Saturday, July 19, 2008

Had lots of fun at the Children's Centre fun morning this morning... all VVVV tired now! Had a great email from someone just now which has made my day (if you are reading!).

Here is a sermon from a couple of weeks ago based on Matthew 11:25-end (I think!)

I really wonder what people who pass our churches on Sundays without ever entering, make of us at the moment. If they even care, I wonder what they make of the very public slagging off going on over women bishops, or the questioning of the authority of the Archbishop, or the recent gathering of conservative Anglicans as the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem, but for some of us on the inside of the church's doors it feels like these banner headlines are shrouding the message that Jesus came to share. But friends, this is nothing new - it has ever been thus. People listened to the good news of God's love for us, or they didn't. This morning's Gospel reading picks up on this age old predicament.

Jesus, the master of using the world around him, illustrates his point in this morning's Gospel reading with the equivalent of a children's playground song - we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn. John, he says, came living a hard lifestyle – not eating or drinking, with a message of judgement, and calling people to change. I came, he said, eating and drinking and offering a life filled with notes of joy and grace, and calling people to change – and in some cases the perceptions of others meant that the central message of both John and me got summarily ignored.
Yet it seems that those who reject and those who accept seem to have missed the point. Why accept or reject either message – is one too hard on people, too judgemental? Is one too soft, too light on judgement for sin? We'll never know. Either way, Jesus goes on to infer that both accepters and rejectors make the message of the Gospel more complicated than it needs to be.

The former bishop of Sheffield was once asked to sum up the gospel message – in his bluff northern accent he replied, certainly with a smile, “go tell 'em the love of God. This it seems to me is Jesus' point – hearing and understanding God's message through John or Jesus is not down to how much you know or don't know. It is about the gracious will of God revealing his love to each of us.

The good news that God graciously reveals is very contemporary. God, in Jesus promises rest to all who come to him. Throughout the Bible, this promised rest is associated with God’s presence and living his way.

Jesus says that rest cannot come paradoxically without taking on a yoke. Yokes were used in biblical times and in traditional communities today on animals or people when working often on the land. Yoked people and animals were done so in pairs – double the work, double the efficiency. It was hard work working in a yoked pair – who had no freedom, they were sent in a particular way or route and stopped and started work when they were told. They couldn't flag as when one worked, they both did. Ho many of us find ourselves yoked in this way to lifestyles, jobs, or habits or even to the expectations of others or of society.

Jesus’ yoke couldn't be more different, as through it, he offers freedom, peace and rest. Whilst some saw John's message too much like a traditional yoke – restraining and difficult to bear, and others saw Jesus' “love is all you need” too easy, here he clarifies what God means.

The yoke that God offers us in Jesus is a light burden because we do not carry it alone. When we can't carry it's weight – he does. He helps to meet the demands of the yoke to love God with all that we are and our neighbour as ourselves. Love is a gentle yoke, not burdensome or wearying, but light, easy and pleasant. Love is a cross shaped yoke which draws in and supports another person. Love is a cross shaped yoke because it cancels out the demands of the 'I' and instead focusses on the 'we.' Through the yoke of the cross God couples himself to each of us and asks that we work in partnership with him in revealing the truth of the gospel.

It is all too easy to judge the church at the moment through banner headlines and soundbites and well argued theological principals. It is all too easy to make decisions about whether what is being said in the name of God and his church is too harsh or too lenient and light based on what we hear.

Jesus says this morning, don't judge the message until you have lived it. In living it you will discover that loving God and others is not as easy as it sounds, but the god news is, when it get's hard and it does, let's do it together. Amen.

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