Saturday, July 04, 2020

Pentecost 5A


Lockdown continues; the number of cases in the USA continues to rise. We may start parking lot-courtyard worship during August or September, which sounds wonderful! We can meet at 10 for Sunday School (it probably will be bring your own drinks and donuts), segue into worship, and then ease into a combined actual-virtual Zoom coffee hour-bible study.

Prayer on Psalm 145:8-14

God, we know you are full of grace, mercy, and love. Your goodness and compassion embrace all creation. Your creatures reflect your glory; they proclaim your presence to all the world. We trust the faithfulness of your word, the graciousness of everything you do. God, you always have cared for the weak and broken; resurrection from death always has been your response.

Thank you again for the many committed essential workers. Please continue to keep them safe; please continue to help us be your presence wherever we go.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Zechariah 9:9-12

9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the [waterless] pit. 12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Today we get selections from Handel's Messiah!

Similar to dividing the book of Isaiah into three major sections, the writings of this post-exilic prophet who ministered during the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah divide into 1st Zechariah (chapters 1 through 8) and 2nd Zechariah (chapters 9 through 14). Zechariah lived around the same time as Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai.

All four canonical gospels identify Zechariah 9:9 with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week:

• Mark 11:1-11
• Luke 19:28-38
• Matthew 21:1-11
• John 12:12-19

Today's passage from Second Zechariah includes the florid soprano aria "Rejoice, greatly, O Daughter of Zion" that announces a gentle ruler whose dominion or reign will mean the end of war and the fullness of shalom. Next in the Messiah, an alto or mezzo-soprano promises "He shall feed his flock," followed by a soprano singing "Come Unto me."

Matthew 11:7-15

7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8…Someone dressed in soft robes?… 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, and much more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you to prepare the way for you.' 11No one greater born of a woman than John, but the least of these in my kingdom still is greater. … 14And if you are willing to accept it, John is Elijah who is to come. 15Let anyone with ears listen!."

In these verses that come immediately before the gospel for today, Jesus says about his cousin, "No one born of a woman [no human] is greater than John." Then Jesus adds that from his viewpoint, John is so great that for him John is the prophet Elijah who had to return before the Messianic age could happen.

Jesus' cousin John was the son of temple priest Zechariah whose song of praise to God at John's birth included, "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways." [Luke 1:76] With confidence in the promises of the God of his priestly father, John went into the wilderness by the Jordan River to call out religious and political injustice and greed, to offer a baptism of repentance, and to announce the ministry of his cousin Jesus. You may remember the Jordan was the boundary and border between Israel's desert wandering and their settling down in the Promised Land?

However, despite John's importance, Jesus insists "the least" in his reign or kingdom is even greater than J the B. Last week I quoted the late chef and Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon's succinct observation God saves ONLY the "last, lost, little, and least."

Although John the Baptist's father's name was Zechariah, he probably wasn't even a distant relative of today's featured prophet Zechariah. Like Zachary, Zechariah means the Lord has remembered, so the hope it offered made Zach a fairly common name.

Matthew 11:16-19

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."

Today's gospel reading gives us a famous contrast between rugged, untamed John the Baptist by the riverside outside polite society and his slightly younger cousin Jesus. It's become common to say Jesus demonstrates the lifestyle God's people are supposed to have, John's doesn't make it, yet John's invitation to all clearly models grace and community on the margins, rather than only at the established centers of society. Even people (like us?!) who think we know how Jesus' followers are supposed to be, appear, and act, still recognize the same God acting in different ways in different people and varied circumstances.

Matthew 11:28-30

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."

Today we get selections from Handel's Messiah!

Matthew 11:28-29, rest – Exodus 33:14, "I will give you rest." In Genesis 2:1-3, God's own sabbath rest after creating the world and everything in it.

Over the past few weeks in Matthew's gospel, Jesus has given instructions and cautions for the church in motion. To be church means first to be gathered in the Holy Spirit around word and sacrament and then to be missionaries or apostles (both words refer to being sent) in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. But how far and wide have we been able to move lately?

Recent months have given anyone with a heart for justice and compassion opportunities to identify and call out injustice, violence, and pain in ways that help raise awareness and create hope for a just, free future for all inhabitants of planet earth. The pandemic has people shutting down and staying in, while the call for justice inspires us to get up, get out there, show our concerns and urge the powers that be toward systemic changes.

There's not very often only one valid interpretation of a scriptural passage, but these three verses can't be interpreted as Jesus' telling us to get out there and get active in the thick messiness of the world's needs. Here as Jesus invites us with the inclusive word "all," he promises us restful relief from all the overwhelms.

• If you could sit with Jesus right now, what would you tell him?

• What burden would you ask Jesus to lift from you as an individual?

• What burden would you first beg Jesus to remove from your immediate surroundings—maybe only your biological family, possibly only southern California?

• What is the very first weight you wish Jesus would lift from the entire world?

• Maybe some of us even need to rest from the heaviness of our incessant pleading prayers to God that everything will get right again?

PS: Notes on yoke in verses 29-30: a pair or a yoke of oxen shares the burden and a well-constructed yoke rests lightly on their shoulders, so "yoke" can refer to the pair of oxen wearing the instrument that joins them together or to the (usually wooden) yoke itself. Jesus could have been contrasting the negative yoke and burden of religious and imperial demands with the light weight of keeping covenant with God and neighbor by obeying the ten word or commandments.

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