Sunday 9 July
Matthew 11:16-19, 25 –end.
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is a bit of a cliché in clergy life that it is impossible to win. People expect all sorts of things from their clergy – they need to be good with old people and inspiring for young people, they need to be good at traditional liturgy and modern worship , they need to be deeply spiritual whilst also business minded and good at chairing meetings, they need to mourn with the bereaved and celebrate with the newly married often on the same day, they need to be biblical scholars and pastoral carers, they need to be radical campaigners for the disadvantaged whilst also being deeply conservative.
Now, let me be clear, this is not me having a passive aggressive moan about life in Hadlow – very far from it. I do love this place and love being your Vicar. It is genuinely just an observation that no matter what sort of minister you are and no matter what you try to do and despite the fact that St Paul calls us to be all things to all people actually it is impossible to please everyone all of the time.
Plus ca change. This is not a modern phenomena; people don’t change that much and it may be of some reassurance to clergy everywhere to be reminded that, as in all things, Jesus has been there before us.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus compares the people of his time with those who refuse to join in no matter what kind of tune is being played for them – if the children in the marketplace play a joyful tune on the flute then the people refuse to dance and if the children change their joyful sound into a dirge then the people refuse to mourn.
It is interesting that Jesus uses this metaphor of children apparently busking in a marketplace. Because, of course, marketplaces are where adults go to do important grown up things – buying and selling, making a living and providing for the family. If adults go to a marketplace to do business then, actually, it is the easiest thing in the world to ignore children who may be busking in the corner, no matter what kind of tune they are playing. I suspect every person here has ignored buskers in the past, on the grounds of having much more important things to do.
What if the distractions of being an adult in the marketplace of this world actually prevent us from hearing what is really important? What if we stopped and listened to a small and seemingly unimportant sound which has nothing to do with the marketplace – perhaps a sound of joy or perhaps a sound of mourning and allow ourselves to respond?
This is an interesting one to think about – the call of faith not being like a big brass band which cannot be ignored but perhaps like children playing in a corner, seemingly unimportant but perhaps being the most important thing, if we only had the ears to hear.
But then Jesus moves away from metaphor and makes the point which I touched on in my opening – that no matter what you do in ministry that some people will not be happy – that, perhaps, it is easier to complain about the messenger than it is to listen to the message.
Jesus gives us a direct compare and contrast between himself and John the Baptist:
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say “He has a demon’”.
We know that John the Baptist’s lifestyle and ministry were of extreme asceticism and repentance. He lived in the wilderness, wearing rough clothes, eating wild honey and locusts, never drinking alcohol, preaching a message of repentance and baptism to those he called a ‘brood of vipers.’ We know that many responded positively to this message and that they went out to be baptised by him, including Jesus himself of course. But it seems that many not only ignored his cry in the wilderness but may have accused him of being possessed – ‘he has a demon.’
And once we label someone like that how easy it becomes to ignore what they are saying. ‘Why do I need to think about repentance – that man is clearly mad or possessed.”
So lots of people didn’t respond to John’s somewhat harsh preaching and extreme lifestyle. They used the harshness of the message and his lifestyle to let themselves off the hook.
But Jesus’ approach to life and ministry was entirely different. Although he certainly spent time in the wilderness and alone in prayer he also spent a lot of time eating and drinking with people. His first recorded miracle in the gospel of John is changing water into wine at a wedding feast, time and again he showed concern that those following him had enough to eat with the feedings of the 4000 and 5000, he often compared the Kingdom of God to a wedding banquet and our central act of worship in this church comes from him sharing bread and wine with his disciples and saying that is how we will remember and encounter him.
But did that make people happy?
Jesus said: “…the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
John and Jesus were preaching the same message – ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’ and they did so using very different approaches, yet in both cases there were people who ignored the message because it is easier to criticise the messenger.
And then Jesus prays to the Father in perhaps mysterious words:
“I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”
The grown ups can perhaps be too grown up to hear the saving message of God because they are distracted by the market place of life, or perhaps distracted by the personality of God’s messenger. We are back to the children busking in the corner. Remember Mark 10.15, Matthew 18:2 & Luke 18:17? Unless you receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child you shall not enter it?
What a challenge. To step away from being critical grown ups who are too wise for their own good and to be like little children who, when they hear joyful music in the market place would simply dance for joy. In other words when we hear that message that God loves us, that God wants to wash us clean and make us whole and to make us his children that we accept that unconditional love with child-like joy – and to call him Abba, Father.
Many grown ups that I speak to can seem scared of what it means to become a Christian, or if they are already Christians what it may mean to surrender more of themselves to God’s love. They think that being a Christian means giving things up or taking unpopular stances on popular issues. They often use these worries, or perhaps their concerns about the vicar, to stop them hearing and responding to God’s gentle, quiet, call on their lives.
And so Jesus also offers us some words of comfort this morning. In fact these words are included in the ‘comfortable words’ in the BCP service.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and 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.”
Do you want rest for your soul? Put aside the grown up cares and concerns of this world receive the love of God with the eagerness of a little child, come home to the Father, cast your burdens upon him and he will give you rest, now and for all eternity.