“I Got a Heck of a Deal” July 5, 2020
“I Got a Heck of a Deal”
Romans 7 & Matthew 11
Huston Smith is a Methodist who has long been an authority on world religions. He was one of many people of many faiths and many countries who were asked to contribute an essay to a book called “How Can I Find God?” In his essay, Smith told this Hindu story.
The disciple said to the master, “How can I find God?” Instead of answering the question, the master led the student down to the river. After staring out over the water a few minutes, the master grabbed the student and pushed his head under the water, holding him there for several minutes while the student struggled to get free. Finally the master let him go and the student emerged from the water sputtering and gasping for air.
After a few minutes, the master smiled and said, “So how did it feel down there?” The student stared angrily at the master and replied. “It was awful. I thought I was going to die.” The Master smiled again and said, “When you want God as much as you wanted air, when you feel like you cannot live without God in your life; then you will find God. Or rather, then you will realize God has already found you.”
The first sentence of Jesus’ address to his disciples just cracks me up: To what will I compare this generation? I mean, really now – when he opens with a statement like that, we know it’s going to be good. (vs 16) It is like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance; we sang a dirge, and you didn’t mourn.” And I’m reminded of the little kid who craves attention; who insists that everyone watch every little thing that they might do. “Look at me, look at me.” However, the generation that Christ speaks of here is not about “these kids nowadays.” He is speaking of the Jewish community of the time: pious people, powerful people; these were folks well versed in the law and the scriptures. They spent their time in the temple, observed the Sabbath, and showed up at all the festivals. Their God had been customized, homogenized, and super-sized and that’s just the way they liked it. Then, speaking again of “this generation,” Jesus comments that John the Baptist came “neither eating not drinking” and they said he was crazy. The son of God came eating and drinking and they called him a glutton and a drunk. What gives here? What gives?
They say the gospel ain’t the gospel until it hits you where you live. You know, I’ve looked at this text over the years from every angle, upside-down and sideways and somehow I was always able to make it about “them guys.” I was always able to distance myself from the “this generation” that Jesus speaks about today. There’s a certain satisfaction in rooting for the home team: “How dare you call John the Baptist a wacko, and what kind of nerve to accuse this, the son of God and son of man, to be a drunk; a glutton, for crying out loud?” It feels good. It feels good, that is, until it doesn’t.
Because, here’s the thing. The point that Jesus is making here is simple, really: people aren’t really serious about finding God. “This generation” that he speaks of wasn’t serious. They performed on the streets, but they weren’t serious. The ones complaining about John and Jesus might swear up and down that they are serious seekers of God, but what they are really looking for is a God made in their own image, not the God in whose image they were made. They’re seeking some kind of religious experience that will fit into their lifestyle, one that suits them; a religious experience they can control and regulate. Meanwhile, the burdens and cares of this world still lay heavy upon our shoulders.
The painter and worship leader Jan Richardson tells a story of a young man in church who has a syndrome that affects his thinking skills. This poses a lot of challenges for him and those around him as he doesn’t always make the best choices. At a recent worship service which celebrated the ordination of one of the new pastors, this young man was one of those who spoke. “It’s sometimes difficult to follow the thread of what he was saying,” she said, “but I found myself struck when he said the new pastor had helped him understand how God wants us to make things easier for ourselves, not harder.” She commented to a friend later that there was something remarkably divine in those disjointed words. “Yeah,” he said, “I’ve learned it’s good to pay attention when he talks. That kind of stuff happens a lot with him.”
Which brings us to the crux of this beautiful gospel message today: (vs. 28) Come to me, all who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for your selves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. And you know, as I read this – as I speak it – I’m reminded of the question that once laid in the back of my head: Why? Why should I want to take on this yoke that Jesus speaks of? I’ve got enough to pack around as it is!
Well, I thank God every day that I was able to answer that question. And it all happened when Jesus offered me a deal. It was a trade, plain and simple – I give him the yoke of sin and regret that I had been packing around most of my adult life, and I take on his. I have to say, I thank God every day that I made that trade because once I did I realized I had been underwater for a long, long time. I thank God every day that carrying the yoke of Christ’s love makes things easier by a long shot. And I thank God that when Jesus offered to me a deal, I took it and never looked back. I got a heck of a deal.
(vs. 28) Come to me, all who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for your selves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.
Amen & Shalom