Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost - Matthew 11
Jesus is so frustrated because everyone keeps taking his ball and going home. As the fickle and faithless, we try to think that he doesn’t play at our rules so we need to leave and find someone who will play along. We thinking things should look this way or that, wanting to package our game in a certain style. Never imagining that our rules make the game of life more often worse, not better.
Wanting to please a child can often be a contact sport. As parents, grandparents, teachers, cousins, whoever – we can pick a game to play or a song to sing or a food to eat. But you discover that tastes have changed. “You used to like this.” “No I don’t.” “You ate it yesterday.” “I don’t like it.” Or – Here’s a doll for your birthday honey. Dolls are for babies. I am not a baby anymore. Expecting the best, doing our best, and - nope. Talk to the hand, pops.
Or we get so used to a certain pattern, a certain lifestyle, certain understanding. But that only lasts for a while, or creates conflict, because if you expect one thing, and I expect another thing, and we say, get married for instance. One of us, or both, hopefully, may have to compromise in one way, or a thousand. Change comes and goes, we just so often think ourselves too smart, that we don’t think it might actually be good.
Some are also very quick to change, Never establishing themselves, always worried about others, letting that carry us through life, ulcers and all, because we just hope to make people happy. Often because we are not so happy.
So it is with sinners and saints. Creatures and Creator. We come to think of how we must practice to please our God, or never give it a second thought. To please our church, or never care. To please our friends, or just ourselves. To please our parents…yeah…right. We look for that way to get along, or absolutely don’t give one iota.
Here Christ equates this generation, our generation, to children at play in town. One group decides to play a joyful game thinking the others want to dance and play along. Some scholars think of it as one set of children thinking the other wants to play wedding. Boys trying to intrigue girls. Let’s have a dance. A party. That’s what weddings are for right? New beginnings. Joy. The wine is flowing freely, the music bumping. The problem. The one guy over in the corner. Grumpy. Sad. No party. Homey don’t play that.
Timeout. Change the tune. Now it’s a dirge. Let’s play funeral. A little morbid, but they’re kids, what can you do. Anything goes. Sadness, death, tears. Cue professional mourners. We’ll do what we think you want. Only Homey is now all…Dancing, swaying with the music.
All of it becomes a game of manipulation. Doing what we think we need to do to control the course of things. To keep people happy. Life going. Make it all better. Satisfy them all as best we can. Or to not like what we see before so we want a change of the rules. Doing it ourselves. Not happy with what we are given.
This all revolves around who we think we are, and who Christ is. How we think we live amongst God, and how God actually lives amongst us. God chose to be present as two preachers, to hear his word. John vs. Jesus. Law vs. Gospel. Dancing and mourning. Sin and salvation.
The Father sends John the Baptist into the mix of the Kingdom. This one comes to prepare the way – scorched earth. Rather gruff. Honey in his beard, locust legs in his teeth, smells like camel, sweat, and stale urine. Not welcomed. Too austere for us. Too religious for us. Too much Jeremiah, not enough Joel Osteen. Dangerous. We don’t like him. The one who focuses on the sinner.
“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?” “the ax is already at the root of the tree.”
Not someone we’d invite as a party clown to our child’s birthday unless they have been really, really bad. But Jesus uses the story of the children to say – you felt yourself at a party. Things were going well, but God comes to say repent. Turn from your sin. And the people think – dude you got problems. Your mean. We want to hear some kindness, plus…you are little smelly. Well sin is smelly. Stinky. Just like us. A stench that can clear a room. Ruins a celebration. But when it is called out, something else comes in its place. Someone else.
Enter Jesus. He comes speaking peace to your conflict, your sin. Comes as the complete opposite of other preachers. He doesn’t look to the people of the promise, to the ones getting it right but sees those who are the least. The ones getting it wrong by all observation. Bringing a banquet of his body and blood to feed the hungry, and yet we think it unnecessary. We think it too good to be true. It’s too easy. Sin done away with, forgiveness now flows freely. We need to have some austerity Jesus, not fidelity, we say.
But he doesn’t play that way. He looks at a paralyzed man and says your sins are forgiven, before ever addressing his need to walk. A woman caught in adultery – neither do I condemn you. He heals the slave of a roman soldier, an occupying force from an unclean nation, and says he has found no faith greater than this in Israel. He gives one sermon on a mountain top which speaks of blessings to the cursed and broken. The poor, the meek, the mourning, the hungry, the thirsty, the merciful, the persecuted. A party for those in sadness.
He forgives his crucifiers. Calls for love of enemies, speaks to every person he sees to release them of their bonds without payment, without flagellating themselves, without a sacrifice of a herd of oxen on a ceremonial fire. He looks to you and says I forgive you all your sin, let’s party.
So opposite of the religious person was he, that the war against him? After calling John demon-possessed because he was too hardcore, Jesus is a drunkard and a glutton. Someone who went to parties. Who ate and drank. Who was a friend of those who we are not to be friends with. Tax collectors and sinners. Traitors and outsiders. Those not good enough to babysit our children or even watch our dog.
We know that we get this. We’re supposed to get it. This idea of law and Gospel. This idea that there are requirements that we can’t meet. Sins we can’t overcome. Hardship that makes life really suck. And we know that Christ comes to relieve us, but do we? Do we know?
Christ declares a difference between the wise and intelligent people, and the infants. Wisdom we hold in high esteem. Education is absolutely necessary for survival these days. As Intelligent folks we are often full. Full of a lot of things. Giant craniums. Unable to fit anything else in there. Rarely need anything else. Can get by with nothing than ourselves and our mind. Not thinking that the world is more than observation, more than neurons firing. That there is always something else that we cannot know or discover. Trying to find answers and we can’t. Realizing that we do not actually know everything.
Whereas an infant needs everything. Needs food, clothing, shelter, love, companionship. All provided by someone other than that infant. Not too many infants are building housing developments, growing food, digging wells. Actually none. They are needy. Their messy. They stink. They need someone to carry them. Change their diapers.
It is there, as infants in faith that we need Christ. Christ revealing himself in his game. Penetrating our souls with a knowledge that isn’t something he read in a book, but the knowledge of the Creator who sees the deepest darkest secrets you bear, and says let me have that for eternity. Not someone who comes to you and says memorize me, but comes to you and says – I know you. You are mine. No game-changer here. You may not want me, but that doesn’t change me. I am yours.
The game-changer to the way we play is to realize that all we toy with is actually Christ’s to hold onto. All the things we hide as we change the game, and he takes it. Knowing that he can carry any and every burden. Not needing to scare you out of it, or embarrass you into submission. He submits himself to you. To a death we wished him to go to, death on a cross, so he would shut up about forgiveness. Thinking that would be the last change, but no. Not even death was heavy enough for him. Neither can any ball or weight you bring to the game. That is why he is so mad about people taking his ball and going home. It is his ball. That is why his yoke is easy and his burden is light. It’s his yoke and burden to carry, not yours. Thanks be to God. Amen