Service for Sunday 5th July


Opening prayer


Lord, we seek to approach you,
but we forget it is you who first approaches us.
We are the sinners, the tax collectors, the Gentiles of our day;
yet you come to us with your gospel of salvation.
We are the slaves, in thrall to a world of troubles and cares;
yet you come to us and invite us to be yoked to you;
you walk with us and share our burdens.
Lord, we seek to move ever closer to you:
come to meet us, we pray, in our worship.
Amen.


Reading: Matthew 11.16-19,25-30


Sermon


I don’t know how many of you out there have a cat. Those of you that do will know
that they are “independently minded”. If a cat goes into a room of people, there is
probably one person that hates cats and is sitting there with a look of silent terror
as the cat slowly sidles up to them, crouches down then leaps onto their lap, then
curling up and going to sleep.


Then there’s the “play/non play” routine whereby the cat attacks your foot in order
to get you to play, You go over to where her special fishing rod is kept. It’s a rod
with a piece of string with a catnip mouse on the end. After one desultory swipe,
the cat stalks off, with her tail in the air. The word Contrary comes to mind.
There are some people who, whatever you do it’s wrong. It’s too hot or too cold, or
the tea is too strong or too much milk, or too little. There’s something about this in
the Gospel reading.

The reading is split into two parts. The first refers to this generation – in other
words the people – who are said to be like some kind of children’s game which
involves a taunting song, “We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we
wailed and you did not mourn”. In other words, some flute players and melancholy
singers played and then wailed, but the audience just did not engage with them at
all.


So which set of people are “this generation”? Are they the performers? Or the
audience that are indifferent to both the upbeat and wailing performances – the
people who would neither dance nor mourn? Of course they are being likened with
the latter. Jesus is telling his audience that they neither engaged with John the
Baptist, nor with himself, despite their contrasting styles.


John the Baptist could be described as the wailer. He was ascetic – dressed
roughly and, as Matthew described him, “neither eating nor drinking”. His was a
mournful style. But the people would neither repent nor mourn, instead accusing
him of being possessed by a demon.

Jesus, in contrast was the flute player. He brought merriment. His promise was a
Kingdom full of joy. He was the bringer of healing and hope. But “this generation”
accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. He associated with tax-collectors
and sinners. They stayed glued to their seats refusing to dance.


So was it that “this generation” did not want to respond? After all, they had been
given every opportunity to respond, yet they did not. Given that they did not
engage with either, whether it was their theology or their style, they thought it wise
to hold back. But who is wise? Is it the person who has pre-conceived ideas about
how God’s salvation is to be packaged? Or is it the person who sees what is really
going on, that the blind receive their sight, that the people with leprosy are
healed? So this is a natural leap to the second part of the reading, where we have
another contrast, between the wise and babies. Now we know that youngsters are
more disposed to take things at face value – it’s only with age that scepticism and
cynicism creep in. So it is for those with the presumed wisdom, the Pharisees and
scribes, the rich, the intelligent and learned, the salvation is denied them whereas
those who are babies in spiritual terms, the lowly, the poor and the weak – God’s
salvation has been revealed to them and it is for this that Jesus gives thanks.
On one level, this might seem rather odd. But really it’s about how the Gospel is
received.


Firstly, Jesus gives thanks that the gospel is well received amongst the lowly and
those in need – those he calls the “infants”. There is something about being in
need and knowing it – about realising that one cannot rely on one’s own strength
alone that means that such people are open to the message of God’s grace.
Secondly, Jesus’ prayer acknowledges the fact that, although the gospel is given
freely to all, the reality is that there are those who consider themselves as wise
and not in need of the salvation that God provides through him. It’s hard to receive
the message of Christ from a position of power. In a sense it remains hidden from
them as unacceptable, but really it’s those who are humble enough to receive the
good news that will accept it. And thirdly, despite the scorn that the powerful and
so-called wise may pour over Jesus’ mission to the weak and helpless, ultimately,
this is the nature of God. Human rejection of the gospel cannot overturn God’s
merciful will.


Those who do come to Christ are promised that their heavy burdens and
weariness can be cast upon him and they are promised rest. But this rest is not
that on the comfort of a bed at Premier Inn that guarantees a perfect night’s sleep.
What Jesus promises is a yoke. Odd, because isn’t a yoke a thing that an oxen
wears when pulling a cart or plough? Now the yoke was a symbol in Judaism of
the law and wisdom of God. So here it symbolises obedience to the
commandments of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s about being willing to serve others
with humility and mercy. This yoke is easy and the burden is light, not because life
is made easy – rather the reverse, it might even involve the picking up of a cross -
but because it is the way of God and if it is the way of God, then it is satisfying for
our soul.


There are many for whom this message is not what they want to hear. Maybe they
are “this generation” and perversely walk away from the Good News that is Jesus
Christ. Yet for those who do, who choose to serve alongside Christ in the name of
God, they will ultimately hear the divine word of blessing , “Well done good and
faithful servant”.

Prayers


A prayer of praise
Praise be for the wisdom of the child;
for the arrow of enlightenment that pierces our dark adult thoughts.
Praise be for the innocence of infants;
for the word of simple truth that confounds our complex thinking.
Thank you, Lord God,
for revealing your meaning to those without pride or guile.
Lord, grant us the trust of a child.
Amen.

A personal prayer


Lord, let me be yoked to you.
In all I say and do, be there with me.
Lord, let me be yoked to you.
Help me carry my load, share my burden.
Lord, let me be yoked to you.
Let me rest in your strength, until my labour is through.
Amen.


Prayers © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2020.
Reproduced with permission.

'Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.' John 14 v 27