What are you doing with your burdens, O Prisoners of Hope?

Proper 9A, 2020: Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson, Texas.

Why, yes — Jesus, we are weary and burdened. And do I need to explain to any living person what I mean by that right now?

Jesus says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 

In the context of the Gospel of Matthew, he is speaking to those outside of his circle: the scribes and the Pharisees. For “they bind heavy burdens” (23:4) in their approach to the law. Jesus summarized the law and said: Love God, love neighbor (22:37-39).

We can hear that message and we can add to it: comfort and instruction in our very present context to address our weariness and burdens. For our sacred texts are living and life-giving texts.

So, yes — Jesus! Pastor, Teacher, and Good Shepherd, we are ready to sit at your feet and learn from you. As we do, an important question emerges: 

What are we doing with our burdens?

Bearing a Heavy Weight Together http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?R

What are we doing with all those burdens that generate so many feelings and anxieties?

For some of us, we externalize our emotions — we don’t hold them back and everyone knows how we are feeling. For others of us, we internalize our feelings — we turn inward with them and attempt to bury them.

For all of us, we need to be asking: are our behaviors and coping mechanisms … helping us or harming us? Helping others or harming others?[1]

It’s that third glass of wine.

It’s that rude comment to someone in the store who is just doing their job.

It’s the all caps and too many exclamation points in an email or a social media post.

These are the small, every-day things that begin to sink into hearts … begin to create paths toward despair.

And then there are the dramatic events we’ve seen on social media this week in which some are dangerously working out their pain, fear, and hate on others.

It’s exhausting to experience.

It’s exhausting to watch.

Yes, Lord. We are weary!

And he says: Come to me.

We say YES … well, but maybe later.

Because I know that it will require some change on my part. It will require letting go of some things that I don’t want to let go of yet. I may require me to let go of thoughts and behaviors that I learned from people who I love. And what does that mean?

It is vulnerable and scary thing to begin to ask: who am I if I don’t do this? Who am I if I don’t think that? And this is where one can get stuck.

But to let go of the pain and fear, feelings of not being enough, and the disdain we feel for parts of ourselves and for others — can lead one to transformation! It can lead to new identities.

And here’s a wonderful, life-giving connection with the reading from Zechariah. He is speaking to the ancient Israelites in Babylon. They are captives of the Babylonian Empire. And isn’t that exhausting? And isn’t that burdensome? So much so, that the ancient Israelites are at risk of forgetting who they are.

Zechariah reminds them who they are: they are children of God (9:9), the God who ends war and brings peace. The God who — in this wonderful imagery offered by Zechariah — cuts off the chariot from the war horse, because those are for war. This God brings peace to the nations (9:10)! 

And you? You are not prisoners of Babylon, but you are prisoners of hope (9:12)![2]

That’s who we are! Prisoners of hope!

As weary and burdened as we are with COVID and all the things I don’t even need to list for you!

Remember your identity: we are prisoners of hope … because we are the people of God.

And Jesus says come to me and learn from me.

We don’t turn to Jesus because he’s our last hope. 

We turn to him because he is our first hope and our last hope. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end!

And following his way of love is the only hope we have for this sin-sick and COVID-sick world we live in.

There’s a story of a grandfather and a grandson:[3]

The grandfather says to his grandson:

There is a fight going on inside of me. It is a fight between two wolves. One is evil — he is anger, envy, hate, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside of you, and in everyone.

The grandson thought about this and asked: Which wolf will win?

The grandfather replied: The one you feed.

We are not puppets on a string. We are frail human beings. God gave us free will … to choose.

During this time of heightened stress, pandemic, and fear,

Which wolf will you feed?

Will you ask the questions: does this help you or harm you? Does this help others or harm others?

What will you do with your burdens?

Jesus, the giver of grace, says: Come to me and learn from me. And you will find rest.

Prisoners of hope, children of God, take your burdens to Jesus.

+++


The video version of this sermon can be found here, at approximately at 12:55.

COVID-19 Mental Health Support Hotline: https://files.constantcontact.com/8f1dee88001/d0a7b37e-45a2-4d63-aec6-ca2dd9aefb03.pdf

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/health/resilience-trauma-emdr-treatment.html?referringSource=articleShare&fbclid=IwAR3Dtd8AmRCRNxZzUnJxsyrihqXcdWQzF8jJ-qgVZx45w4MZonv96kghC3c

“… ask ourselves a question with each decision we make: “Is this helping me or harming me?” That third glass of wine: Does it help or harm? How about continuing to scroll through the news and social media? Going for a walk? The question is a simple framework within which to take better care of ourselves. Small changes in our mind-sets and our choices can add up to increased resilience. ‘There’s nothing magical about this work,’ Dr. Reivich said. ‘It’s hard work.’”

[2] Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave podcast #732: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.

[3] https://medium.com/a-moment-in-history/a-quote-from-sitting-bull-7c5f7b9892b3

Bearing a Heavy Weight Together

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