Sermon – Proper 9, Year A
Calvary Church, Bunkie, LA
July 6, 2008
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
It is good to be with you again at Calvary. When we look at today’s lessons, we are given some different ideas about freedom than those which normally come to mind during a 4th of July weekend.
Often, we think of freedom as the ability to do what we want. The mere ability to make choices. However, it is much more than that, and even the founding fathers of our country knew that. Freedom also means to be free of undue burdens. One of the main causes of the American revolution was to be free from unfair and undue tax burdens. Another was the freedom to trade with others. Freedom to just make a living. Freedom to make one’s way in the world. Or, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, freedom is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Freedom is not just a freedom to do, but a freedom from those things that would prohibit us from making our way in this life.
Our Lord understands this, perhaps better than we can imagine. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “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.” What Jesus is saying to us here is that following Him is easier than not following Him. How can that be? We just heard in recent weeks of picking up our cross and following Jesus, and that certainly didn’t sound easy. However, you can’t consider the cost of following Jesus in a vacuum. Jesus provides us with true freedom, including the freedom that Paul is seeking in today’s Epistle reading.
Paul finds himself a captive to sin. Yes, sin. A fairly unpopular word in your average Episcopal Church. We often think of sins as a list of things we can’t do or else God will deliver some sort of divine consequence upon us. Here, however, Paul finds himself not wanting to sin but he is captive to it: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
That captivity, indeed, is a loss of freedom – both a loss of freedom to act as one wishes, and an increased burden that sin brings us – both in this world and the next. Sin can keep you from making your way in this world, and the next – a denial of freedom. Many sins we commit have health consequences. Other sins can affect us financially. Others harm our relationships with others that leave us feeling guilty or unloved. All of these things limit our freedom – they limit life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’m going to pause for a minute here, and ask each of you to reflect for a minute on a sin you have committed. Then, I want you to look at the consequences of that action – what happened? How did you feel? Did you lose some part of your freedom in it? <pause>
How often we dig our own holes that we end up in. I think that is the crux of what St. Paul is saying to us. Jesus Christ gives us freedom to put down the shovel and quit digging. As Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus gives us forgiveness of that sin holding us captive which allows us to move on with our lives – the freedom to once again make our way.
That is why Jesus calls his burden light.
But how Lord understand us. He talks about the generation of his time, but he might as well have been talking about us. He prefaces his comment about the light burden he presents us of freedom from sin by talking about his own ministry and that of John the Baptist. John came preaching fire and brimstone, living a simple life of little comfort, Jesus came to drink and eat with sinners and tax collectors, and yet both were rejected. Our Lord then notes, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” The right choices, in rejecting sin and when we sin, seeking forgiveness and moving on, pay off in the long run. If only we would understand that. In the coming week, I have an exercise to recommend:
Name one temptation you face.
Think about what will be the negative consequences if you say “yes” to this sin and “no” to God?
Think about what will be the positive consequences if you say “no” to this sin and “yes” to God?
Write a prayer asking God to help you remember the consequences and turn from sin.
I pray that we all can grasp onto the freedom from sin which our Lord brings. Freedom to act in our own best interest – freed from the guilt and consequences of sin. Free to make our way in the world – the true freedom that we celebrate this weekend.