Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19
Even as I greet you with the pastoral salutation of grace and peace, and yet in the midst of grace and peace, there is a question that comes to us from the Scriptures for the day:
Have you ever been disappointed in yourself and/or in others?
Have you ever felt down? By others, or by life’s events, or even by yourself?
Yet many people remembered the promises God had made hundreds of years earlier. Promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; then later made to Moses and David and Solomon. Israel would be a mighty nation. It would be a light to the nations with peace and prosperity for all. The Messiah would come, the new King David would arrive. Now however, the people found themselves destroyed, defeated, and absolutely discouraged. Those other nations, and the realities of the powers of the Persians, the Babylonians, and more the recently, the Greeks and Romans were overwhelming.
What disappointments. These were letdowns beyond description and belief. How does one deal with such tragedies? Personal, human, national, religious. Yet, the prophet Zechariah speaks in the midst of this, and after this time, and calls the people as being: PRISONERS OF HOPE.
He says: Rejoice anyway. The King is coming.
“But not like the old kings: David and Solomon. This one comes with humility and in peace, victorious, though riding on a donkey.”
Spoken by the Prophet 500 years before Christ; he speaks ahead of his time, looking ahead to the coming of The Messiah Jesus. The Prophet Zechariah is later quoted in Matthew 21 and John 12 of the New Testament.
The servant King comes in peace and hope and resurrected life; healing comes, Death is defeated.
Look up, look ahead, and be lifted up, even on eagles’ wings.
It took a long time for the people to discover, to realize, to know the lift that God gave the world: Jesus as the One who fulfilled expectations, healed disappointment; only this was done in a new and surprising way.
Ever felt let down? Even by yourself? Paul writes: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate!”
Anybody here involved in this way? Yep. Words, deeds, actions, even our own attitudes. We develop bad habits, and they become negative behavior. We hurt when we should help.
We are silent when we should speak up. We speak up when we should just listen. We gripe when we should be grateful, and on it goes.
The Apostle Paul calls all of this Sin. It is ourselves curved in on ourselves. It is not measuring up. It is missing the mark of the targets we aim at. It is self and cosmic failure.
So now, we want to say: “Enough already! I can’t help it. And besides, compared to others, I am not so bad. Besides, you have to realize that she/he hurt me first…”
St. Paul calls all of this: SIN. It dwells within me. It is like a great Civil War on the inside that erupts to the outside. And so St. Paul then writes:
Who is going to help me? Who is going to receive me?
Who will lift my heavy load?
Who will defeat the sin within?
Secret sin? Private sin? Public sin? Corporate and Community sin? Global sin?
Then he writes the Gospel Word: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” And in a couple of verses later: “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”
The answer is to say that we must be honest and realistic. It is true to say:
“The greater one realizes the depth of sin, the more one appreciates the even greater depth of God’s grace”
The load of human sin is heavy and we cannot lift it by ourselves. Only the gift of a lift from the outsides can ease the burdens inside.
This is Gospel and very good news. Therefore, the Scriptures say: We are prisoners of such hope. Therefore, St. Paul also says: Rejoice in Hope.
The Gift of God’s Life is Jesus.
There are now these words before us that Jesus spoke to the crowds: They too are gifts of God’s grace:
“Come to me , all you that are weary and are carry 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 by burden is light.” Verses 28-30
Those trying to do what God’s law requires; those carrying
heavy physical burdens,
Or emotional burdens, spiritual burdens, economic
burdens, relational burdens,
Or even national burdens.
We will be “yoked” together. A yoke involved a wooden cross frame placed over the head and neck to join one creature to another. Usually this was used for animals, oxen more specifically. It was done to provide strength and power, also providing service and perhaps as a symbol of subjugation.
Jesus says: “take my yoke upon you. This is my gift to you:
There are thousands, even millions of refugees in the world today. Most of them need a lift. Can we give them such a gift today? Yes, I think so. Such gift-giving is partly what Lutheran World Relief is all about. Check out LWR on-line and see what you can do. We must always remember that big results often come from little deeds done by common people.
At the end of the Second World War, there were also such countless refugees in Europe. Sonja and I learned to know of two of them. They were brothers, little boys wandering around in Eastern Europe, probably four to six years of age, alone—without parents or family. They were found hungry, without adequate clothing or shelter. They were perhaps from Estonia or Latvia, but without a clear sense of identity. One was carrying the other one on his back and shoulders, lifting each other up.
They were found by Lutheran World Relief caregivers who rescued them, took care of them. They were not Lutheran by religion but they were children in need. These two orphan boys were given the “Gift of a Life”. They were eventually adopted by a Lutheran pastor and his wife from Moorhead, Minnesota. The pastor was the Dean of Academic studies at Concordia College. The boys were named Peter and Thomas. They both graduated from Concordia College and went on to one of our Lutheran Seminaries. Peter was a classmate of mine. He went on to serve as a missionary in Africa, and then later as a pastor in the United States. Thomas serve also as a pastor in the United States, serving Lutheran churches in the Midwest. Each was blessed with marriage and many children.
Now over 50 years have gone by. How many lifts were given to them?? How many gifts did they give to others? God only knows, but they were grateful and so are we.
I have a challenge and an assignment for you this week:
- First, know that you are yoked with Christ. He carries your burden with you.
- Second, lift the burden of someone else, a stranger or a friend. This lift will be a gift to them but also a gift to you.