September 17, 2017
I ran across a quote this week that really had me thinking. Someone named Craig Hamilton said, “it is possible to come into such profound alignment with the moral and spiritual axis of the universe that every moment of your life is a walk in grace and that you know without any doubt that you are in the right place at the right time.” I wonder how many of us have truly felt what Mr. Hamilton describes, and for those who have felt it, I wonder how deeply you desire to feel it again. I consider myself fortunate to know one person who has always modeled this for me, my step-father Tom Smith. Every day for him is full of gratitude and grace and it is a beautiful thing to witness. It encourages the rest of us.
I also know that life can have this way of taking the wind out of our sails, leaving us in a state of feeling trapped. And when we feel trapped, it seems, we only want what we used to have, no matter how bad that was. It is as though we forget how it really was, and when this happens you can forget even trying to move forward, because the only goal it seems is to just go back to what used to be because at least that was known.
Manchester by the Sea
At the beginning of this summer Amy & I made spending time together a priority and one of the things we did was add a bunch of movies to our Amazon Que so that we could watch them together. Each movie we watched was beautiful in its own way, and I believe all of them left us crying. By the way, if any of you are ever looking for a good cleansing cry then just ask Amy for the titles to some of these movies because they sure did open our floodgates.
Now one movie, Manchester By the Sea, was brutal and beautiful at the same time. It depicts the story of a man who was totally collapsed from trauma and simply could not re-enter life fully again. This man, Lee Chandler, is a broken man to say the least, and rather sadly he never experiences the full redemption that is possible, and while this might upset some people, the fact of the matter is that not everyone in life does experience full redemption, which should upset us. Unfortunately, people live alone, isolated, and beaten down, and sadly most of society is either too busy or too distracted or worse too apathetic to get involved. I, for one, truly believe we would all be better if we got involved.
Now, throughout this entire movie, Lee is hollowed out and collapsed, shoulders hunched, as though he is doing everything he can to protect his heart from further pain. This is a movie of an “everyman” whose tragedy and sorrow are bigger than his ability to cope, especially when he thinks he must cope alone. Lee’s wounds and heartache are all seen through details of his earlier lived trauma which has lead him to this place where he does not want to talk to people. Where he is now, simply, tragically existing, often without emotion and always not wanting to feel anything. This lived trauma happened years earlier, but Lee stop living and stopped experiencing life because of it, even to the point where late in the movie when you might think there is some light breaking through this dim existence, you hear Lee say, “I just can’t beat it!”
Now he is not talking about drugs or alcohol or any other kind of addiction in the way we understand addictions today. When Lee says he can’t beat it he is talking about the haunting memory of the night his house burned to the ground and his children died and his belief that it was all his fault. Lee became enslaved to his memory and his pain and no one and nothing could deliver him from it.
Exodus and its Themes
If you were here last week, or if you happened to read or listen to my sermon from last week, you know that we began talking about the Exodus story and its theme of Deliverance. You may even recall me saying that the Exodus, the great journey of the Hebrew people out of slavery and finally into the Promised Land, is an archetype of the interior spiritual journey from entrapment to liberation. It is, I believe, the universal story.
Today we continue that discussion and as we travel through the Book of Exodus over the next couple of weeks we will continue to discuss ways in which God seeks to Deliver God’s people from bondage, oppression and slavery. So, keeping the theme of deliverance and liberation at the forefront of our minds, I want us to read today’s passage from the mindset of the Israelites. In reading it this way it is my hope that we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for all the ways they were needing God to deliver them. And then maybe, just maybe, we will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for all of the ways we ourselves need to be set free.
Being Set Free?
As Theologian Rob Bell says, “it is stories like these, found in the Bible, that have the power to transform the way you think and feel about everything.” It seems, though, that this power is only unleashed on those who get out of their own way and let stories like the Israelites deliverance wash over them and lead them to better understand themselves and their own need for deliverance. Make no mistake, you may not literally be a slave to an Egyptian Pharaoh, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know what it is like to be enslaved.
Physical bondage was only one aspect of the Israelites lives needing deliverance. You all know this story backwards and forwards I suspect and because you know the story so well, you know their story of deliverance is the same today and will be the same tomorrow. I wonder, though, how many ways you think the Israelites were captive and who was holding them in such a captive, oppressed state? Was their situation only about physical slavery? Was Pharaoh solely responsible for their enslavement?
Before we can answer that question we probably need to look at a few verses before verse 19, so listen now to verses 11-12, “11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
What is wrong with you Moses, can’t you see that we can’t beat this?
I have Mark Ashworth to thank for pointing something out to me about this story. This past Wednesday evening he and I were discussing where I was headed with my sermon and he said, “isn’t it amazing to think that by this point in their journey, they were no longer slaves in Egypt, yet they remained enslaved.” You see, physical slavery was only part of their enslaved life, for no longer were they physical slaves to Pharaoh, yet they wanted to go back to that life. How can that be? Why would anyone, once a slave and now free, desire to return to being a slave? Now I do not profess to know all of the reasons why, but I do believe the mind of a human being can serve to oppress and enslave us just like an actual slave master does.
At this point in the story, the Israelites no longer needed physical freedom, they needed freedom from the oppression of their minds. They needed to be delivered from the stronghold known as fear because fear had overtaken them as they journeyed in the wilderness. They needed to be delivered from their desire to return to the life they knew, because theirs was a desire for the familiar, not for freedom. Where their minds desired to trap them in the past, God desired to deliver them into a free future.
Father Richard Rohr says, “We get trapped in chains of guilt and low self-esteem…” and I believe he is right. It seems we get trapped there instead of reaching forward and embracing our own deliverance. We need always to remember that our job is to love others the way God has loved us. I believe most of us here have experienced God’s unearned love again and again. I believe most of us can say that God has persistently broken the rules to love us at the level we needed. God has persistently broken the rules to love us in a way we could receive. God has persistently broken the rules to love us in a way that we could understand. This is the reason each and every one of us can say the generous selfless nature of divine love keeps liberating us at deeper levels where we find ourselves still trapped.
FBC Jamestown’s History
Over the past few months, but especially this past week, I’ve taken some time to read about the history of our church, and this week in particular something stood out to me. Almost twenty years ago the wonderful people of this Church dedicated time to begin brainstorming about the church and what they would like to see. I want you to hear some of the things said:
Taking this small amount of time and dedicating it to reading about a portion of our Church’s history opened my eyes to many things, but one thing stuck out to me more than anything else this Church has been talking about the same issues for approximately twenty years. Now I’m not exactly sure why these issues have stayed around for so long, but isn’t it telling to discover that they have? At what point will we work through these issues and come out on the other side? Is there more that needs to be discussed about any of these issues before action can be taken? The kind of action that moves the church forward.
These are serious questions which deserve serious discussion and resolution, if this Church no longer desires to be enslaved to its past. Do you see that? For almost twenty years when it comes to certain issues the past has defined our present. I for one say no more. Today needs to be a new day. Today needs to be the first day of the new First Baptist Church of Jamestown, a church delivered from its slavery. A church liberated to become a community living out of its imagination.
Do any of us know for sure where we will go once we are freed from the bondage? The short answer is no, but don’t let our inability to know beforehand continue starve us from the mystery that is life.
Don’t let our inability to know everything about the future enslave us to the past.
Don’t let our inability to know beforehand lead us to only desire returning to our past.
Don’t let our inability to know all the details of the future deprive us from the joy that always comes when we experience the Grace & Mercy inherent in Deliverance.
Not knowing where we are going is not a death sentence, but continuing to be slaves to the ways things used to be done, or choosing not to participate in moving forward; or believing your only option is to return to your former enslavement, can be. The Israelites were furious with Moses as they journeyed through the wilderness. [vv. 11-12] “What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians.” The Israelites didn’t need God to deliver them from physical slavery, they needed God to deliver them from their own mental enslavement, and there are times we do to.
So, the question for us is this, how are we going to get out of Egypt this year? God’s Grace and Mercy can deliver us. It is part of the universal story. No one ever said it would be easy, no one ever promised that we would know exactly what the future looked like before we arrived, but that should not keep us trapped. The Good news is that we don’t have to face it alone. We have each other, and unlike Lee Chandler, I truly believe we can beat today’s entrapment that has been caused by yesterday’s memories. In a recent article, my friend Dr. Bill Wilson of the Center for Healthy Churches asked churches this question, “will your life together be primarily shaped by your MEMORIES or by your IMAGINATION? ... Neither can exist in an appropriate way without the other.
However, the default position of the vast majority of congregations and parishes is to lean most heavily upon the familiar, the known, the former. Our imaginations grow weak from lack of use as we loop repeatedly back to what is comfortable and predictable.”
It is my prayer that we stop looping, so:
May we start living primarily out of our imagination;
May we pay homage to the memories and traditions without being trapped and enslaved by them; and
May we start the journey toward freedom knowing that God’s Grace & Mercy will be there to deliver us each and every step of the way!
September 10, 2017
As I sat with this text this week, I wondered what part of the story would eventually call me and as I do each week I asked questions like, “what part of this story wants to be shared through me?” While some weeks that question is answered early on, there are others where this question lingers for a while. Well this time the question lingered, but then it came to me, and I couldn’t believe it took so long. Right there, central to this story, is the sharing of food. The building of community by and through food and the call to celebrate all that God has done while remembering what you had been through to get here.
As you know by now, the power Food can have on our Faith is an important concept to me, so when this part of the story started speaking to me I began thinking about all of the traditions in my own life, and the celebrations involving food.
Rather quickly, I thought about November of 1996 when I sat down for my annual Thanksgiving meal with people who were not part of my family. Although Amy and I had been dating for a couple of years at that point, my playing soccer in college prevented me from being able to join her and her family while still in college. Now that my soccer career was over we were able to begin new traditions for ourselves, and eating our Thanksgiving meal with her family has been our tradition ever since 1996.
Now, unfortunately, Amy didn’t tell me about family specific dishes served at this meal before we sat down to eat. So as luck would have it, as I am sitting and starting to take my first bite, all eyes seemed to turn toward me and then I heard her mom say, “I see that you didn’t get any banana salad…” to which I responded, “Ma’am?” Now, I knew there was a dish on the counter with all the other dishes that I chose to refrain from trying as I went through the line and loaded my plate. The thing is, I had no idea what it was when I looked at it and even though I was not as picky as I was in my youth, I remember thinking it didn’t look as good as everything else. Not to mention my plate was already overflowing.
Then Bobbie question the absence of this dish on my plate, but even knowing the name, “banana salad” didn’t help me have a clue about what it was. Well evidently, this is a dish that is a Queen Family tradition and so like many family traditions, when a potential new member of the family shows up, they want to see if he/she will join in the tradition.
Now, perhaps I didn’t pick up on the cues of how important this Banana Salad was to Mike, Bobbie and Brett, but I do recall Amy boldly saying, I don’t know why Jason has to try it… I don’t like it. Nonetheless, when the boyfriend is still a boyfriend, he will, or should, be open enough to try and embrace the unique traditions of the family of the one he loves, so I excused myself from the table only to return a few seconds later with a spoonful of this stuff on my plate.
With all eyes turned toward me again, I took a spoonful of banana salad and put it in my mouth. I proceeded to chew and chew and after swallowing, let fly a saying that I had not previously known was unique to the Knight Family, “WOW… THAT STUFF IS NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION!” Maybe for a brief moment I thought I was with my family, because I was laughing like normal when I looked up and saw the look on Bobbie’s face. Lets just say, she was not laughing, and truth be told she was hurt by my comment and it didn’t matter if I meant it as a joke or not. In fact, some 21 years later, the Queens, but especially Bobbie, remembers me saying that about the Banana Salad.
While we can all, hopefully, look back on that day and laugh a little, this happening in my life has served to reveal something else about celebrations and rituals and food. For one thing, they seem to go hand and hand. When I think about our various family holidays and traditions, it doesn’t take me long to think about the presence of food. Whether its Turkey, stuffing and the infamous Banana Salad at Thanksgiving with Amy’s family, or the entirely new, never before tried recipes of Christmas Eve at my Mom’s house, food is a critical part of my family celebrations, and I have to believe it is for you too. In many ways, I believe, the celebration/ritual itself would be different if food were not a part of these celebrations.
As one scholar has said, “There is something about eating together—something about the gathering and preparing, the seeing and sharing, something about the bounty of the table that makes us pause, reflect, remember, and tell. Special occasions call for special food and special people, friends and family; special occasions with special food and people call for those special stories that make the circle whole...”
Something else occurred to me as I’ve reflected on this experience, food has the power to tell a story, and when that food is a critical part of traditions and celebrations, the story can connect people to their past and inform their future. But only if the story is shared. Which brings us to this week’s passage.
At the outset, this passage concerns food, memory and celebration. This passage reflects on the Jewish tradition of gathering certain people together to eat certain foods and to worship God. And while Christianity claims another instance of gathering people to consume certain items in worship, this type of celebration is firmly rooted in Judaism. More than that, though, I wonder if we Christians might find the courage to learn something about the significance and meaning of this Passover meal, both to those early Jews and to Jews of today. And if we summon such courage, then maybe we will begin to better incorporate the worship of God in our own food centered celebrations.
To do this, I believe we must first know that the Passover was, and is, the central celebration of the Hebrew faith. This is why the details, which first served to protect the people, but would later serve as a reminder, are so important. Without the details, this celebration would lack the depth necessary to comprehend why it remains the central celebration for Jews each and every year it is celebrated. In order to understand the reason for celebration it is critical to first know that Exodus as a whole is a story of Liberation. A story of God hearing and responding to the call of an oppressed people, God’s people, crying out for freedom. A story of God’s love that sets people free.
I have never had the privilege of attending a Jewish Passover meal, but I hope one day I will be able to do so. As I understand it, each and every year, in response to God’s command that this meal be celebrated down through the generations, Jewish families come together for a time of great joy and celebration to share a meal that is festive, biblically focused, and God-honoring. Everything about the meal has profound meaning.
As I’ve come to understand, at Passover, the youngest son rises and asks, “Why is this night special (or different) from all other nights?” What is commemorated is the climax of the plagues in Egypt and Israel’s deliverance to freedom. From all I hear the food is delicious but it s also richly symbolic.
Bitter herbs to remind them of Israel’s suffering.
Harosset to remind them of the mortar they used as slaves.
Matzot or unleavened bread to remind them how they left in a hurry.
And of course a bit of lamb, remembering the blood and sacrifice.
You see, the eating of these particular foods is critically important, if one of the goals is remembrance. These foods are the reminder that you were once a slave, but God ultimately protected & liberated you from that bondage. And it is that liberation that allows for celebration. It is that new beginning that comes each and every year that allows for celebration and giving of thanks to God who was there all along and freed God’s people.
One of the great themes of the Bible, which begins in the Hebrew Scriptures and is continued in Jesus, is the preferential option for the poor, or the bias from the bottom. About 1200 years before Christ, Israel was at the bottom, an enslaved people in Egypt. The Exodus, the great journey of the Hebrew people out of slavery and finally into the Promised Land, is an archetype of the interior spiritual journey from entrapment to liberation. It is the universal story.
Liberation theology focuses on freeing people from religious, political, social, and economic oppression. It goes beyond just trying to free individuals from their own particular “naughty behaviors,” which is what sin has seemed to mean to most Christian people in our individualistic culture.
Liberation theology, instead of legitimating the status quo, tries to read reality, history, and the Bible not from the side of the powerful, but from the side of the pain. Its beginning point is not sin management, but “Where is the suffering?” This makes all the difference in how we read the Bible.
God sees all the many kinds of suffering in the world. The world tends to define poverty and riches simply in terms of economics. But poverty has many faces—weakness, dependence, or humiliation. Essentially, poverty is a lack of means to accomplish what one desires, be it lack of money, relationships, influence, power, intellectual ability, physical strength, freedom, or dignity. Scriptures promise that God will take care of such people, because they know they have to rely on God.
This passage is about freedom from slavery.
It’s about new beginnings.
It’s about leaving your old bound self behind.
And the sharing of food is at the center of it all.
The sharing of specific food that comes from a specific family tradition, but connects all families.
The sharing that tells a story about who your ancestors were and whose shoulders you now stand as you dream about a future where you are free to be who God intended.
The kind of sharing that begins with a question that surely leads to others…
Tell me again, won’t you, why this night is special (or different) from all other nights?
Please tell me again why this particular food is so important?
You see, its stories like these, its traditions like these, that will link us to our past. Its stories like these and traditions like these that help us understand a little bit more about who we are. And its stories like these and traditions like these that carry forth God’s promise of Liberation to God’s people.
So, as I think about food and memory and celebrations I have begun to wonder what First Baptist Church of Jamestown might look like if we became a Christian community that took seriously this call to celebrate by sharing a meal that is festive, biblically focused, and God-honoring. A meal that reaches beyond our family and touches those outside our family. What might we look like?
Dear God, it is my heartfelt prayer, that we find out.
 Steagald, Thomas R., The Way to a Nation’s Heart, ministrymatters.com
 Rohr, Richard, Roots of Liberation
Hidden in Plain View
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
July 30, 2017
Some years ago, a book titled Heaven is for Real hit the bookshelves. This book was such a hit that it later became a movie, which is a testament to the books popularity. Maybe even some of you here today read it, but for those who didn’t I want to tell you a bit about this non-fiction story. The entire book centers on the Burpo family, and in particular 4 year old Colton who claims to have visited Heaven while having emergency surgery. Once he recovered from this surgery, Colton begins telling his parents about watching the Dr. operate and seeing his Mom praying and his dad praying. He then tells about meeting his great grandfather, who died years before Colton was born, and about meeting his unborn sister who passed due to a miscarriage. 4 year old Colton even gives a detailed physical description of Jesus who he claims to have met and talked with during his time in Heaven. Colton goes as far as to provide a very detailed account of the horse he says Jesus rides in Heaven.
At that time, Colton’s Dad, Todd Burpo, was a part-time minister of a struggling church. Once all of this happens, Todd chooses to preach about all of his son’s heavenly experiences. Ultimately, some years later, Todd struck a deal for the publication of a book he authored titled Heaven is For Real. His book was so well received that he later turn that success into a movie deal with Sony Pictures, resulting in the April 2014 box office release of the movie by the same name. Not only was the Burpo story incredibly successful, both at the bookstores and at the box office, Heaven is For Real lead the way for other stories of people going to Heaven and coming back. For awhile during this period of time, stories such as these were a mainstay on all best seller lists.
Now, whether or not you believe there is any truth to the Burpo’s story, or any of the other Heaven experience stories written and published during that period of time, there is something I find a lot more interesting about the whole phenomena… a large percentage of people really want to know what Heaven is like. Whether they simply want to confirm their own previously held beliefs, or just want to satisfy some particular curiosity, the incredible popularity of the Heaven is For Real empire can leave no doubt people really do want a more concrete understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven. Which leads me to ask… whatever happened to mystery? Are we so scared of mystery that we are willing to cling to the claims of a 4 year old, or that 4 year old’s dad? And finally, what is it about Heaven that makes us act this way?
For the past couple of weeks we have been traveling through Matthew’s Gospel where he is telling of the ways Jesus was teaching the crowds about the Kingdom of Heaven. As we discussed, Jesus’ preferred method of teaching was through the use of parables, or stories where something fictitious is used to represent something that is real. So two weeks ago we read about Jesus teaching that the Kingdom was like a selfless extravagant sower who lovingly went about sowing seed everywhere, that story is better known as the Parable of the Sower. Last week we discussed Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom could be compared to a place where everything, both good and bad, could grow and mature together. Now here we find ourselves reading in quick succession five new and different ways Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven. These five parables come so fast, and unlike last week’s parable, there is no explanation as to their meaning leaving us feeling like we have been caught in a bit of a whirlwind.
Here, in these Parable, Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like:
I can get so wrapped up in this quest to get it right because I have never wanted to give the wrong answer to anything. For as long as I can remember I desperately want to know the correct answer to whatever question is being asked. Or be someone who knows information about whatever topic is being discussed. It makes me feel like I belong, or that I’m respected. There is at first some level of excitement to it all. You know, that same sort of excitement you feel when you are searching for something lost, or hidden. There is an adrenaline rush that can seduce all of us, which to some extent explains why people continue to search for hidden treasures all around the world. “It is the stuff legends are made of, right? The sunken treasure, the secret knowledge, the long-lost masterpiece gathering dust in the attic-suddenly discovered, suddenly found ...”
There is another aspect of this hunt that can creep in and destroy my excitement though and that is the proposition of not finding what I’m searching for… not discovering the right answer. In fact, when faced with the proposition of being questioned about my knowledge, there have been times when my levels of stress have become so great that I begin to wonder how much more I can take. The funny thing is, it is in those moments that I become so thankful for my experiences with hypnosis, meditation and contemplation. You see, it is those moments of stress that help me to recall that part of my life’s experience and when I do I can begin to find a bit of peace and quiet and with that peace and quiet I can start to find some clarity. When I remove myself from the pressure cooker of feeling like a Jeopardy game show contestant, then I somehow become free to explore the mystery in front of me instead of living as though the mystery has to be figured out, or understood.
Getting to this place of free exploration of mystery, especially with all of these parables, allows me to see something I couldn’t when I was on the quest to figure them out. The thing is, the parables themselves never changed, yet it took me having a new mindset to see what was there the whole time. It was only in this new space that I can notice something that has been hidden in plain view… Jesus never once said the Kingdom of Heaven is like this OR like that.
All told, in a span of three weeks we have read seven different ways Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven and never once did he say it was either like an extravagant sower or a hidden treasure. Never once did he say the Kingdom of Heaven was either like a mustard seed or like yeast. Our quest to find the right answer to this question will only lead us into a state of frustration because the truth as told by Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven is a whole lot of things.
Father Richard Rohr would call this realization an alternative consciousness which he says, “is largely letting go of [the] mind’s need to solve problems, to fix people, to fix myself, to rearrange the moment because it is not to my liking. When that mind goes, another, non-dualistic mind is already there waiting. We realize it is actually our natural way of seeing. It’s the way we thought as children before we started judging and analyzing and distinguishing things one from another.” It’s the way we saw before we decided it was our responsibility to figure everything out. And here’s the thing, this alternative consciousness is not about discovering something new about ourselves, it is actually a long and sometimes painful return to realizing what has always been.
It is this very freedom to see what has been there all along, see what has been hidden in plain view, that helps me grow. Getting outside of either or thinking, getting outside of such a dualistic mindset allows us to explore the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus is teaching the crowds about, instead of getting stuck in someone else’s description. You see, how we imagine the Kingdom of Heaven depends a lot on what we need the Kingdom of Heaven to be. This may explain why the Burpo’s story resonated with so many people across the world. Nothing in the Burpo’s description of Heaven comes close to resembling Jesus’ description in any of these parables. Where the Burpo’s gave specifics, like the horse that Jesus rides in Heaven, Jesus’ teachings allow our minds to wander in generalities. In this way, it is important to recognize that our desire “for certain visualizations of the Kingdom of Heaven have less to do with what the Bible says and more about what’s at stake for our own theology. Our language about the Kingdom of Heaven tends to be attached to how we think God should act and our assumptions about the Kingdom of Heaven rely heavily on our system of rewards.”
I want to encourage you to do something. At some point, I hope each and every one of you takes time to make up your own parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. And for those who do so, I pray that you realize that in creating your own parable about the Kingdom of Heaven you are making a critical connection between a perceived theological need and the immediate contexts of your lives. If you do this, know that you are not just making something up, something that sounds kind of nice. No, you are giving witness in that moment to a specific expression of faith. You are offering testimony to what the Kingdom of Heaven needs to be in light of your individual reality. This, I believe, is what Todd Burpo did in writing that book and claiming all of it came from the mouth of a 4-year old. And even though I didn’t care for the book, ultimately that is not what matters because truth be told, there is nothing inherently wrong about Rev. Burpo choice to write his own parable. It is what he and his family needed, and clearly what many others around the world needed.
In the end, we can all be assured that Jesus spent so much time explaining the Kingdom of Heaven because he seemed to know that we need to be reminded that it’s there even when it seems so excruciatingly absent. And maybe more than that, we need to be reminded that the Kingdom of Heaven is manifest in many different and various ways. The promise of the parables about the Kingdom of Heaven is that even when the kingdom is not seen, it is near and that’s a promise each and every one of us needs to hear and hear often.
 Taylor, Barbara Brown – The Seeds of Heaven
 Lewis, Karoline, Workingpreacher.com Commentary on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
July 23, 2017
In the Fall of 2013 I took a class at Wake Forest Divinity School centered around Spirituality and Art. One of the requirements for this class was a field trip to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. So on the appointed Saturday I woke up, traveled to Winston-Salem and along with my Professor and classmates, spent the majority of the day observing the artwork hanging on the walls of this mansion.
Now the average age for students entering Wake Forest University School of Divinity when I began was 23. So, here I was, a 40-something year old man walking around the inside of this Mansion with another man in his 60’s and 9 classmates in their 20’s. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love pretty things, but spending my Saturday looking at paintings in fancy frames in an attempt to gain some deeper insight into what some artist was thinking when he/she created this masterpiece, has never been on my bucket list. Yet, I did enjoy spending time with my classmates and my Professor, until a security guard grabbed me from behind and with his finger pointed in my face ordered me not to get that close to a painting again. In shock, I laughed one of those something feels odd and I’m upset but I’ll just blow it off kind of laughs and responded by saying “Excuse me?” Which only prompted him to point his finger closer to my nose and repeat the order that I was not to get that close to another painting or I would be escorted out. It ruined my day, and if I had any inclination to ever return to this larger than life statement of privilege and materialism called the Reynolda House, it was gone forever. The thing is, I had a sense it was coming as it had been building all day with this Security Guard. He saw me enter the premises and followed me from that point until he put his hands on me and talked to me like I was something less than him and subservient to his orders.
Now, in order to more fully understand why I think this happened, I believe I need to back up and give you a little more detail about how I looked that day. At that time Emma Grace was in 3rd grade and Elementary School Science project mania had come to town, and after thinking over a few possibilities she landed on a project to determine if the quality of fingernail polish was linked to the purchase price. Meaning the lower the purchase price the lower the quality and the higher the purchase price the higher the quality. Sounds simple enough, right?
Once she chose this project she needed people to volunteer so she could test her hypothesis and complete her project. And of course, when your baby girl needs volunteers, Daddy is always there. So, for about a month 9 of my 10 fingernails were painted with fingernail polish. Three were painted pink, three were painted lime green and three were painted dark purple. I never hesitated to volunteer for my baby girl, and I’m sure you Dads know what I’m talking about. I considered it an honor that she would even think to include me in this project, and I believe she saw nothing strange or out of bounds about asking her Daddy if she could paint his fingernails and then asking him to keep them painted for a while. For me, there is a certain beauty in believing this to be her view of this project.
Now, almost everyone I came in contact with during that month were friends or casual acquaintances which meant that I could easily explain if they asked. And for those who asked and found out what I was doing, their response was always the same… That is so sweet… Aren’t you a good Dad. Now I want you to know, I have no idea if my willingness to have my 8-year-old daughter paint my nails made me a good Dad at that time or not, but I graciously and a bit sheepishly accepted their compliments. But more than their compliments, I appreciated that each of them resisted the urge to judge me, or think something negative about me because 9 of my fingernails contained paint. This urge to judge, or think negative thoughts is so pervasive, even for those who are friendly, so knowing that they resisted that urge, and then complimented me was a wonderful gift to receive.
In addition to my painted nails, on this particular Saturday I wore some faded blue jeans, an Adidas coat and a pair of checkerboard Vans. Now, in case some of you aren’t familiar with Vans, they are skateboard shoes that were 1st made popular in the 80’s and have since made a bit of a comeback. The pair I wore that day had black and grey checkboard and were the low top slip-on variety. I really do love those shoes and they are very comfortable. In fact, I still wear them today.
Now, I didn’t think anything about my chosen attire as I left my house early that morning, but then I walked through the metal detector at the entrance to this mansion and the security guard eyed me like I was a filthy excuse for a human being. And then if that wasn’t bad enough, from the first moment he glared at me to the time he put his hands on me, he followed me everywhere I went. We are talking hours here. Everywhere I went, he followed and I knew it. It didn’t matter to him that I was part of a Divinity School group on a field trip. It didn’t matter to him that I was with my Professor and classmates the entire time. And worse than that, it didn’t matter to him that when I stepped closer to that painting that afternoon I was only doing what my Professor had instructed all of us students to do. He heard my Professor give these instructions. He even watched my other classmates get closer than I before watching me take that 1st step toward the painting. None of that mattered to him, because there was no doubt in his eyes I was trash and needed to be removed. In his eyes I was unworthy of being in that space and therefore I needed to be dealt with. In his eyes, my presence was like weeds in garden and he had one mission and one mission only, uproot the weed.
Sounds a bit drastic, doesn’t it? This story, about me a 40-something year old man being singled out and labeled so negatively by someone else who I had never met and who had never even spoken a word to me before barking his orders about my distance from someone else’s artwork. Unfortunately, I walked away from that experience knowing something I had not previously known in such a personal way… negative labeling… discrimination… knows no boundaries, and when you are on the receiving end it hurts and no matter what anyone says, no matter how others attempt to justify acts of discrimination, when you are subjected to them just by showing up and being in someone else’s presence, you have every reason to be angry about it.
In today’s parable, I believe it safe to say that Jesus is teaching everyone that that the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a place where judgment, discrimination and the urge to eradicate something deemed unworthy of living, is not practiced. As noted by former Chaplain at Yale, Harry Baker Adams, this teaching “saves us from having to make judgments that are beyond our competence.”
Instead, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a place where everything, including the good and the bad, is given time to grow. Everything, the things that look so good now, as well as the things that look so bad now, are given time to mature. This Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where no one rushes to judge another and no one gives in to the urge to segregate, ostracize, uproot, anything or anyone just because of the way they look early on in the journey of their life.
Unfortunately, overcoming these judgmental urges, is hard work, or so we think. I am the first to admit that we have certainly made it hard on ourselves. We love making lists that have only two options, like lists of good/bad, right/wrong, in/out. Those lists seem to make us feel better about where we stand. The thing is, each time we succumb to that list making desire, we judge. Each time we succumb to those urges, we discriminate, and while there might be rare occasions when we place ourselves in the negative side of that list along with the other outsider, we are still discriminating. We are still judging.
That desire, that urge is why I think we like to hear Matthew tell us about the final judgment, and the burning fire and gnashing teeth that come with it. The problem with making the judgment part of Matthews’s account of Jesus’ parable our focus, is that we may miss Jesus’ main point… the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a place where everything is allowed to grow, everything is allowed to mature. Oppression, discrimination, eradication, those might be ways to describe other kingdoms, or empires like the Roman Empire, but not the Kingdom Jesus is teaching the crowds about. That Kingdom is altogether different, because in that Kingdom people don’t get to make ultimate decisions about the worthiness of other people.
Maybe other kingdoms or empires believe they have the right to make decisions about what or who is worthless and who or what is worthwhile, but that is not the Kingdom Jesus is teaching about. Even though we may not always realize this about ourselves, it’s as though Jesus knows we just aren’t equipped to make these distinctions about someone or somethings worth. Today’s New Testament Scholars seem to agree that Jesus’ audience would have picked up on this when they heard this story because in it Jesus said the servants asked if they should uproot the weeds, and here’s the thing, even though most English translations use the word weed or weeds, in doing so it may just take this story out of its historical context. You see, the original word was darnel or tare and you want to know something, darnel/tare actually look just like wheat. As a result, servants would not have been able to distinguish these tares from the actual wheat and would have most likely ruined the good crop.
From all accounts, it seems safe to say that the servants in this parable really wanted to please the landowner. Their intentions were actually good. The problem though was in their passing of judgment on something they didn’t understand. Their desire to get rid of the weeds, might at first seem admirable, but there was no way for them to decide what was a weed and what was wheat.
It is widely believed that Jesus’ audience would have known that servants were not equipped to determine, not equipped to pass judgment on these things. That was not their job and Jesus points this out when later he says the Reapers, the Harvesters will be responsible for making this decision, but only after the harvest has grown and matured.
The thing is, even today we tend to act as though we get to make these same types of decisions about other people. I wonder why it seems so difficult for us to stay away from judging others? What it is that makes us think we are qualified to determine exactly who is right and who is wrong?
The danger for all of us when we act in such a way is outright dismissal of someone or something. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Turn us loose with our machetes and there is no telling what we will chop down and what we will spare.”
But wouldn’t it be better if we listened to the landowner who lets us know “that he does not share our appetite for a pure crop, a neat field, an efficient operation? Wouldn’t it be better if we listened to the landowner who is letting us know that growth interests him more than perfection and that he is willing to risk fat weeds for fat wheat? Maybe, if we listen then when we try to help him out a little, to improve on his plan, we will have ears to hear him say that our timing is off… we will have ears to hear him say judgment is not part of our role.
And maybe, just maybe, if we listen we will know that a man with 9 painted nails is simply a Daddy of a wonderful vibrant girl doing a science fair project for her 3rd grade class!
 Taylor, Barbara Brown, The Seeds of Heaven p. 148
 Id., p.36
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
I promise I didn’t plan this… after all this past Wednesday was two years in the making for me. That’s right, about this time two years ago I was introduced to food in a way that so captivated me that it continues to this day.
But I promise you I had no idea that we would be reading the Parable of the Sower a couple of days after the beginning of our newest Ministry, The Jamestown Community Farmer’s Market. In some ways I wish I was that good, but no matter what, I cannot stand before you today and claim to have known that this particular Parable would be read on the 1st Sunday after our 1st Jamestown Community Farmer’s Market. Now with that being said, I believe it would be a huge mistake if I didn’t begin our time together today discussing our Market. It was truly a wonderful evening for me, and from all that I have heard I believe it was for those of you there that night and for those vendors and members of the Jamestown community who aren’t a part of our Church community. That night we accomplished something that had never been accomplished before in this town… We held an authentic Farmer’s Market. A Famers' Market with multiple vendors (8 to be exact). A Farmer’s Market that satisfied a need (we had over 200 people come that night) in this community like never before.
We did it! This church community! This church family! For some of us, we overcame the biggest obstacle of all: Fear. Fear of the unknown to be exact. For others, like myself, all along the way we had this feeling we were heading toward something, as though we were being pulled, even though we had no practical idea about what we were doing. You see, for those like me, this whole agricultural life is new, but I have found incredible excitement in this new-ness so we showed up and contributed anyway we could. And while the excitement of that evening, and the days that followed, can cause us to lay claim to this Market, and want more than anything to be recognized for all that we did accomplish, I am certain God was involved from the start because you want to know something, the Jamestown Community Farmer’s Market is not just about us. It is about something much larger than First Baptist Church of Jamestown.
I’ve personally experienced something like this before, and in so many ways the lead up to this past Wednesday was like the lead up to the ARISE ministry I started in Greensboro some 7 years ago. No real advertising, in the commercial sense at least. No way for any of us to know what to expect when Wednesday rolled around. But unlike ARISE which had 5 people show up the day it was born, the Jamestown Community Farmer’s Market had over 200.
As I reflect on these two ministries, there is one aspect of both that speaks volumes about God’s involvement… the opening day of both were monumentally SUCCESSFUL in everyone’s eyes. As hard as it may be to comprehend how one ministry that reached 5 people on its opening day can be called successful in the same breath as another ministry that reached over 200… everyone can rest assured that the opening day for both of these ministries was a monumental success.
The opening day of both ministries saw:
People coming together to work as a team for the single goal of meeting the needs of a community;
New friendships being made; and
People coming together who had never met before.
And here’s the thing, both ministries began because new ideas were planted in the hearts and minds of people like us. Then some of those ideas actually began to take root. Not all of the ideas took root, and these two ideas didn’t necessarily take root in all of the people. But you want to know something, all of the seeds taking root at the same time is not necessary and never has been.
For me, the story of ARISE at Grace and The Jamestown Community Farmer’s Market at First Baptist Church of Jamestown closely parallel the Parable of the Sower, but only if we stop focusing on the conditions of the ground where the seed falls. I believe most church people know this Parable, but I’ve come to realize that most know it only from the perspective of the seeds and the conditions of the ground upon which they fall. This could be because we find it easier to identify with the conditions of the grounds. We hear this parable and we begin wondering about the conditions of the ground we find ourselves standing on. Is it thorny, rocky, sun-dried? And while these might be serious questions, I’m not so sure this Parable is wanting these to be our focus. If these were the questions needing our attention, then shouldn’t this Parable be called the Parable of the Seeds and the Ground Conditions? Doesn’t that fit better?
The thing is, the fact that our Bible names this the Parable of the Sower has me believing our attention is better placed elsewhere. I wonder, though, how many of us here today have ever thought much about the Sower. The reason I wonder so much about us is because this Church Family is impressively Bible literate which makes it a pretty good test case, if you will, for what other people are thinking. This means that in the event we haven’t spent much time thinking about the Sower, then I am pretty comfortable assuming most others haven’t either.
Fortunately, Barbara Brown Taylor helped me begin to look at this Parable differently and she did it by changing my focus to the Sower.
The parable of the Sower is one of seven parables in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, with each parable focusing on the Kingdom. Throughout these parables Jesus tells the crowd about the Kingdom. He says “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” and the Kingdom is “Like treasure lying buried in a field, like yeast, like a pearl of great price, like a net let down in the sea.”
This style of teaching, some say, confused his critics, while strengthening his followers’ resolve because they had ears to hear. He even says that he speaks in parables so that only certain types of listeners hear him like those who listen more with their hearts and less with their heads.
So for those who turned this into a story about all of the thorns and rocks in their own life, I wonder if there is a chance we should turn our focus elsewhere.
What if it is not about us at all but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such things. A Sower who flings seed everywhere. A Sower who scatters it with holy abandon. One who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around. A Sower who knows that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?
If this is really the parable of the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then we start to hear it anew because the focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker. The Sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into the seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of Love and Grace and Community.
Now I know, we would not do it that way. We would plan better. Our operation would be more efficient, cleaner and more productive. We would not waste seed on birds and rocks and thorns. We would make sure we planted our seed in the good soil only, because we want to be the most productive. Right? But if this is the parable of the sower, then Jesus seems to be suggesting that there is another way to go about things, a way that is less concerned with productivity than with plenitude.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells a beautiful story about a Sower of seed that I want us to hear today. This story, I believe, can speak to us if we have ears to hear:
“Once upon a time a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came along and devoured them. So, he put his seed pouch down and spent the next hour or so stringing aluminum foil all around his field. He put up a fake owl he ordered from a garden catalog and, as an afterthought, he hung a couple of traps for the Japanese beetles.
Then he returned to his sowing, but he noticed some of the seeds were falling on rocky ground, so he put his seed pouch down again and went to fetch his wheelbarrow and shovel. A couple of hours later he had dug up the rocks and was trying to think of something useful he could do with them when he remembered his sowing and got back to it, but as soon as he did he ran right into a briar patch that was sure to strangle his little seedlings. So, he put his pouch down again and looked everywhere for the weed poison but finally decided just to pull the thorns up by hand, which meant that he had to go back inside and look everywhere for his gloves.
Now by the time he had the briars cleared it was getting dark, so the sower picked up his pouch and his tools and decided to call it a day. That night he fell asleep in his chair reading a seed catalog, and when he woke the next morning he walked out into his field and found a big crow sitting on his fake owl. He found rocks he had not found the day before and he found new little leaves on the roots of the briars that had broken off in his hands. The sower considered all of this, pushing his cap back on his head, and then he did a strange thing: He began to laugh, just a chuckle at first and then a full fledged guffaw that turned into a wheeze at the end when his wind ran out.
Still laughing and wheezing he went after his seed pouch and began flinging seeds everywhere: into the roots of trees, onto the roof of his house, across all his fences and into his neighbors’ fields. He shook seeds at his cows and offered a handful to the dog; he even tossed a fistful into the creek, thinking they might take root downstream somewhere. The more he sowed, the more he seemed to have. None of it made any sense to him, but for once that did not seem to matter, and he had to admit that he had never been happier in all his life.”
There is a beautiful promise in all of this. A Promise that should serve to free us from burdensome expectations and crippling fear. It is the promise of God’s involvement. Just like I experienced with ARISE and just like we experienced this past Wednesday with the Jamestown Community Farmer’s Market, God is present with us, beside us, behind us and in front of us. And when God is present amazing things happen and God’s presence is the very reason I know with full certainty that an opening day with 5 people and an opening day with over 200 people are both monumental successes.
Let those who have ears to hear, hear.
 Taylor, Barbara Brown, The Extravagant Sower
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
I didn’t get much rest this past week, and as the week wore on my restlessness only seemed to grow. It seemed everywhere I turned someone, or some group, had some expectation of what I was supposed to be doing, or where I should be dedicating my time. Here’s the thing, being wanted can be pretty intoxicating. It makes us feel important and needed. And as long as we keep playing by the rules and expectations of everyone else we get praised. It’s as though someone else gets to decide who we are and what role we will play in our own life and as long as we play our part within that system life is easy. Or so we are told.
What if the rules and expectations are oppressive and unjust? Do we just grin and bear it? Surely not. You see, every single one of us lives our lives within a system of rules and expectations, and it starts from the moment we are born.
Now for those of you who consider yourselves rule followers, living inside a system of rules may come effortlessly. As long as you know the rules then you know what is expected of you and then you live within that system. Sounds simple enough, right? You follow the rules, you get the praise.
But what about people who strive to do the right thing, but fall just short of other’s expectations? They know the rules, they know the expectations, but just can’t quite seem to meet them. Should their life be relegated to one without praise?
I think about my own life… I believe I’ve been a rule follower, and truth be told I like the praise that comes with it. The problem I’ve seen with each passing year has left me unsettled, even burdened and tired. I’ve come to realize that praises come as long as orders are being acted upon, rules are being followed, opinions are being agreed with, and pre-conceived expectations are being met. Anything less than that, I’ve learned leads to being talked about, sabotaged, oppressed and dismissed. Each and every time people manipulate others, or abuse others or just do anything to cause public ridicule or shame, it is really their way of saying “Be who I expect you to be if you want my support and praise, because anything other than that will just not work.”
There is a problem, though, when such a life is imposed on everyone, where praise is only for those who follow without asking. That problem is questions get silenced and curiosity gets extinguished. The end result for those curious types, like me, can be summed up in one word: Burdened! We are burdened by the sheer power and forcefulness of the external world’s desire for conformity. We are burdened by others never-ending need to be recognized as better or more important in every situation. We are burdened by others need to be seen as the rule makers. We are burdened by being blamed when the end result is less than hoped for by those same rule makers who now don’t seek recognition. We are burdened and sometimes the burden is so overwhelming that life begins to feel too hard. No matter where we turn it seems there are times we simply can’t find rest.
Many years ago I took on a case and one evening at a family dinner my decision came up. I remember my mom’s reaction like it was yesterday. She said, “oh son, why do you always have to choose the hard road.” Now, when I agreed to represent these people I didn’t see it as a hard road, I saw it as doing what I had dedicated my entire life to, pursuing justice.
I’ve thought a lot about her statement over the years, and I find it very interesting in light of today’s scripture where Jesus says, “29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Now maybe some of you are wondering where the connection is between a loving mother briefly stating her desire for her son to choose an easier road and Jesus’ statement here, and I believe there is good reason for that. You see, if all we know about words and their meaning comes from an American dictionary then the word Yoke will only have one meaning, and that one meaning would prevent you from ever seeing how a statement about doing what society expects of someone having certain characteristics could ever be related to Jesus’ statement about taking his Yoke upon yourself.
That dictionary definition for yoke is a wooden bar or frame that joins 2 animals like oxen together at the heads or necks so that they can work together. Who knows, some of you with farming backgrounds may have actual experience with that kind of Yoke. But what if I told you there is more than one meaning for Yoke, just not in English. What if I told you that other meaning had important significance for the people of Jesus’ day, especially the original audience of Matthew’s Gospel, and I believe it has important significance for us today.
That other meaning is about rules of life and how life should be lived. That other meaning begins with what I understand is a central principal for Judaism: the asking of questions. Asking questions was seen as especially important when reading the Torah (the Jewish name for the first 5 books of the Bible). For the ancient Jews, the verses found in the Torah were meant to be lived out, not just talked about. But here’s the thing, in order for words to be lived out, those words have to have meaning and meaning comes from someone somewhere making decisions about those words in that verse. Now within ancient Judaism, these Rabbi’s understood that decisions had to be made about the meaning of words and they took seriously their role as interpreters of the Torah within community.
These ancient Rabbi’s knew they were responsible for helping people understand what God was saying to them through the text and then telling them how they could go and live out the meaning of the text. So, to accomplish this role of interpreter of scripture, a Rabbi would put things into 2 categories: things the Rabbi allowed and things the Rabbi forbade. And here’s the thing, different Rabbis had different lists of what they allowed and what they forbade. In other words, Rabbis had different sets of rules. And here’s the kicker, a Rabbi’s set of rules, a Rabbi’s list, which was actually that Rabbi’s interpretation of how someone should live out the verses of the Torah was called that Rabbi’s yoke. So, when someone was making their decision about which Rabbi to follow they were making it because they believed that particular Rabbi’s interpretation was the closest to what God actually meant. And when that choice was finally made you were taking that Rabbi’s rules, that Rabbi’s yoke upon yourself.
So back to my Mom’s statement about her desire that I choose an easier path. I know her statement was full of love. The reason I know is because I know what it is like to be a parent who desperately wants their child’s life to be joyful. I also know something else when it comes to why a parent would want this for their child, something often hidden, rarely if ever talked about, and that is choosing to stand with the lost, the enslaved, the oppressed oftentimes causes the rule makers to do everything they can to turn your life upside down. In their eyes you have decided not to play by their rules. And the thing is, my Mom knew it because she lived it too. She knew how difficult life could become because of my decision to take upon myself the Yoke of Justice instead of the Yoke of oppression. The Yoke of Love instead of the Yoke of evil. The Yoke of Equality instead of the Yoke of brutality.
She knew it, and just like any loving parent she wanted to save me from that pain even though she knew she couldn’t. And maybe, as a parent that is the hardest thing because to truly love a child is to let them know they have the freedom to choose their own path. To truly love anyone is to let them know how free they are to live their life without fear of not being loved… not your life or the life you want for them, but live their life. Imposing one’s rules, one’s lists of permitted activities or permitted decisions and forbidden activities or forbidden decision in exchange for the promise of praise… in exchange for the promise of inclusion and love, should never be seen as good news, and should never be called such. It is selfish and loveless and harmful to everyone involved.
It seems this is what Jesus was witnessing firsthand. The Yoke being imposed upon people during his day was said to come from God, but Jesus knew different. The yoke being imposed, the rules and expectations to which the people were being subjected, were not gentle. They were not humble. Jesus’s Yoke of Grace & welcome and love for all of creation, on the other hand was. Listen again, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying 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 my burden is light.”
There are all kinds of yokes today. They are all around us all the time. Some may come in the form of formal rules, others might be harder to recognize, like expectations of others. But make no mistake, the placing of expectations on others are yokes too. All of those yokes place heavy burdens on us and leave us restless, even exhausted. The weight we are expected to carry from those yokes is too much.
There is Good News though, and it comes in the form of Rabbi Jesus’ Yoke. We can take that Rabbi’s Yoke upon us and learn from him and we can find rest from the power and forcefulness of the external word’s desire for conformity. We can find rest from others never-ending need to be recognized as better or more important in every situation. We can find rest from others need to be seen as the rule makers. We can find rest from being blamed when the end result is less than hoped for by those same rule makers who now don’t seek recognition. We can find rest from a life that begins to feel too hard.
Rest that comes by choosing to take Rabbi Jesus’ gentle and humble Yoke upon yourself. Learn from that yoke and let gentleness and humbleness lead you to rest.