This sermon, offered on October 14, 2018 at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, by The Rev. Andy Jones, is built around the readings assigned for Saint Francis of Assisi.
You can find those readings here.
Here is a recording of the 8:00 am sermon:
And a transcript of the recording:
So I know there may be some argument about this, but I think that one of the greatest things about the Internet is that it allows people with unique, even obscure, interests to connect with one another and to collaborate.
For example, how many of you know what a hurdy gurdy is? Count on this group to have some folks who know…
A hurdy gurdy is a stringed instrument, developed sometime before the 11th century, that works a little bit like a violin. But instead of being bowed, the strings are by a hand cranked rosin coated wheel it rubs against the strings. And different pitches are created by pressing keys the on the keyboard that stop or shorten strings. So, anybody in the room know someone who plays a hurdy gurdy?
Imagine what it would be like if you were the only hurdy gurdy player in town, or in the county, or in your state. Where would you go for instructions on tuning, repairing, even playing your instrument. It might be pretty lonely. Well, there’s an Internet group for that. On Facebook, The Hurdy Gurdy Community describes itself as a group for hurdy-gurdy enthusiasts of all sorts, from complete beginner to expert.” And The Hurdy Gurdy Community has 1,478 members.
Here’s another one. Did you read James Clavell’s 1975 novel Shogun? Did you like the movie The Last Samurai or Mulan, or are you a fan of Akira Kurosawa? Did you ever think you might like to make your own full-sized samurai armor? If so, there’s a group for that! The Facebook group Samurai Armor: Build Your Own Full-Size Replica boasts 613 members.
One more than I’ll stop, but this one’s my favorite.
Jellyfish… Jellyfish… Now, don’t worry were not eating them. Anybody here have an aquarium full of jellyfish at home? Because if so, there’s a group for that! The jellyfish Owners Association Facebook group says, “this group is for anyone interested in keeping jellyfish. Sponsored by The Jellyfish Warehouse, but all are welcome to join. We want to be a community of jellyfish keepers that can share ideas and help each other out.”
Now I don’t have any idea who the 159 members of the Jellyfish Owners Association are. And I don’t know where they live. But I’ll bet you that all 159 of them are really glad to be able to connect with one another, and to form of a community with a common need and interest, a common vision; a community that can share ideas and help one another out.
So here’s little more serious question. If you set out to create a group with a common need and interest, a common vision; a community that could share ideas and help one another out… what would be the focus of your group? Who would you want to gather? What would you call yourselves?
I don’t know about you, but I think right now what I really need, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, is a group for the weary, a group for people carrying heavy burdens, for people who long for a little rest, even a little rest for their souls.
So, what we call that group?
I’m not sure. But I would want it to be a group with a lot of members. And it would be great if some of those members were close enough that we could gather regularly and maybe even share a meal.
And you know, don’t think I would want it to be a new group. I’d want it to be a group with some history, with some time-tested ideas and practices to offer.
That’s what I need. But what would we call it?
Some 2000 years ago Jesus put out the invitation to join this group. He said,
“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 heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Jesus is issued that invitation through the best social media that his day had to offer. He invited a big crowd of people near his hometown of Capernaum, in the region of Galilee, and each member of that crowd told two people, and each of them told two people, until sometime after Jesus’s resurrection Matthew wrote it down, and extended the invitation to us.
So, here we are. And we are not a small group. Worldwide somewhere around 2.2 billion people have responded to Jesus’s invitation. There are local chapters of this group right here in Madison; communities with a common need and interest, a common vision; communities that share ideas and help one another out; communities with whom we can gather and share a meal.
And we’re not a new group either. Two thousand years of history, of trial and error, of working together to respond to Jesus’s invitation, and to experience that for which our souls long… We are a group some time-tested ideas and practices to offer, and we are more than ready to share them and help one another out. So as we begin to ask ourselves, how it is we find that rest, and that rest for our souls, let’s go to us Jesus’s invitation to us.
Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Clearly there’s a comparison being made, a contrast here. Jesus is telling us that we are yoked to the wrong things, and that we are carrying the wrong burdens. We need to yoke ourselves to him and to carry his burdens.
So, first of all a yoke. That might not sound like a great thing, it may be that we are rethinking our decision to join this group. But a yoke is used to bind two animals together so that they can pull the same burden. And so what Jesus is asking us to do is to step into the yoke with him. So that he can help us. So that he can pull that load with us. And then he offers us his burdens.
Now, let’s think for a minute about what those might be. Jesus asks us to follow in his footsteps, and we have the baptismal covenant, promises that we made. But there are some other versions of those promises, and some other ideas for how to follow in his footsteps.
St. Francis, and did you really think that we can get back to Francis by this point? Francis wrote a rule of life, and people made commitments to poverty, to chastity, to proclaiming the gospel, to caring for all creatures, all of God’s creation. Francis called it a rule of life. St. Benedict before him created a rule of life, a way for people to approach living and being in the world, that would yoke them to Jesus, to help us to carry Jesus’s burdens.
The reason that Jesus tells us that his burden is light, and his yoke is easy is that he’s in the traces with us, helping us to pull the load, but also because, this way of life allows us to experience life at its fullest, as the people that God creates us to be. And when we’re carrying the right burdens we find them to be joyful.
Put a 50-pound backpack on, and walk around the Vilas Zoo and you’ll be exhausted. Pick up a 50-pound child or grandchild, and walk around the Vilas Zoo and you come home feeling more alive than you have all week. Jesus is telling us that the right burdens make all the difference world.
This summer at the Gen. convention, presiding Bishop Michael Curry offered us a way to yoke ourselves to Jesus, and to carry Jesus’s burdens; to turn our attention to the things that give us life; and to live in a way that will lead us to becoming the people that God created us to be.
The Way of Love: Practices for Jesus Centered Life. Now I know the windowsills are getting crowded in here. The back window sills still have gratitude boxes for you all to write out, what it is about St. Andrews that fills you with gratitude. But the other windowsills and on the radiators here in the front, are copies of this invitation to walk in The Way of Love.
The practices that are enumerated here:
Turn: Pause, listen and choose to follow Jesus.
Learn: Reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus’s life and teachings.
Pray: Dwell intentionally with God each day.
Worship: Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God.
To bless: to bless the people around us by our life and presence.
Go into the world and find and experience God at work and Jesus’s presence in other people.
To Rest: to take time to recharge, to reflect on the ways that these practices have enriched our lives, and built us up.
And then… to begin again.
Over the next several months we will pay close attention to The Way of Love. We will be offering Sunday forums to talk more about this. We’ll be preaching about it. And we’ll engage one another in these practices, and experiment to find the burdens that are most like giving each of us, so that when we come together we can find rest, rest for our souls.
On this document, and I hope you all will take one home, there are links to a couple of websites with more information. And, as in all things in the church, we’re building this airplane as we fly. So some of the material will be coming out in the next few weeks and in the next month, but as they come out we will be offering them.
What I hope that you all will do is to pay attention, to try some of these things on what a difference they may in your lives, and then come back here and share with one another what you’ve discovered and what you’ve learned.
So this week the first step is to turn. Think of something in your week that you do reflexively, almost without thinking about it, that exhausts you. Think about something that you do in your day habitually, as a matter of rote, that wears you out and burdens you. And then, turn away from it, stop, and do something that will focus your attention and your mind on God for just a moment.
Here’s what I’m going to do. and I’ll have to admit that I’ve told you that I was going to do this before. That’s why this is a cyclical pattern of behaviors, because we set out to accomplish them, and we find ourselves often right back in the scenes spot again. You pick up and start over… I am not going to turn on the news first thing in the morning when I wake up. Some time ago I switched to an alarm clock on my cell phone that’s just a series of chimes so that I wouldn’t wake up grinding my teeth stories on NPR which were invading my dreams before I had my defenses up. But now, I’m not going to turn NPR on when I get my cup of coffee. I’m not going to check the Washington Post before I get in the car to come to work. I’m going to let those things wait, and instead, I’m going to say a prayer.
Oh God, keep me fit for the journey today. Keep my eyes have eyes on the goal, my feet on the path. Bring me home to rest in you.