Flip Flop Kick Off — July 6, 2014

Flip Flop Summer Kickoff at 

Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon

For audio, click this link: https://soundcloud.com/emsworthup/july-6-2014-10-29-03-am/s-M8ipv

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
16 ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All 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.
28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Let us pray:  Merciful God, in this moment of stillness, wash us clean of our presumptions.  Receive us as your weary children.  Then by the power of your Spirit, bless us with a sweet word that revives us.  For we pray in the name of Jesus, your living Word.  Amen.
This morning’s scripture reading contains one of the most beloved passages from the Bible in these sweet, sweet words of Jesus:   “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  That is one of the verses that makes Jesus almost irresistible, don’t you think?  This is one of those verses that make  you just want to crawl up into Jesus’ lap and never leave. Really. If you were going to put up a big billboard in front of your church, this would be perfect line, right?  Come to our church, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.  We will give you rest.   Rest.  Ahhhhhh.  Everybody’s got burdens.   And considering how many insomniacs I know, rest is one of those commodities in very short supply.  Probably more than a few of us could use some evangelism in the form of a nap.
This passage feels like a cool, tall drink of water on a hot summer day.  Like that first dive into the swimming pool on a 90 degree afternoon.  It’s like the last day of school when you’re sitting in an empty class room and you’re just staring at the clock as it ticks toward that final bell and summer vacation stretches before you like a vast wonderland of endless possibilities for adventure.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest?”  Take 2 minutes and turn to your neighbors and share – what weariness do you most want to release this day?  Where do you need rest in your life?


What did you hear from one another?
This passage means (reference what is heard) to us, but it probably meant something different when Jesus said it.   When we come to this text in Matthew, Jesus had just finished preaching in several cities in Galilee and he had not been well received.  In fact, Jesus had bombed.  Big time.  Jesus’ failure really didn’t have much to do with the quality of his preaching.  It’s just that the people to whom he had preached were so intelligent and so capable, they probably didn’t think they needed any help from Jesus.  The people who rejected Jesus had their lives together.  Their jobs were secure.  Their churches were running like clockwork.  They didn’t have any problems, or it they did, they weren’t going to admit it to a guys like Jesus who liked to go to parties, usually with the wrong kind of people. Whatever gift Jesus had to offer them, they declined. 
And facing all that rejection, Jesus.  Loses.  It.  He loses it, in the way human beings lose it when we are tired, when we feel rejected or criticized.  When it seems like we’ve been working so hard and have so little to show for it.  Jesus angrily compares the people who rejected to a bunch of babies who don’t know what they want, but they know they didn’t want the kind of faith that Jesus offered.  The same people who rejected Jesus had also rejected John the Baptist.  John was dismissed as a crazy crank, and Jesus was denounced as a party animal.   The people are not interested in any of the messengers God sends to them, because they had no interest in the new thing God was sending to them.  And Jesus gets angry, so angry that he tells then that they are doomed.  Headed straight to the hell they so richly deserve.
And then Jesus calms down.  He backs off and remembers that those people who rejected him are human beings.  The people who rejected him are human beings so caught up in being safe and being right and following all the rules, that they will not hear…in fact, they cannothear God’s message of grace. 
Jesus prays and gives thanks God that there are other kinds of people, people who don’t think they have it all together.  People who don’t know anything except that they need the gift of Jesus offers.  The “infants,” Jesus calls them.   The ones who don’t know it all are the ones who receive Jesus. 
So it seems we won’t get to know the Son or the Father through our intelligence or knowledge or bible study or prayer or even by coming to church on a regular basis.  God is not impressed by our perfect attendance record in Sunday school or our service on committees, or the good deeds we do in Jesus’ name.  Not even by an M.Div. or a Ph.D. or any other letters after our names.  What we know and experience of God is pure gift to us.  Our prayer and study helps us recognize God’s movement in our lives.  But this text seems to suggest that our wisdom can just as easily cause us to miss out on what God is doing.  The minute I think I have God pinned down, I can count on God doing something quite different.  Has that happened to you, too?  God just totally surprising you?  It’s amazing.  It’s annoying sometimes.  It is grace.
God doesn’t come to us because of how much we know or what we do. God comes to us because that’s who God is.  And we see God most clearly in Jesus.  And it almost seems that the older and wiser we get, the harder it is for us to experience and hear and see what God is up to.
Later on in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus will complain about how the religious leaders placed heavy burdens on people.  In the very next episode of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ disciples are walking through a grain field on the Sabbath and pluck some grain to eat.  And you remember what happens, right? Jesus’ critics go nuts.  Jesus says God wants mercy, not sacrifice.  God wants an active, lively faith, not a religion of oughts and shoulds. 
Here is Jesus’ invitation again as it is interpreted by The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Have you ever had a time in your life when religion or church felt more like a heavy burden than a gift?  Turn to your neighbor again and describe what that burden felt like for you?  Did you do anything about it?
 When I hear this invitation from Jesus, I think that sometimes we treat our life of faith like a new pair of shoes we insist upon buying even though they’re about one half size too small.  Have you ever done that?  You peruse the clearance rack at the shoe store and find this absolutely fabulous pair of shoes but they don’t have them in your size?   We force our size 9 foot into a size 8 1/2.   Sure the shoes don’t fit very well, but they were on sale and so beautiful. The shoes are so beautiful that we keep wearing them, thinking the shoes will eventually stretch out or we’ll learn to live with the pain.  Our feet are killing us but we just keep stumbling around in bargain basement shoes that just don’t fit.  Why do we cling to false identities that hurt?  Why are we so reluctant to accept the yoke that fits us?  The custom made yoke that God has so lovingly created for us?  
And the truth is my brothers and sisters, religion can very often become a burden to us, not a joy.  Religion can so easily be reduced to should and oughts and musts.  And here comes Jesus to offer a rescue to all of us wise and intelligent Presbyterians, offering us something we desperately need more than we care to admit.  Rest for our weary souls.  A release from shoes that don’t fit very well.  Instead, Jesus offers a yoke that is custom fitted, just for us.   A yoke isn’t linked to anxiety and stress, but to the love and peace and yes, work that Jesus has called us to do. 

Can you imagine what that might feel like?  I imagine it feels a lot like taking off the high heels that give me blisters, and putting on my 15 year old Timberland hiking boots that I still wear as often as I can in the wintertime.  They are so broken in that they feel like they were made just for me, just for my feet. 
I didn’t exactly mean to go off on this shoe metaphor, but today is the kick off for Flip Flop Sunday, right?   One of the reasons I was so excited when Donna suggested we try this summer experiment of “Flip Flop” worship is that it opens up a space for all of us to become a little less – what does Jesus say – a little less conventionally “wise and intelligent.”  It gives us space to enter into scripture and music and prayer, and participate fully instead of being spectators.  I might dare to suggest that some of what we can experience in Flip Flop worship can be fun, even playful in the best sense of the word. 
So this summer, we will create worship together in community.  We will improvise in our prayers and our liturgies.   We will listen to each other’s testimonies.  And most importantly, we will play together and seek to hear the call of a God who is always creating, always innovating, always seeking to yoke us together as brothers and sisters, and to Jesus who shows us the gentle, humble, playful way of life in His name.  Amen.

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