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Rest for the Weary with new learnings; A New Yoke

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REST FOR THE WEARY, WITH NEW LEARNINGS, A NEW YOKE
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by Lietta Ruger
 
 
Gospel reading:  Matthew 11:25-30

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable to you, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

 Welcome.  Today is July 7, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, in the 7th month and my birthday.  I am 51 years old.  Today is the first sermon I have given publicly.

  Our gospel reading today gives us opportunity to think on our Independence Day, July 4th, which we celebrated this week.  When I was preparing this sermon which I began doing many weeks ago, the words attributed to Jesus "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" almost immediately made me think of the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and I will cite:
   Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the Wretched refuse of your teeming shore; Send these, your homeless, tempest-tost to me.  I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.

   Independence Day to celebrate an important historical event in our country, the United States of America.  Our country won a battle for freedom from the Yoke of another governing rulership that restricted personal freedoms and liberties, that restricted personal choices.  A fledgling country made up of immigrants, outcasts, the marginalized and the disenfranchised who desired a different yoke than the ones they carried in their respective countries of origin.  People who yearned for rest from their burdens and were willing to take on new burdens in new ways that may have been unfamiliar to them.  They came from what they knew to a country they did not know and with that were willing to learn new experiences in an unknown country.

   What hidden things did they know that would drive them to take on the complete "unknown" in this strange new country?  What did the Wise and Intelligent ruling orders of that time Not Know that would send so many hundreds of thousands out of their known homes to seek out the unknown?  What kind of burdens did these many immigrants carry from which they yearned for rest to the point that they would take on a New Yoke in a new land?

  What was it about this new land, new experience that would be so powerful, that the Statue of Liberty, our Welcome symbol should have these words inscribed as a welcome message to those who would come after?  It is a message of comfort to the weary, the tired, the displaced.  And in these times, people Still immigrate to our country, 200 years later and are greeted with the same welcome message of comfort.

  We celebrate a memorial day in celebrating July 4th as a day to remember independence.  Independent instead of Dependent, less subject to the discordance of ruling governments that place a different value on personal freedoms, liberties and justice.  With independence, however, comes new responsibilities, personal responsibilities to participate in new labors, the new burdens, if you will, of living together in community independently.  How does one take on the Yoke of personal responsibility?  How does one live independently within community for isn't the very word community indicative of Inter-dependency?  Is there an Intra-dependency when community works in accordance and harmony?

   When the words of Jesus ask us to "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me"  what is Jesus asking us to learn?  What does His yoke look like? What would make it welcome that one would exchange one's own known and familiar yoke for an unfamiliar yoke?

   The words first given "Come to me and I will give you rest" are the first clue of a promise...a gift freely given, a moment of rest, a place of comfort.  And are we are called into a relationship that holds forth a new opportunity, a new landscape, a new dwelling place, a new home, a new sense of being?  What does this mean...rest?

  I like to think of the Native American ways of seeing life in cycles or circles.  Our scripture tells us of God as calling one of the Names Alpha-Omega, the Greek for Beginning and End.  If we think of this as  circular instead of linear, the image is different.  God comes back to Himself.  He created the world in 6 days and on the 7th day he rested...came back to Himself.  We also require rest, the time to come back to ourselves, to rejoin and reconnect with our self-ness.  To reflect, contemplate, ponder and wonder at the Beauty that is our self-ness; our oneness with God, as children of God, as part of creation, as taking part in creation, our relationship in creation, our connectedness to something greater than we, greater than me, more than me alone.

  Jesus words here Point to God and point to a freely given gift of rest, of comfort, of reunification, of self to self, of self to God, of relationship, of identity in knowing who you are, how you matter in the scheme of things, what your value is, what labors and burdens you have carried, what needs to be let go, how you are distributing the load you carry and if it is unevenly distributed and in need of redistribution, and if you have allowed God to help you in your labors, help you carry your burdens.   In this country we value independence, sometimes to our own detriment.  We forget to rest properly in taking time out of our busy-ness and distractions in our daily lives.  We go from task to task, chore to chore, distraction to distraction.  We check off our To Do Lists and share stories of how busy are our lives.  We walk around in overwhelm and then try to carry more, to labor harder, to try harder, just a step ahead of that monster called Failure that seems ever ready to condemn us as unworthy, less than.....

  I give thanks to these words Jesus gives us in the value of rest, the necessity of rest, the revitalization we all need and the comforting blanket of warmth we all need to face those cold midnight hours of darkness in our lives.

  And I add my own prayer that we might remember to give as freely as is given to us the welcome of rest, of haven, of sanctuary to those who come to us.  To Point the way as Jesus did to the Giver of these Gifts, the one-ness in God for weary souls, all weary souls everywhere.

  I am mindful that when people come to this country and were made welcome with hospitality by those already occupying this land, our history tells us we did a poor job of returning that welcome hospitality.  What people came here to find freedom from, our history shows us we did not extend these same freedoms to all populations, to all people, to all cultures, to all genders, to all races, to all spiritual belief systems.  In pointing this out, it is my thought we can be reminded for all time that the words of Living Jesus have meaning for us now, in these times and a message of rest, of comfort that is a vastly under-met need across our planet in today's times.

  We are all independently Intra-dependent in our communities and societies as we live in these times of global village.  Jesus asks us to take upon us His yoke and learn from him and describes Himself as gentle and humble in heart.  That in taking on His yoke we may find rest for our souls; that His yoke is easy and His burden light.

  So how does a Yoke work..actually?  I do not have much experience here in tangible examples and found it necessary to learn from others who are more knowledgeable on the subject exactly what a yoke does.   In an example of a yoke for oxen, we see a harness type apparatus that allows the oxen to perform more work than they might of their own accord.  In an example of a person with a yoke on their shoulders, it enables that person to carry 2 buckets of water and we see the person can carry more than they normally or naturally could.  We see a distribution or re-distribution of the weight, of the load that enables us to go Beyond or transcend what would be our own natural limitations.

 In taking on the yoke Jesus speaks of, is there an offer of relief, or rest, of a lighter burden, of opportunity to go beyond our natural, finite human limitations?  Is there a spiritual re-distribution that occurs that defies our limited comprehension?  Is this an offer to enter the Greater Mystery, the place where words are unequal to the concept (a place I call "the place with no words")?  An offer to transcend in the very example Jesus gives us with the Gift of His life and death...where in and of ourselves we can reach our limitations but yoked in God we can enter the mystery of becoming more and part of something greater than we, part of a Wisdom greater than we?   In such a setting is it possible the burden is lighter?  The burden is re-distributed in such a way that we experience new freedoms, new liberties, independence beyond our current knowing of independence.  The burden being re-distributed under the yoke of Jesus gives me an image of hope, of comfort for our weary world in yesterday's time, in today's time and in tomorrow's time.

  I circle back to personal responsibility here.  Jesus asks us to take up his yoke, AFTER he has invited us into rest.  He does not tell us to pick up our own burdens and carry on having rested awhile from the heavy weight.  He asks us to do something Different here, to take on His yoke and Learn from Him.  He does not say to us to keep coping with our life burdens in ways familiar to us; known to us.  He does not say our burdens will be lighter for the rest we have taken from them.  He asks us to do something else:  to take on His yoke and Learn.

   How does one learn?  Learning is different for children than it is for adults.  Likely Gretchen(priest at our church, who teaches young people in public school, can give us many examples of how learning environments differ.  Think for a minute of how as a child you learned, think how you were taught.  Now think for a moment how you learn as an adult and what is needed for an adult to learn.  Think of how differently people lear, how a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for all people at all times.  And does the act of learning also imply entering personal change?  There needs to be a certain open-ness or receptiveness or willingness to learn.  The mind, body and spirit enter into a kind of agreed upon personal contract to get into readiness to learn.  When one learns something it adds to what they were before the learning..they become a bit More for the learning than they were before the learning.

  I have found, Often, in my life-walk that I had to un-learn many things if I was to learn new things.  It is not a steady progression of adding layers of information and knowledge to an existing foundation of knowledge.  It is like a spiral, circling, if you will, in a process that has one touch base with what one has already learned and make some discerning judgements and choices about where to put the new learning in relationshp to that already learned.  One may reject it summarily, out of hand and elect not to assimilate it or attach it at all.  If I say "roses are blue" one knows experientially that roses are not blue and fairly easily reject this information as invalid to their personal experience.

   If I say to a young child still alive with imagination and magical thinking "roses are blue" that child may believe what I have said and may go about looking for blue roses.  That child may share this bit of knowledge with another child, and yet another  and they all may happily go about in quest of a blue rose...even making a game of the quest and alive and in the moment with this fanciful new hunt for blue roses.

   Until an older child or adult tells them there is no such thing as a blue rose.  The child may let the information go without hardship, continue to believe there are blue roses and when she finds one, by golly, she will show that so and so who told her there was no such thing as blue roses.  Or somewhere in between believing and not believing in blue roses.  And what if along the way, some creative person has learned that if you put blue dye in the water, it will color the bloom and indeed one can have or find a blue rose after all! 

   Now this can be explained away in technical and scientific terms and the explainer can take pride in the informational knowledge.  But it the explainer cannot enter the child's wonderworld and share the wonder, share the mystery, share the imagination, share the momentary reality of unreality, the explainer has missed a vital opportunity of learning something new.  There is the "known" body of knowledge and that is all that iw worth knowing and the explainer is right with his world.  But is it not easy to see that something fleeting and fragile was there to be glimpsed in that moment?    A learning opportunity with a different outcome than an already known bit of information being validated as the only correct way to know the experience?

   Jesus had already said in speaking to God, "You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to children."  Another of the verses attributed to Jesus says "You must be like children to enter the kingdom of God"  Continuing on though with the verse from today's gospel, Jesus continues and says "All things have been handed over to me by God and no one knows the me except God and no one knows God except me and anyone I choose to reveal God"

   What kind of mystery is this?  If I go to a literalness, I can tell you all about who, what, where, when and maybe even why Jesus is saying these things.  Essentially he is still teaching the crowds who are hungry to learn, he is referencing the priesthood of the Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees who have been quick to point out how often Jesus has Not taught the people to follow the letter of the Law.  And I can even tell you in a sympathetic and empathetic manner why this priesthood put so much stock in the absoluteness of the letter of the Law, the Torah, the Prophets which was the faith and Law of their ancestors, the Hebrew God of their fathers.

  I can tell you perhaps a bit about why Matthew's account of his experience with Jesus paints the Judaism priesthood in such a seemingly harsh light.  I can give you some history here that spans a 400 year period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginnings of the New Testament and create for you an imagery of perhaps the conditions of the times historical Jesus found during his time on earth.

  I prefer here to circle back to the mystery with canonical Jesus showing us how to use the teachings in today's times.  There will always be hidden things from the wise and intelligent of any time period.  What Jesus asks us to learn from Him must take into account our human-ness, therefore our various learning abilities, our differing time-tables for learning, our multitude of styles for learning, our widely different wirings for learning, our capacity to learn as we age.  What is hidden from one at one period in their life may be know-able at another time in their life.  In a continuum of learning throughout all of our lives, there remains a prism of opportunities to learn anew that which we already know and that which we do not know.  If we choose to shortchange our very self-ness and learn no more, content that what we already know is all we need to know, then indeed, much will remain hidden form the wise and intelligent in each of us, for it seems only the wonderous and imaginative child in each of us remembers how to stay openly receptive to learning new things in new ways.

  Jesus has given us much to consider in the verses read today and invites us to the table with a message of comfort, with a message of challeng, with a message of change, and with a message of connectedness and relationship to know Jesus intimately.  Jesus has said to know Him is to know God, to know God is to know Him.  Jesus has indicated a choosing of whom he will reveal Himself, thus God.  I like to think of this as Inclusive of all, exclusive to none and that God's Wisdom chooses the timetables by when such will be revealed.  I like to think Wisdome knows not all can be receptive but by their life experiences and learning, become receptive at differing times.  I like to think when one closes oneself off, it is not my call, rather it is Jesus call in how and when to reveal the mystery to that one.  I like to think the potential for everyone to enter the mystery of relationship, spiritual oneness, grace, redemption, salvation, incarnation which are but a part of the mystery is ever available, freely given gifts.

  There is no charge, no "what's the catch", no "gotcha", no hidden catches, no small print in the giving of the gifts.  There is personal responsibility that comes along the way and even that has some free agency to it.  In the work that I do, I like to remind myself of this saying and I don't recall who stated it so cannot cite appropriate attribution:
    Change the belief and the behaviour will change;
    Change the behaviour and the belief will change.

I think the gospel reading today has Jesus asking us to do both..change behaviour and change belief and I liek to think Wisdom knows if you change one the other will follow.  I think this a good place to end because I can feel another sermon for another time presenting itself and this sermon has been quite long enough for my first time out, perhaps too long.  Thank you for your patience.

    Amen...peace
 
sermon by Lietta Ruger

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Please visit my sermons, links shown below and to the top left. 
 
 I am studying to become a preacher, eventually this can track into becoming ordained priest within Episcopal diocese.  This is accomodated in what is called a Circle of Ministry setting with others also studying to become preachers or towards ordination.  Part of my study requires that I write and present sermons at our church on periodic Sundays.  
 
 I have posted my sermons on this site to share and for the opportunity of critiques from others who are willing to read them.    If you have taken time to read any, some or all of my sermons, I thank you for spending that time.      
 
  Lietta

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