Sermon from Rev. Zickler for July 9, 2017

20170709 Proper 9 Sermon 2017
July 9, 2017
Matthew 11:25-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This morning the sermon text will be the Gospel Lesson previously read.  

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”  What does Jesus mean in those words?  Well, to start we can look at who Jesus is talking to.  Here, He’s referencing those who were teaching the Law, teaching God’s commands.  Here, He’s referencing the Pharisees, those self-righteous lay leaders at that time.  Likewise, He’s referencing the Scribes, the ones who really studied the Law, who knew the rabbinical teachings of those who had gone before, and knew both inside and out.  He’s talking about the High Priests serving in the temple, sitting on Moses’ seat as He says elsewhere.  He’s talking about those people who were learned and arrogant in their knowledge.  

So, what do we do with this?  Does this mean that we should ignore pastors and maybe even not have them as many have said, especially since the Reformation?  Well, if you heard my sermon a couple of weeks ago about pastors, you know that I’m not advocating that.  So, what’s really the problem here?  

To start look at the rest of Jesus’ words in this passage.  Look even at what He says next: All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  Do you see it?  This is about Jesus.  This is about those who recognize who Jesus is and who cling to Him.  Just like we talked about that separation last week, we’re finding it again this week.  But how is that distinction playing itself out this time?  

Well, in a word you could understand Jesus to be saying that those “wise” and “understanding” folks leaned on their own understanding.  They leaned on their own wisdom and their own intelligence.  And with all of that, they leaned on their own righteousness.  In fact, that’s just what the Pharisees and the Scribes did best.  They told the Jews of that day, “If you really want to be Jewish, do this or that.”  “If you really want to be faithful, as you’re observing the Sabbath only take x number of steps, and when you’re fasting make sure to fast y number of hours.”  You see what they were doing is they were taking God’s Law and they were quantifying it.  They were putting it into a neat little package so that they could look at their list and check it off to make sure they had done it.  And that Law was cumbersome.  There were so many instructions to keep up with, one could spend all their time checking their list rather than doing what the Law said and loving God and their neighbor.  But you see they still had their checklist.  

But of course, as I say that, that Law is impossible itself, isn’t it?  This is the Law that says to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself, we can’t do it, can we?  As Paul said in the reading from Romans last week, “I would not know what it is to covet if the Law had not said, ‘do not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”  And then he said, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.”  You see, here is this commandment, and God says of the commandments, “do this and you will live,” right?  If you do what God says you won’t die.  But what happens?  That commandment, that Law comes and it brings death because I don’t do it.  In fact, as we read today’s part from Romans, Paul is utterly relatable here, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

You see Jesus is attacking the Scribes and Pharisees, the “wise” and “understanding,” because they turned this Law into something you can do.  But you can’t do it.  You and I, and Paul himself, have this reality.  “I don’t do what I want do.  I’m made anew in Jesus and now I actually want to do God-pleasing things, but I can’t.  I just can’t do it.  The sins I don’t want to do.  That’s what I keep doing.  I do the same stupid things again, and again, and again.”  

But the world in its wisdom doesn’t get this, do they?  Have you ever had conversations with non-Christians about this?  Or people who confess the faith, but don’t have a strong grasp of just how far our sinfulness goes?  You say something like Paul in confession of thanksgiving for what Jesus has done, and how do they respond?  I know that when I was in college, I remember having conversations about this, and many people would sort of look and say, “Why?  Why would you want to honor the commands, why you would want to try to do what’s right?  Why would you have an issue with getting drunk, or smoking pot?  What’s the problem with sex outside of marriage?”  Right?  Often the world doesn’t get it.  Or what was the other response?  “Oh really, it’s OK, you’re not that bad.  You’re upset that you did that thing?  Why?  That’s not a big deal.  I can’t imagine God really cares!”

In fact, as I say that, I find what Jesus is referencing this lesson to be so true.  You see when Jesus says, “you will find rest for your souls,” He is quoting Jeremiah chapter six, where Jeremiah says, “they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the Lord. Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  How true is that, that in our day, we are not ashamed at all?  That we don’t know how to blush at things we should be ashamed of?  That we say to our God, “we will not walk in your way?”  That’s a fairly apt description, isn’t it?

And why?  Well, look at the “wise” in our day.  Look at the “understanding.”  Who are they?  Think about it.  Who do we consider the most learned and educated?  To whom do we seek to send our children to learn?  Do we concern ourselves with pastors and teachers of the church?  In many cases in our day, we concern ourselves more with the educations of colleges and universities, don’t we?  Now to be clear, seeking college education for our children is not wrong.  But we need to be aware: what is the view of many college and university professors?  

I remember sitting in a class my senior year of college, and the topic of faith came up a couple of times.  One time the professor very critically attacked Christianity saying, “and what about those who died before Jesus?  What happens to them?”  Another time the same professor, as we were introducing ourselves, when I said I wanted to be a pastor, looked at me and said, “You still believe, huh?  Even with everything out there?  You still believe in God?”  And that’s the stance of many professors.  As something I was reading this week said, this view, called secular humanism, could be summarized to the statement by Carl Sagan in his public television production called Cosmos, where he said, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”  And there’s the rub.  To the wise and the understanding in our day, the world, the material universe is it.  It’s all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.  When you die, you go to sleep.

And as we look at this, while it sounds utterly different from the ways of the Scribes and Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking, there’s something consistent, isn’t there?  And what is it?  It’s that these “wise” and “understanding” depend on something for their righteousness: their own intelligence.  As a Scribe and Pharisee, I can make God’s Law my attainable checklist and do it myself, earning my way to heaven.  For the “wise” and “understanding” today, I can use my intelligence and figure out the world and see that I can justify myself and my actions by determining that there is nothing else out there, and so I can do whatever I determine to be best without bearing any guilt caused by some interfering revelation from God.   

You see, the “wise” and “understanding” of the world think that our abilities are sufficient for our own righteousness.  But this isn’t true.  Where is true righteousness to be found?  Well, what does Jesus say?  He thanks His Father, and for what?  As He says, “that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”  These things hadn’t been given to the wise and understanding, but to the children.  And what do children see?  They see that they have guilt.  They know what it means to have shame, to blush.  That’s not to say that they aren’t sinners.  They still get angry when you correct them.  But they have the humility to look at what they’ve done and to correct themselves and say “sorry,” to see the need to be corrected.  In adult terms, they see the need for righteousness to come to them not from their own efforts, but through forgiveness.  

Think about the invitation that Jesus speaks: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  What an invitation this is, isn’t it?  Come children see that you aren’t righteous.  See that you have a heavy burden upon your shoulders.  See how you are like an ox with a yoke that ties you to a load that you can’t carry.  You bear the yoke of God’s commands.  A real God who has really revealed Himself in this world.  A real God who tells you that there is something more besides the Cosmos.  A real God who has really given His Law and His commands.  And this Law, these commands cannot be kept.  They’re not a checklist.  They can’t be quantified.  They demand perfection, and if you fall short, which everyone does, the wage, the payment of that sin is death.  Your death.  The breakdown of your body, the destruction of your life, the loss of that life eternally in condemnation.  This is real.  

But He says, come children.  See where there is righteousness.  See what I have done for you.  I have taken that yoke that you can’t carry.  I have taken that yoke upon my shoulders and I have borne it in my perfect life for you.  I have carried it with the cross I hauled up the mountain of Calvary.  I have shouldered its load on my nail-pierced hands and feet and in my speared lanced side.  I have done all of this for you, because here is the righteousness for you: it is in my yoke, my resurrection.

Christians what an invitation: rest.  Rest from death.  Rest as He baptizes you into His death and resurrection.  Rest as He calls you to feast at His table.  Rest from the need to find righteousness by which you justify yourself, but rest in knowing that Jesus has justified you in carrying your load to His tomb.  This then is rest for your soul.  Rest in Him.  Rest that is not wise in this world.  But rest that is given to all children of God.  Eternal rest in the righteousness of Jesus.  Amen.