First Reading Zechariah 9:9-12
In words that Matthew quotes when recording Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, God’s people are promised a rescuer who will be a king and yet humble. We need only return to him, our stronghold and our hope.
Second Reading Romans 7:15-25a
Paul shares our own sorrow at frequently breaking God’s commandments, as sin leads us astray. Fortunately, salvation isn’t something we can earn but has already been achieved for us by Jesus, if we turn to him, our rescuer and redeemer.
Gospel Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus urges all to recognise him as the Father’s Son, even if he does not match their preferred picture of God. His actions will prove who he is, and those who come to him will find both comfort and challenge.
HOMILY ‘Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’
This passage from Matthew’s Gospel may seem very familiar to you. Some of these words are used by the presiding priest during the traditional service of Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer. “Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28) The ‘Comfortable Words’, as they are known, inspire us as disciples. But what was Jesus really saying? What does he mean by, using the modern translation, ‘Come to me?’ and ‘I will give you rest?’
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 7, we find part of the answer. Paul understands the demands of discipleship and the challenge of living by God’s law, fulfilled in Jesus himself who is the new order. Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of the old law but we are not free to do as we please. The law has not passed away – it is actually completed! Now we don’t have to seek heaven by our works, but by the grace of God we are raised to heaven. It is God’s action, call and choice. There is nothing wrong with God’s law, for it is wholly good – the challenge is our interpretation of it as disciples today. To follow the way means to allow Jesus to walk with us daily, as it were, attaching ourselves to Jesus, the fulfilment of God’s law; for if we choose to walk with him and him alone, we will never stray to the right or to the left. But this walk with Jesus is far from comfortable! As Christians we will face challenges along the way. We may even see persecution – something the Coptic Christians in Syria and Egypt are facing day in and day out, and their resolve is undiminished, the commitment unstinting.
Perhaps that explains why we don’t always find the walk of faith easy? Saint Paul knows that he too is guilty of straying from the right path – that following the way of Christ is no easy walk in the park! He too is tempted. He too is lacking perfection. Hence, he cries out, ‘Wretched man that I am!’ (Romans 7:24) as he recognises the weakness of his body and the temptations of his flesh.
Yet Paul also understands the love of Jesus, who longs to save him. So Paul responds with a question: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) And the answer is, Jesus Christ the Lord! The call of the disciple is to follow the Lord who calls. Jesus called those first disciples as they stood by the lake mending their nets, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19) But do we think of discipleship as a calling or our own choice?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of children singing sad and happy songs in their games. Naturally he’s not simply referring to music, but what an excellent example of the way we try to make God dance to our tune rather than following God’s way. Jesus compares them to ‘this generation’: “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”” (Matthew 11: 16, 17) These are also not comfortable words! The point here is simple and straightforward. Our relationship with God is not actually comfortable in the sense that it is not usually the way WE want things to be.
Take the example of a three-legged race – you know the kind of thing we loved (or loathed!) at Sports Day as children: our leg bound to another child’s! Being attached to someone else teaches one that we must support and help each other. It is no good, being tied to someone and trying to walk in the opposite direction – both would fall over. When God chose to come among us in human flesh – the Incarnation – God chose to walk with us and lead us from within. Therefore, Jesus knew and understood that people can’t get through life without help. He knew that every person needs more in their life than just their own desires and aspirations. He knew that every person needs God and he is the way to the Father. You see, THAT is the truth that will set us free – that each one of us needs to rely upon Jesus who leads us to the Father. We need to listen to his Word from the bible and take it to heart. We need to listen to his teaching and rely upon him for guidance. We need to come to him in our prayers, pray in his name and share with him all our thoughts, hopes and fears.
It is Jesus who calls us – to be his disciples today, and as lovely as those words from scripture are, repeated in the old Communion Service, there is nothing comfortable about the call to discipleship. Friends in faith, we need to trust Jesus if we are to run the race that is set before us. How comfortable are we with our own picture of God? Too comfortable, perhaps? In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us all an invitation: “Come to me.” Come to me – whether you prefer old hymns or new choruses. Come to Jesus and see the variety of God – in a Jesus who attended synagogue and temple, and yet mixed with outcasts; a Jesus who celebrated at a wedding feast and wept for his friend Lazarus! Come to a Jesus who prayed quietly alone and yet taught the multitude, a gentle Jesus who healed the sick and an angry Jesus who railed at injustice and hypocrisy, overturning the tables in the temple!
Rather than make God (or our fellow Christians!) dance to our tune, can we not allow God’s own music to emerge? We need Jesus to help us run the race: to call us, lead us, teach us, admonish us! We can’t run without him. Saint Paul knew that, but do we? Could we not risk something different, if it helps others to come to find God at the centre of their lives too? Is it time to accept the challenge Jesus has given us – and step outside our comfort zone as his disciples?
So, to each one of you, I say this; remember that you are running a race! You are running a race which will last your entire life – nobody is too young or too old to be a disciple of Jesus. And you can’t run that race alone. You need Jesus to lead you and to protect you. Therefore, you need the wider Church family here at St Mary’s to support, encourage and, yes, to challenge you! The Church is his very body on earth today – so you need your time of prayer, worship and fellowship here as much as anything else, if not more so. Make Church a priority! Make discipleship your path and listen to the Lord who speaks to you today through his holy Word – the scriptures – and be comforted! Amen.