Sermon delivered at Edmonds Lutheran Church, Edmonds ,WA
This is my last Sunday preaching as a FAN intern. So, that means I’m leaving Washington soon… Which is sad, you know, cuz I’ve made quite a few new friends out here on the west coast.
I made a really nice new one lately. She came as a recommendation from another friend who was a professor of mine at my seminary. This former professor told me when he learned I’d be in Seattle for a year that I should write her an email and meet cuz she lives in Seattle. So, eventually I wrote to her, and we exchanged a few emails, our interests were quite similar, you know, so we said we should meet for lunch.
It wasn’t a date, but, like, we would “do lunch.” She’s an older gal, maybe 60-something, and preferred talking in person, makes sense. So after some hemming and hawing we agree on a place and time and everything. And I take time out of my schedule and I get to the restaurant kinda early and I’m sitting there waiting.
And then I realize, I have no idea what this person looks like… and worse, we forgot to exchange phone numbers… because we were only emailing before. So, I’m sitting a little awkwardly in this empty restaurant in Fremont, in Seattle, waiting for a woman in her 60s; that’s all I know.
I’m hawkishly watching all the people that fit that profile. I’m a little embarrassed, a little worried. It’s getting later and later.
In this story, I am just like Israel and Judah.
This prophecy we’ve heard from the book of Zechariah, this is a description of a future leader, a future savior, that that nations of Israel are waiting for. Zechariah writes words of hope to a war-torn nation, a nation that has lost. The prophet declares that a figure will come, when Zechariah says “O daughter of Zion, daughter of Jerusalem,” that’s nobody else but us. That’s us, the descendants of Abraham, that’s folks who trust in God.
This prophecy describes a particular kind of figure: one who through power and dominion will command peace; one who will travel in old-fashioned ways; on either a donkey or a mule, but certainly not a kingly-horse; one that will be humble, and yet have command and reign over all things—Zechariah says from the River to the ends of the earth.
That is a beautiful description; a hopeful one to be sure. But it’s just as vague as looking for a woman in her 60s.
So, I’m still waiting at the restaurant. And guess what? She actually didn’t come. I waited for like 40 minutes past the time we agreed to meet.
I emailed her a politely disappointed message and left.
This, too, is just how the Judeans and the Israelites were feeling during the time of Jesus of Nazareth: like their king hadn’t shown up!
Do you all remember the bible books called the Maccabees? Those are stories about Jewish rebellions, against foreign powers, Greeks and Romans and other Mediterranean political powers. These were folks who took seriously the warrior image of the messiah or king who was to come, who was talked about in prophecies. Those rebellions eventually failed, and it was a bloody defeat.
And again, during Jesus’ time, Judah was under the Roman-boot again pretty bad. And people felt, I bet, like their lunch date had not shown up.
They still had a pretty good description in their scrolls of Zechariah and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and all that, but they felt more than a little ignored by God, I’m sure.
After I was stood up, we did connect again. She said she had forgotten, was terribly sorry, and we agreed to meet at the same restaurant, same time, etc. So again, I arrive a little early, and again it’s kind of weird. The host says, “One for lunch?” And I say, awkwardly, “Uh.. I’m meeting someone: so, a table for two.” Again, I’m watching hawkishly, even a little peeved, all the 60 year old women walking by, or seated in the restaurant, thinking how the heck am I gonna recognize this person!?
Anyway, I’m sitting there and up comes this pretty tiny, forceful person. Right up to my table, she says, “Joshua? Oh great!” And we’re like hugging already, and I’m somehow already laughing. I haven’t even had a chance to look at her… and she sits and we start talking right away.
The recognition was like immediately. I didn’t have time to interrogate her, like: are you Emily, etc.? It was that we just clicked. So this, too, might be like Israel and Judah in Jesus’ day.
When Jesus says, “this generation” he means that newest generation of Judeans and Israelites—the inheritors of the old prophecies—some of them were Pharisees, or Sadducees, but whoever.
When Jesus says that they are like children in the marketplace, I think he means that although they had expectations, descriptions and prophecies of their coming leader, their coming messiah, no one, really, wanted to trust it had actually come to pass. Or, maybe, more likely, no one could recognize what was happening.
When Jesus says, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” He’s saying, “I come celebrating because God has done just as Zechariah and the others predicted—but you don’t trust me.”
And that would be like me sitting the restaurant, with my lunch-date across from me and I’m still squinting, and looking for another woman in her 60s. Ignoring the one right in front of me.
When John the Baptizer said, “Repent and fast, you’ve all gone astray.” They don’t recognize it, they accused him of being crazy. When Jesus says, “Celebrate now that I am here, come and eat bread with me, drink wine with me.” They don’t recognize what’s going on, they accuse him of being an over-eater or something.
Jesus is saying that “this generation” is only finding fault.
Now, this is not just about Judah and Israel back then. Not at all. Just as Zechariah’s prophecy can relate to Jesus several hundred years after. So does Jesus’ words to the Judeans relate to us.
We get caught up in ways that God is “supposed” to work. And ways that, even though we don’t want to admit it, God is “supposed” look, and places God is “supposed” to be.
Just to name a few things: Lutherans have been very good at painting Jesus’ with white skin… And demanding that hymns sound a particular, European way. And that God is something that happens on Sundays, and only in churches.
But Jesus says he’s revealed who God truly is to infants; to trusting and vulnerable children—in other words: that’s those with no preconceived notions!
And even more, Jesus says he’s truly revealed when we take on his yoke and his burden, when we harness our energy, when we work together with God. Now, “yoke”: that’s an old-fashioned biblical metaphor, but it’s a good one. Jesus doesn’t say, “You’ll know me, you’ll know God, when you put up your feet and take a break.” Jesus is going to put us to work, like oxen harnessed together.
You know, I knew that it was Emily, my new friend, not when I saw her. I didn’t have time to think about her age, or whatever, or examine her. We just started talking! I slipped on her yoke, so-to-speak.
We “know”, with our minds, that God is a peaceful God, like Zechariah says, or that Jesus is supposed to be ‘humble at heart,’ like Matthew says. But we don’t truly know it until God ‘happens’ to us.
Jesus chastises “this generation”, which is really every generation, for willfully choosing not to acknowledge God’s reign. “You heard God playing the flute in the marketplace,” Jesus says. “I know you heard the sad song, and also the happy song. But you looked away and closed your ears.”
Asking that cliché question, Where do you see God in the world…? doesn’t help right now.
The better question is: When do you look away? When do you close your ears?
I think we all know the one place that absolutely no one ever expected to see God, even those closest to Jesus who had heard from his very mouth.
No one expects an executed criminal to be God. No one expects to find God in a tomb…
But that’s the central pillar of our faith! God is in those places; God is there completely.
So, where else could God never possibly be?
Maybe in the boring misfires of state government, when there are threats of government shut-down? Or amidst the millions of wrongfully incarcerated black youth in our country? Can God even be among the privileged, and the comfortably white and numb?
That’s also a cliché; to list these ugly things in our world and beg you to see Jesus face in them. So look: this is really the important thing: I think, like with my new friend, we recognize the reign of God, in those things that are irresistible.
That’s an awkward way to say it, but in those things we can’t but just do.
I couldn’t help but laugh with this amazing little woman, who I knew was my friend before I even knew who she was. It was so remarkable: I just found myself laughing and hugging and recognizing basically a stranger, and one that had already stood me up once! But I couldn’t not do it!
They real question is this: “What can’t you keep from doing?” What—because of your trust that God can be anywhere—can’t you keep from doing?
For me, it has been trying to be a voice for justice and the under-privileged in local politics and policy making. I had always dreamt of being an artist, from since I was very little, until I was in art school, and then when I was painting big old paintings, and selling them in New York City.
But as I got more and more pulled into God, and as I went to seminary discerning a call to ministry, the more I couldn’t keep my nose out of public policy. I had to speak up about injustice as I saw it in our laws and culture.
Nothing would have sounded more unthinkable to a younger me, but as I read scripture more, and discerned what the work of the Holy Spirit is, it was irresistible to live out my values.
I certainly fail, a lot, but I keep trying.
That’s how I got involved in this internship with both a church and a non-profit like FAN.
So, when Jesus says his yoke is easy, and his burden is light—well, he’s saying you’re still going to be carrying something, it’s just that it will feel like nothing.
This might sound bizarre: but the gospel says, Jesus says today: try hard to listen to those flutes playing out in the marketplace, and those who are wailing out there too.
Out in the world: out were money changes hands, out in the chaos of government.
Listen hard to those metaphorical flutes playing both sad, and happy songs. And mark the moments when you just can’t help but dancing, just can’t help but mourning, just can’t keep from working, and doing.
Mark those moments, when God the Holy Spirit, who is your new friend, has come to your table. At those moments, know that God’s reign isn’t on a cloud somewhere, but it has come directly to you.