|Prelude||Summertime||Chris Johansen, piano|
|Psalm 4||Harry Johansen|
Chris Johansen, piano
|Reading||Deuteronomy 5: 12-15|
Matthew 11: 28-30
|Prayers of Intercession||Christy Wetzig|
|Hymn||Come to Me, All Pilgrims Thirsty|
|Harry Johansen (vs. 1 & 5)|
Chris Johansen, piano
Hello, this is pastor Linda, and I welcome you to take this time to set aside whatever it is that’s occupying your mind. Turn off the TV, silence your phone (unless that’s the device you are using to listen in on!). Breathe in a huge, lung filling, belly-out, life-giving breath. Let it go – slowly. Close your eyes, breathe again. Try to focus your mind and body on the moment of now, the position in which you are seated, the sounds of your surroundings. Try to be open to the word of God, to a word of God to you. Be still. Breathe in fully again. Let it out slowly. Listen with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind.
We gather apart, yet never alone, in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Confession & Forgiveness
If the anguish, news videos, repeated storyline of white police killing black bodies again this week has taught us anything, it is that together, we must confess our entanglements with justice, hurts, entitlement, greed – and God’s difficult, blessed vision of a very different way. We seek the face of God, confessing our sin.
Silence for reflection and self-examination.
God of heaven and earth,
we name before you the sin that enslaves, the sin that wounds us and others, the sin that scars our world. Forgive us and heal us. Give to us, and to all, the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Recall us to the essential inter-connection of your image residing mysteriously within each and every one. Amen
Come, all who are weary, all who carry heavy burdens. As tender as parent to child, so gentle is God to you. As high as heaven is above the earth, so vast is God’s love for you. As far as east is from west, so sweeping is God’s forgiveness for you, and of all we would confess, renewing our lives in +Jesus Christ, our friend, our Redeemer, our All in all.
Prayer of the Day
Open our eyes, Lord, especially if they are half shut because we are tired of looking, or half open because we fear we see too much, or bleared with tears because yesterday and today and tomorrow are filled with the same pain. Open our eyes, Lord, to gently scan the life we lead, the home we have, the world we inhabit, and so to find, among the gremlins and the greyness, signs of hope and beauty and love. Show us the world as in your sight, and grant us grace to heal. Amen
Deuteronomy 5: 12-15
12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
Matthew 11: 28-30
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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.”
I initially chose the topic of Sabbath for this first series of the summer because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and the new shape that the virus has given to our communal lives. We don’t have many non-essential, laid-off workers as members in the congregation. We haven’t had anyone get terribly sick. So, I don’t think COVID has changed our lifestyles as dramatically here as it has for those in other regions of the country. And we’re rural (most of us). We aren’t confined to a room or building. We can go out into the woods or our gardens. Perhaps the biggest impact of COVID has been in the shift to on-line schooling and cancelled events or postponed medical office visits, and the inability to gather for worship. But still, being aware of the restrictions and wary of the illness, being told to stay home, watching the virus play out on a bigger stage, has put our usual patterns of ‘in and out and about’ into unusually intentional consideration.
That’s what the Sabbath was meant to do. At least one day a week, the Israelites were to remember that God brought them out of slavery. They were to stop. Put down their tools. Stop whatever work they were doing. Turn off their smart-phones and computer screens and amusements. Go home to share a meal and prayer. And rest. And remember. They and their slaves, their servants, their animals, the land. One day a week, stop; be intentional about their bodies and limitations, be intentionally together within their family units, and remember that they were not to fall again into slavery.
That was the point of Sabbath. Jesus told the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. It was a command, true, but a blessing, not the oppressive rule of law it had become by Jesus’ day. The intent of Sabbath is to step back and consider, to recognize the shiny new taskmasters for what they are, to put the competition, the striving, the dehumanizing way of the world on pause. To reject that slavery of domination where billable minutes, units of completion per hour, a never-ending push for worth and status through production becomes the sole measure of your value.
One day a week, God would have you remember that you are not defined by your output. One day a week everyone rests, and all distinctions and distractions – put in place to artificially prosper your worth – disappear. Old, young, rich, poor, slave, free, citizen, foreigner, of every eye and hair and skin color — are all simply and completely human beings, bodies alongside other bodies, all bodies beloved children of God. All in need of care. … And also your cattle, and goats and camels and sheepdogs, too.
This is the hardest lesson to absorb – it’s the commandment we throw away as optional. But it’s not, it’s vital. We have to regularly step out of the mindset and activity of the world, the powers and principalities that divide and polarize, that prioritize one set of values over another, one set of people over and against another, if we are to understand and follow the Sabbath intention. It’s not about taking a day off. It’s about taking yourself in. Observing the way of people and nature without the filters of your daily life and thought patterns and preferences. It’s about self-care and care for the all the others.
Pastor Kara Root wrote the commentary I’m reading about Sabbath. “One day in seven, this command says, you on purpose remember that you are not God. And you on purpose remember
that you are neither better nor worse than anyone around you, but connected in a mutual belonging to God and each other. This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to be free. But we forget this most of the time,” she wrote.
We think of freedom as personal, individualistic, our right. “I’m free and the law grants me my own, personal freedoms – and no one better mess with ‘em.” But true freedom can only exist if it is communal. The Israelites weren’t to trudge out of slavery in Egypt only to force others into it in Israel. Our nation has never been free, as much as we tout the value. Our individual and corporate freedoms come at the expense of someone else’s worth. They have from the moment we landed and claimed the land as our own.
Our disregard for Sabbath observance – regularly stepping out of the importance of self and humbly seeing ourselves as one among equal others – has been made clear in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25th. I had never thought of Sabbath as a commandment for social justice. I had the luxury of thinking it was about self-care, spiritual-care, and family time. Wrong. That’s another lie of privilege I hadn’t seen until now.
This is where the second of these paired readings comes in. I’ve been struggling with this passage from Matthew. It seems paradoxical – and it might be – but I still wanted to figure it out and connect it more closely to Sabbath. Matthew 11:28-30: “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.”
I like the first sentence. I mean who wouldn’t want rest from our burdens and cares? But “take my yoke”? Be like Jesus? Work alongside Jesus? My “this is asking way too much of me” antennae are wiggling. “Learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The very first image I get when hearing that phrase is of the sun shining into the kitchen – a plate of two eggs, sunny side up with toast. Wrong yoke.
The next image I get is the visual memory of any number of rocky, root-tangled trails in Quetico as seen from beneath the canoe I’m portaging. Wearing a bulky Duluth pack, balancing a canoe, seeing only 8 or 10 feet of the trail ahead of me, no hands free to swat black flies, deer flies, horse flies or hordes of mosquitos. That was no sabbath rest, and the yoke was neither easy nor the burden light. Jesus must mean something else.
I remember a Carl Larsson print of an ox and work horse yoked together in front of a disk
slicing and turning a black curl of Swedish earth. That yoke didn’t look easy, although it did
balance the pull of the animals. The two could work as one.
Is that the kind of yoke Jesus meant?
My mind flashes to another image – a young African woman hauling two enormous buckets of water dangling from the ends of a yoke across her shoulders.
You can see why this passage has not settled easily into my mind.
The yoke is a tool of slavery, oppression, burdens. In our life experiences, the yoke may help us bear up under the load, but we will recognize it for what it is – the oppressive presence of the ‘powers and principalities of darkness’, as Mike Miles says. All those things that get in the way of healthy, mutual connections with others and even within ourselves. It is a national value to multitask and overwork and cram our schedules, grab a bite to eat and get back to it. The one who wears out first is a sissy. It is a national value to consider ourselves the very best kind of people and everyone else out to get us. It seems to be a national value to ‘divide and dominate’, to assume that peace can only be won with the biggest weapons. Talk about a paradox and a burdensome yoke.
So what is Jesus talking about? “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In rabbinic tradition, the rabbi’s particular teaching of the Torah was referred to as his yoke. We might liken it with the term ‘mantle’ – a mantel of learning. Jesus’ teaching of the Torah – the law and it’s interpretation – was easy. At least easy to remember. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength (every bit of yourself), and love your neighbor as yourself.” Those three loves, in that order. Not necessarily easy to do, but free of all the oppressive sub-laws, clauses, judgments and restrictions that the scribes and Pharisees insisted upon. Jesus gives us one thing to do. Love – actively, whole heartedly, indiscriminately, and aim it especially at those who can’t believe it.
The thing my brain does, being a visual thinker – I have to ‘see’ my thoughts in pictures to make sense of them – is to also take the second half of Jesus’ saying literally. “My burden is light.” The burden of love is light – not in weight, but in the absence of darkness and shadows. Once we take the yoke of love, we can’t pretend not to see. After George Floyd’s death caught on camera, after the weeks of peaceful protests and days of violent ones, after the death of Rayshard Brooks, yet another young black man killed by police in Atlanta on Friday, we can’t pretend not to see. The burden of light is shining into every city, every heart revealing what we don’t necessarily want to see or have revealed.
The burden of light illuminates the lie of freedom and peace and liberty, it exposes how deeply the darkness has sunk into us, become normal to us. How complicit good people are in the violence against the more colorful bodies among God’s people. We too have a color – that’s another sign of our presumption that we consider ‘white’ to be the norm, and color to be a variant.
Jesus’ burden was that he saw people in their bravado and in their need. He saw those the Law was killing, misleading, isolating, negating – and, seeing them, he loved them with the Beloved’s love.
That now is our burden, too… to observe the Sabbath, to see it as the equalizing compassion of God, and to carry-on the mantle of Jesus’ teaching, his loving, his seeing. “The Light shines in the darkness… and the darkness did not overcome it.” Nor shall it ever.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen
Come to Me, All Pilgrims Thirsty
- “Come to me, all pilgrims thirsty;
Drink the water I will give.
If you knew what gift I offer,
You would come to me and live.”
Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
give us water from your well.
In the gracious gift you offer
there is joy no tongue can tell.
- “Come to me, all trav’lers weary;
Come that I may give you rest.
Drink the cup of life I offer;
At this table be my guest.”
- “Come to me, believers burdened;
Find refreshment in this place.
Come, receive the gift I offer,
Turn to me and seek my face.”
- “Come to me, repentant sinners;
Leave behind your guilt and shame.
Come and know divine compassion,
Turn to me, I call your name.”
- “Come to me, distressed and needy;
I would be your trusted friend.
Come and seek the gift I offer,
come, your open hands extend.”
- “Come to me, abandoned, orphaned;
lonely ways no longer roam.
Come and take the gift I offer,
let me make in you my home.”
Text: Delores Dufner
Music: The Sacred Harp