebook games until I'm perfect at them, or working until a whole program or idea is completely finished and ready for a whole year. I have a serious need to learn moderation.

I began the glut of library books with Mistress of the Art of Death (a book I received free from the library summer reading program!), and then its sequel The Serpent's Tale (which I started reading first, but a few pages in realized that it must be a second book--I was so glad to find I already owned the first book, thanks to my Reader's Quest prizes!). I kind of love this series and can't wait to see how the strong independent woman main character (a doctor from Salerno who lives in Tudor England) develops. She solves mysteries, refuses to be boxed in by cultural taboos, and is in general just super interesting. I like her a lot. I think there's a third book out, or will be soon...or at least I hope so!

I read two historical novels about the same time period and the same family (basically) by two different authors, which was a really interesting experience. Leonardo's Swans and The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi are both about life in Renaissance Italy, a period and location I haven't read many novels about. Big names (Lorenzo di Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, etc) are littered throughout the stories. Small names too, like Jewish families and illegitimate children and servants and priests and such. Both were engaging stories, and each portrayed their main characters (the d'Este princesses) in really different ways. In one, Isabella d'Este (who married into the house of Gonzaga) was a rabid collector of beautiful things, a woman who would do almost anything to get herself painted by Il Magistro (Leonardo). In the other, she was a cruel woman who would stop at nothing to have the power she wanted, including crushing the spirits of people around her. However, in both books she seems to be a hospitable woman, helping her friends in times of need. Interesting.

Murder of a Medici Princess, which I hoped would be in the same vein, was a disappointment--it looks like a novel, but it's actually a history. With that cover art and that kind of title, it seemed like it would be an awesome intrigue with mystery and romance and art, but..... :-( I skimmed, but it was not engaging and read like a textbook on an important family rather than a story. Which, I suppose, is what it is. But again, the cover and the title seem so misleading!

The Song of Hannah is a lovely little book about Hannah, Peninah. and Elkanah (and Samuel, of course). The cover says it's in the tradition of The Red Tent, and I suppose it kind of is. I liked this book a lot. I wouldn't call it the best written novel ever, but I still really enjoyed the way the author imagined the story of two childhood friends who become two wives of the same man. They're both literate girls, teaching local kids reading/writing/Torah. They both know about love and pain. They are such interesting characters, and their children become interesting characters, and the way their stories intersect with the story of Israel...it's all very interesting. This is one flight of imagination I wish more people would take.

I just finished The Parrot's Theorem, which was such a different kind of book I thought my head might explode. It's about math, kind of. Well, mostly. It's a LOT of math. And I do mean A LOT. Equations, history, theorems, and whatnot. But there's a story in there too, a mystery and a found-family and a trip to Paris for my imagination. So that was awesome. I did guess the answer to the mystery about halfway through, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the second half of the book. I confess that I still don't remember/understand any more high-level math than I did when I started the book, but I know more of the history of math than I ever thought about before. It's always so bizarre to think about math-related things being "discovered." I mean, wasn't there always a number 1? well, no. Weren't there always equations that could be solved by balancing? Well, no...the whole business of learning the story behind math was interesting. I enjoyed this book a great deal, even if a lot of the actual mathematical stuff was well beyond me.

In between all that reading, I've also watched a few movies that we've been considering incorporating into the confirmation class curriculum. Let me just say: Karate Kid is so much more 80s than I remember it (which is not surprising, since, well, the last time I saw it was probably the early 90's), Legend of the Guardians was wonderful, and I think How To Train Your Dragon may be one of the cutest movies (and with the best message) ever.

And now, though I have three more books from the library here and another waiting to be picked up (and let's not even talk about the new books I got with the $100 worth of gift cards I still had hanging around when Borders announced they were closing!), I'm going to have to take a little break. I need some time to process, or to just go without any more intellectual stimulus. I can't decide whether to do that via mindless tv or just sitting around, or getting a coloring book and just playing with crayons, or playing the clarinet (a thing I'm doing sometimes now, though not very often), or what. I'm sure I'll be back to let the three of you who still read my blog know what I decided. ;-)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"what she thought was right"

The other night I watched the movie How To Train Your Dragon (which, by the way, was an awesome movie). The main premise underlying life in this little Viking village is that dragons are evil and need to be killed. No one questions this premise, they just kill dragons. They fight them when they appear in the village, they hunt them, they search for their nest so they can kill them. Of course, the premise turns out to be wrong....and how many innocent and loving creatures and people suffered because no one thought to ask a question?

A few weeks ago I re-watched a two-part Doctor Who episode in which we discover that there is a whole race of "homo reptilius" living many miles below the surface of the earth. They look pretty much like people except for having a sort of reptilian face and green skin. They have a culture, a civilization, science, art, government...but because they are different, a human woman kills one of them, derailing peace talks and the possibility of cross-cultural cooperation for generations. The woman was desperate, her son having disappeared into the under-earth, but she had been given specific instructions to keep the reptile woman safe. Instead she killed her, and the excuse was "she just did what she thought was right." but what she thought was right was wrong...I hear this phrase all the time-- "they just did what they thought was right." Usually it's an excuse made when something goes badly...its sister phrase is "that's just how s/he is..."

Well, too bad.
I'm officially putting this phrases on notice, because, honestly, it's ridiculous.

At what point do we not say "oh, you did your best" and instead say "but your understanding of right and wrong was WRONG."???

There is a reason Presbyterians believe in discernment through community. We don't interpret the biblical text in isolation, we don't follow our calling without checking it with others, we don't discern direction only within ourselves. Together we learn, we pray, we listen...and all of that time together searching for the Right Thing leads us to do the right thing when the moment comes. (at least, that's the hope.) We don't rely only on our own "what I thought." Because, as we have seen time and again, that so often leads us wrong.
The difficulty comes, of course, when the whole community (or lots of it) is wrong. We've seen this with slavery, racial injustice, gender inequality, LGBT discrimination...too often we have allowed "what I thought was right" to overwhelm the Spirit moving among us. Eventually, the arc of the universe bends toward justice (at least I hope...I believe, help my unbelief!). But as long as we keep doing only "what I thought was right" instead of what God calls us to do, our communities will continue to hurt people and the earth, to damage possibilities for new life, and to obstruct the Spirit--which is the last thing we could ever call "right."

and don't even get me started on how this plays out in our political discourse and process...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

a sermon for Ordinary 16A: What's a weed?

Rev. Teri Peterson
RCLPC
What’s a weed?
Matthew 13.24-30
17 July 2011, Ordinary 16A

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

A few days ago, Harry Potter took to the big screen again, searching for (and finding) ways to root out evil in the world. As many of you know, when the wizards in the story enter their school, Hogwarts, they are first placed into a house. One by one each first year student sits on a stool in front of the entire student boy, and the Sorting Hat looks into them and declares to which group they belong—the group known for courage? For intelligence? For cunning? For compassion? Each new house member is greeted with cheers and applause. Everyone knows where they stand, where they belong—and where everyone else belongs.

It’s quite the temptation—to put people in categories, to declare who is good and who is bad, or at least more likely to be bad. It makes the world easier to understand, if everyone just fits into a nice little box—good, nice, disadvantaged, at-risk, poor, rich, liberal, conservative, wrong, right, American, foreign…we each act as a Sorting Hat all the time, putting people where we think they belong.

The trouble is—how do you tell? We don’t have all the information the Sorting Hat has—it can look into people, but we can only look at them. What happens when the boxes break down, or when something is not what it seems, or when something changes?

This week when I was reading about this story Jesus tells, I learned that the weed in question—it’s a specific weed, named in the Greek text—is darnel, or false wheat. It looks just like wheat until the ears mature…almost until harvest time, you cannot tell the two apart. Only when the grain matures can you see that the real wheat is heavy and bends over, while false wheat stands up straight and has a slightly darker color. In the meantime, while you’ve been watching the wheat grow, the false wheat has wrapped its roots around the roots of the real wheat, so pulling up one would pull up the other, or at least damage it. To add insult to injury, the fruit of false wheat is poisonous, and even a little mixed in can make a whole batch of flour toxic.

Nothing like upping the odds on a story, Jesus. Not only are there weeds, but they’re poisonous weeds…and not only are they poisonous, but you can’t tell what’s a weed and what’s legitimate crop until it’s almost too late. Fantastic. Makes you wish for a sorting hat for plants!

Even with all this complexity, the servants still want to go in and weed—to get rid of the stuff that’s not good enough, to pull out the bad even at the risk of damaging some of the good—wouldn’t it be better to get rid of a little good in order to save it all from being poisoned? But the master gardener instead says words every teenager longs to hear from their parents: just leave the weeds there. It always seems to me like the vast majority of time people spend gardening is actually spent weeding. But again, this particular weed would pull the wheat out too—which is often what happens, right? We work so hard at rooting out the undesirable elements that we damage the good things too. More than one family, more than one community, even more than one person has been ripped apart by weeding.

It makes you wonder why we are often still so intent on removing the people we consider to be weeds from our communities. It’s always someone, right—people lowering our property values, affecting our schools’ test scores, bringing crime with them, being a drain on the system, believing the wrong thing, liking the wrong kind of music, standing on the wrong side of important issues. Don’t we have to weed out the bad seeds, so they don’t affect the good seeds? But how do you know for certain what’s a weed? I’m reminded of the fact that the neighbors of people who commit crimes almost always say “I’m so surprised—he was such a nice guy” or some such thing. Or, conversely, as in the story of Harry Potter, there is surprise when someone we were so certain was a weed, so certain was evil, so certain was on the other side, working against all that is good…turns out to be on the good side after all, turns out to be some of the best wheat in the harvest.

Interestingly, this exact problem is one of the reasons Calvin wrote about the doctrine of predestination. He says that we do not get to choose—God’s grace is given to us as a gift, period. We can’t earn it, we can’t change it. That’s the good news part. The bad news part of predestination as Calvin wrote about it is that some people are weeds, and some people are wheat. But then the good news part again: it is not for us to decide who is wheat and who is weed, nor for us to worry about whether we are wheat or weed. The master gardener tells his servants to leave both and let God sort it out—which is what the idea of predestination does tells us too. We don’t get to judge others as weeds, nor ourselves as weeds—we grow together, we live under God’s grace together, we are intertwined, a community together. The question is not who is toxic and who is worthy of the soil. The question is not where we belong or what box we can put other people in. The question is: how can we live together to produce the best harvest?

Please understand—I am not advocating for allowing people to do bad things without consequences, or for perpetuating injustice because we’re just not sure. There is a place for discernment and for faithful kingdom work, but there is not a place for judging the worth of other beings with whom we share the field. So I am advocating—I think with Jesus—for reserving our judgment on what people are and where they belong. As Solzhenitsyn famously said, the line between good and evil does not run between us, but through every human heart. We all have the capabilities for wheat and weeds—and the only one who can change that is God.

In fact, change, transformation, is at the heart of the gospel story, isn’t it? Sure, in our world weeds do not become wheat (though apparently people eat dandelion greens, so weeds can become food, I suppose!). But interestingly, the same Greek word Jesus uses to describe the fruit of the false wheat is the one he uses when he calls Peter a stumbling block…and Peter turns from that toxic fruit into the rock on which the church is built, a guy who sometimes got it wrong, sometimes chose violence, sometimes helped keep people out…transformed into one who opened the doors of God’s grace wide, who taught and healed and brought hope, who helped spread good news even to those he once considered poison. And scripture is full of God surprising us—the last will be first, murderers become leaders, barren women become mothers of nations, blessed are the poor and meek and grieving, let the little children come. So…can God change false wheat into real wheat? I don’t know, but I have a suspicion the answer is yes. After all, if anyone—ANY ONE—is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything is made new. Maybe even the weeds, in the world and in our own hearts.

May it be so.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Today I am kicking myself for choosing this week's gospel passage from the lectionary, rather than something else. I'm sure that when I read the other choices, they were all somehow more awful to contemplate, but really? Weeds and Wheat? ugh.

So far I have learned that the weeds in this passage (formerly translated "tares") are a specific kind of weed that looks just like wheat until almost harvest time, when the ears form.

And I have learned that doing parables for three weeks in a row is silly.

And I have learned that a lot of times, Jesus' witty stories don't make any sense.

When I was an intern at Church of the New Covenant, I preached once a month. I set myself a challenge at the beginning of the year: to preach at least one sermon on every major genre of biblical literature--"history", poetry, prophets, wisdom literature, parable, epistle, etc. When it came down to the day I had to choose the Revelation text in order to fulfill my personal challenge, I nearly decided to drop it because I felt like I'd been overly ambitious and I didn't *really* need to do that anyway....but I did it anyway. That sermon was terrible, but I did the work and I preached it anyway, even though at the time I thought it was crazy hard.

That's how I'm feeling about the parable this week. I mean, really...weeds and wheat? Really? I didn't set myself a challenge or anything, I just made what seemed at the time like perfectly reasonable worship planning choices...and I ended up with something crazy hard. Here's hoping the Spirit comes up with something to say before Sunday morning.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reading up (through?) a Storm

So, the fact that I currently have about 20 books on hold at the library, 5 of which are available the next time I go (I tried to go tonight but...no power at the library) and 1 of which is currently in my possession but is a sequel to another book I own but haven't read yet, combined with the fact that I had an actual day off this weekend combined with the fact that the crazy crazy storm of craziness, with its 75mph winds, knocked out power to basically everywhere except Panera, means I've been reading a lot.

The storm damage around town is insane. Trees are down everywhere (including in my backyard). The wind was ridiculous--it looked like a hurricane, with full trash cans (full!) being hurtled through the air, tree branch flying, recycling fluttering about...basically anything that wasn't in a garage was airborne. My power was out only 26.5 hours. There are some people still out, 36 hours later, though most people have had theirs restored by now. The ComEd people have been working like crazy, and utility workers from other states have come to help out--nearly 900,000 people were without power at the height of the outage. Driving around, you can see why. Trees have been toppled from the roots, power line poles are down, trees are on power lines, lines are just broken and hanging around...wow.

So...reading. In the past few weeks, I've read...

The Meaning of Night (A Confession)--a book I didn't want to put down because I kept being surprised by plot twists and character revelations, though the writing style was sometimes tedious.

The Lace Reader--a book recommendation I saw on someone else's facebook page. It was pretty good. Outside my normal genre. The ending was a total surprise to me! I especially enjoyed the "quotes" at the top of each chapter, and how grief played out in the main character's life. And there was a pretty funny (and scarily accurate) quote about how Presbyterians have been trying to live down the PR disaster that is the label "Calvinism" for...ever.

Searching for God Knows What--I was sad that this was not as good as Blue Like Jazz. I really enjoyed BLJ and this was...not it. disappointing, overall, actually. A few worthwhile tidbits, but not enough for me to keep thinking or writing about it. I almost put the book down halfway through, but powered on...I wouldn't say that was a *bad* decision exactly, just that I wish I could have read the second half even faster than I did, because I have a lot of books to read right now and this one didn't top the list of things to spend time on.

Oh God Oh God Oh God!--a re-read for my awesome new book group. This time around I noticed that there aren't any single-young-women essays in this book, which made it feel odd. We had a really great discussion in book group, which cannot be summed up on the blog, so...y'all need to get your own awesome book groups and talk about these things too.

What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?--we are doing an online book group for church, and this is our first book. We're still in the first half (things we do not have to believe) and I find most of the things fairly obvious. I don't know if other people do, though--it's possible that some of these things are revelations for some. The second half of the book is things we apparently do need to believe. I can already tell from skimming the second half that I'm going to have some things to say about that half.

The New Interpreter's Bible--Luke volume. We're re-envisioning the confirmation class experience, and this year we'll be focusing on the gospel according to Luke. So, naturally, being a crazy overachiever, I decided that instead of *just* reading the gospel and the footnotes in the NIB Study Bible, I should read the commentary and reflection in the whole volume. um, this has turned out to be an unreasonable expectation of myself, and I had to abandon it only a couple chapters in. Now I'm only reading the reflections on each chapter, and will return to the commentary as we prepare for each individual lesson throughout the year.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Friday Five: summer livin'

Over at RGBP, Dorcas asks: So, what's up, Rev Gals and Pals? How are you spending your summer? (I know, some of you are in a different hemisphere and it may be chilly...sorry!) Are you experiencing fire or floods or tornados? Vacationing? Working harder than ever? Experiencing change? Longing for change?

Share five things that are happening in your life, personally or professionally or some of each, in this season of life.

Well, let's see...

I got a kale plant of my very own, in a pot, to grow on my deck. However, my deck was slated to be powerwashed and stained this week, so I had to keep the kale at church. I'm mildly concerned that it might die because there hasn't been anyone at church all week to water it. oh please don't let my kale be dead, please please please...

My deck was in fact powerwashed (at 7am Wednesday) and stained (at 7am Thursday) and now that I've opened the windows again my house smells like deck stain. ick.

I currently have 16 books on hold at the library. 3 have become available today...I'm hoping I have time to read them before the other 13 inevitably become available all at the same time!

We are currently experiencing perfect summer weather--blue skies, green trees, light breeze, 85 degrees, low humidity, great sun. I love it. I'm so hopeful that it will continue like this so I can enjoy the outdoors (well, on my level, which might involve walking instead of driving to the library, or reading outside instead of inside--not camping or anything like that, LOL!).

I've been working with a friend and fellow confirmation teacher on writing our own curriculum for the coming year(s). We are excited about how it's shaping up, though now we're to the hard part of actually putting real-live-lessons together, not just brainstorming the stuff we want to cover and imagining the vague format. Even so, we're loving it.

What are you up to this summer?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

new york and vermont

I've been traveling a lot this year. At least 5 or 6 days out of every month, I've been off someplace. in January it was Montreat for the Blaze. February and March, S3 at Columbia Seminary and the RevGal Big Event in the Caribbean. April, California to visit family. May, New York. June, Vermont. This month is my first month with no traveling since...November. And it will be my last month with no traveling until...March. So I need to get better about reporting my trips and getting pictures out into the blogosphere!

May was an awesome trip to New York to spend some time with my S3 group. We started out at the Unconference (at Stony Point Conference Center), which was a fantastic event. It takes all the best part of conferences (the late-night conversations in the lobby) and turns them into a whole conference. When that ended, we headed back to NYC to take in the sights (yes, that's the back of the statue of liberty--there were too many people near the window for me to get a picture of the front, and we were on our way to Ellis Island, not stopping here...) and to see a Broadway show (that's right, we saw the Book of Mormon--and it was FANTASTIC--it really is God's favorite musical, I swear. And mine.)--we did lots of fun things, enjoyed some sabbath, and talked about our project. It was a great week. I was sad to come home (and I had to come home earlier than the rest of the group, due to some work commitments).

Then in June I hopped off to Vermont for a few days with my fantastic friend Elsa. We got some amazing deals thanks to Travelzoo, so we wandered about in Vermont, visiting wineries and cheeseries and oohing and aahing over covered bridges, quaint little towns, babbling mountain brooks, and such. We also spent a day at the spa in our inn, which was pretty much the best day ever. And we ate a lot. And laughed and talked, and just generally had a good time. I like Vermont.

On our way from Boston to Burlington, we randomly found ourselves here: listening to the Book of Mormon soundtrack and singing along loudly to "All American Prophet" as we looked at the "polished granite shaft" memorializing this man who started the all-american religion. It was quite the find. We spent several hilarious minutes there. Unfortunately, there were no signs explaining the thing about the planets.
In Burlington we stayed in a B&B, we walked along the water and admired the mountains, we contemplated renting bikes (but decided against it in favor of winery tours), we visited a very random and very strange museum that's spread over a big farm and 39 buildings and has things you just do NOT expect to find in a replica of a victorian building next door to one of only 12 remaining round barns in Vermont. (a collection of impressionist art! seriously!) We ate cheese--the best smoked cheddar we've ever had (seriously, best ever). We tasted some of the worst wine I've ever had--I was literally dancing around the tasting room attempting to wipe the taste off my tongue. Then, on our way out of town, some much much better wine (I just got a notice that the bottles I bought have shipped, actually, and will be here next week!) and some incredible cheese (I'm a sucker for the triple cream, and for the super nice people who run this creamery!). We drove around via wine and cheese and covered bridge for a day and ended up in Woodstock, which is called The Prettiest Small Town In America for a reason--because it is.





While in Woodstock we hiked, we wandered, we spent time at the spa, and of course we tasted wine and cheese. We visited the Sugarbush Farm, where we tried much delicious cheese (sage cheddar! 8 year old cheddar! omg.) and maple syrup (both of which came home with me...mmm...cheese), and I also got to pet a baby cow called Oscar. I don't have this photo (Elsa?), but Oscar loved me. He kept licking my arm. He's a baby Angus whose mother rejected him, making his life doubly sad because he's parentless and because one day he'll be hamburger. But for now he was adorable. However, he also led to me doing some serious hand/arm washing, followed by arm sanitizing (haven't done that before, LOL!).

At the end of our trip we visited Simon Pearce, where we got to see a hydroelectric dam in action, watch pottery being made, and watch glass being blown! Apparently this is the only place still selling a full range of hand-blown glass materials. We started out by drooling over everything in the store, and contemplating setting up a registry even though neither of us is getting married. After watching the glass blowers for a while, we ate lunch in the restaurant and enjoyed some of the best food ever, while eating and drinking from the very products we had just seen being made. it was cool.







I didn't really want to come home from here either. Though I probably would go insane if I lived in a town like this, I love love loved vacationing here! I would definitely go back.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

summer love

I love the summer reading program at the Crystal Lake Library. First of all, it's open to grown ups. Second, the theme is always amusing. Third, you get awesome prizes just for reading.

So far this summer I have turned in two logs (15 hours each) and have scored:
a canvas tote bag
a free book
a free hot fudge sundae
a coupon for Yumz (the new frozen yogurt bar)
a free donut

When you finish a log you get to spin a giant wheel and see what your prize is...so cool. I love spinning that wheel. I especially love that I get to spin it for doing something I would do anyway! Though I confess that I am more motivated to turn off facebook and open a book when I contemplate the prizes available.... :-)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Good Life--a sermon for Ordinary 14A

Rev. Teri Peterson
The Good Life
RCLPC
Matthew 11.25-30
3 July 2011, Ordinary 14A

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.’


Well friends, we’ve made it—into the long green stretch of the church calendar. This time of year in the church is called Ordinary Time—which does not mean Boring Time! Here Ordinary means that this is not a season focused on a specific aspect of Jesus’ life—as Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter focus on the mystery of incarnation and salvation. Instead, the readings during Ordinary Time seek to show us what it means to be a Christian in the everyday, in the ordinary. In the northern hemisphere this is also the season of growing—and here in the church community we too focus on growing. Our paraments are green to represent life and creation growing and bearing fruit, and we look to our lives as Christians to see if they too are growing and bearing fruit.

There are an awful lot of agricultural metaphors going on here—greening, growing, bearing, yoking…next week there will be seeds and dirt, the following week there will be weeds as well as crops…which makes it hard, I think, to contemplate these scripture passages in our not-very-agricultural lives. Sure, some of us garden, but even so the vast majority of us have little experience of an agricultural mindset or of the practices that would have been obvious to a farmer in a traditional society like Jesus’. When Jesus talks in agricultural language, he’s speaking the language of the people. When we read his words, we have to work at what that might mean. A good example is right there on the cover of your bulletin—Kim and I had a discussion this week about whether most people would know what this is a picture of. A I thought it was obvious, but she thought it was confusing and looked vaguely like something else unless we added the scripture quote underneath. It’s a yoke, of course—a piece of equipment used to hitch two animals together and to a piece of equipment, such as a plow. But few people in our context see things like these outside of museums anymore—so much of our farming is done with machinery, and so few people are working the land, that a yoke is an antique, not an everyday, ordinary item.

For Jesus and the people in his community, the yoke had a double meaning. The most obvious is the one used for oxen or donkeys to do the farm work, but there are also words like those in Isaiah 58: “Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke?” A yoke is a system, often a system of bondage—whether that system is economic, political, or intellectual. Sometimes people are put under the yoke by an oppressive power, as the Israelites had been by the Babylonians, or as they were under the Romans. Sometimes the yoke is a choice—by choosing to follow a particular teacher, one took his yoke upon oneself. The yoke was the system of teachings, the philosophy, of the teacher. And sometimes a system that was supposed to be life-giving—like the Torah—is turned into an oppression, as we see with the wise and intelligent—the Pharisees and the scribes—who have made the good law of God into a religious and political system that oppresses people and needs to be broken.
So Jesus calls all of us who are caught in those systems, especially those who are weary of following all 613 laws to the letter and still wondering about the grace of God, especially those who believe God’s love has to be earned, to come to him and trade that yoke for another.

I always thought that the point of breaking the oppressive yoke was to be free. But we all know that isn’t exactly true—as a song we sang last week at 8.30 said, You Gotta Serve Somebody. The question is: will we be yoked to the letter of the law, yoked to the economic and political system, yoked to our possessions, yoked to our social status, yoked to our desires, yoked to our limited understanding of God, yoked to what we think the good life looks like….or will we come and slip into one side of a yoke where Jesus is on the other side, and partner with him in the work God has in mind for the world?

When a farmer has a new animal to train, he yokes that new animal together with an experienced one. That way the new animal learns the way while the experienced one carries most of the burden. Eventually the new animal becomes so experienced that he follows the way willingly, and finds the work easy, the burden light. His life is changed to follow a new direction.

Are we willing to take Jesus’ yoke upon us? Are we willing to take on his teachings, put them around our necks, and walk with him until we are so trained that our lives won’t go any other way? Are we willing to submit to this burden, knowing it means we cannot continue to pull our other burdens (however much those burdens may look like blessings)?

Submission is not a word I use lightly, but I think it’s what Jesus is asking for. We are being invited to come, to submit to a life that looks different from the one many of us would prefer. In the language just recently changed in our book of order, we are being asked to “submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of our lives.” All aspects of life…when we come to take the yoke of Jesus, we tether our life to his, we commit to learning from him, and it will change us. Do we want to be changed?

I know that sometimes I want to go my own way, dance to my own drummer, wander off into another field. Sometimes those other ways look more attractive—they look so inviting with their power, prestige, fame or fortune. They look like blessings, not burdens, and we pull away, looking longingly at the other yoke. And sometimes, frankly, I don’t want to work, I just want to lay down in the field and have a snack, and stay that way, leading a life of leisure forever, doing nothing—I mean, can’t God work the plan without me?

This is the part where Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. When we are being who God created us to be, when we are doing our part in God’s great scheme, and when we are partnered with Christ in his yoke (which is not the same thing as trying to get Christ to partner with us in OUR yoke!), the burden is indeed lighter. Life doesn’t get any easier—in fact, sometimes it’s harder—and pain and sorrow don’t disappear. But we have a partner who helps us pull the plow, who teaches us the way, who reminds us who God is and who we are, and who gives freely of himself in order that we might have strength for the journey. We do not submit to the yoke and get left alone—we take Jesus’ yoke upon us, and through water and bread we are refreshed and fed so that we can do the work God has for us in the world. So come, bring your burdens to God, lay them down, and take on the yoke of Christ instead. Let your life be tethered to his, so that you may be transformed, and so work for the transformation of the world.

May it be so.
Amen.