Matthew 11: 16 – 19; 28-30 The Unforced Rhythms of Grace   July 5, 2020

Here is this week’s sermon:


And the words:


The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Matthew 11: 16 – 19; 28-30

 (preached July 5, 2020)

 Did you ever know someone who was never satisfied?  Did you ever know someone who was always determined to find fault?  Did you ever know someone who refused to be happy, no matter how much you aimed to please?

That seems to have been the case for one woman who was married to a fault-finder.  Her husband was getting more and more critical of her.  He carped and complained all the time, but he seemed to be most cantankerous at breakfast.  If the eggs were scrambled, he wanted them poached.  If they were poached, he wanted them scrambled. One morning, his wife thought she had a stroke of genius.  She poached one egg and scrambled the other.  She put the plate in front of him.  She waited anxiously, hoping that this time he would smile and approve.  But he looked down at the plate and snorted, “Can’t you do anything right?  You’ve scrambled the wrong egg!”

Jesus knew from experience how hard it is to deal with people who are never satisfied.  In our passage for today, from Matthew, he says, “What shall I compare this generation to?  It’s like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.’”  He’s addressing the crowd of people following him, comparing them to children who complain about the other kids who won’t join in their games.  His words are aimed at the religious leaders, the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were critical of both John the Baptist and Jesus.  The two men were very different, but the Pharisees managed to find fault with both of them.  John the Baptist lived the life of an ascetic.  He isolated himself from society.  He fasted rigorously and denied himself creature comforts like a glass of wine.  The Pharisees thought John was crazy.  Jesus wasn’t like John.  He loved being with people.  He spent time with all kinds of people, even people who weren’t welcome in polite society.  He ate and drank with them.  The Pharisees criticized Jesus for too much partying.  He couldn’t win, and neither could John.

Jesus knew the Pharisees were determined to find fault.  But he wasn’t so worried about them.  What really concerned him were the people who labored night and day to please those fickle, finicky Pharisees.  In Jesus’ day, the life of the average Jew was burdened by a host of religious regulations.  It was a great burden to obey all the religious laws that Jews were supposed to observe.

They were supposed to follow to the letter the laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  These laws dictated what kind of grain they could plant, what kind of fabrics they could wear; what parts of an animal were OK to eat, and what parts were acceptable for temple sacrifices.  The laws dictated what percentage of their income they should give to the temple.  Every aspect of life was subject to these rules they had to obey, to please the religious authorities.  Jesus talks about this in another part of Matthew’s gospel, where he says the Pharisees “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23: 4).

It must have felt at times like an unrelenting round of obligations.  The constant pressure to fulfill these obligations would have made anyone weary.  Maybe that weariness is what Jesus is talking about when he offers another way to life in God.  He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus came to bring us new life in God.  This new life is different from life under the cumbersome laws of the Pharisees. This new life is not centered on constant obedience to religious laws.  It is centered, instead, on the love of God.  This new life is not a heavy set of regulations to bear; it’s something to carry lightly.  We find this new life when we simply open ourselves to God’s loving ways.

It starts with knowing you are accepted for who you are, just for being yourself.  Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  The word he uses here for “easy” doesn’t mean the opposite of difficult.  His word “easy” is closer in meaning to “well fitting,” something you can wear with ease.  You can put it on easily, because it’s well suited to you, made to fit you.  It’s easy to wear – not to wear you out or wear you down – just to wear.  It’s just the right size for who you are.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates Jesus’ words this way:

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.

When we come to Jesus, we are freed from the burdens we’ve been carrying.  When we walk and work with Jesus, burdens of sin are lifted by his grace.  Burdens of guilt dissolve in his unconditional love.  We can live freely and lightly, with the freedom to be ourselves.  We can find rest for our souls.

In this world, it’s true that some people will never be satisfied.  But when we enter into the new life that Jesus offers, we are free of the burden of trying to satisfy.  We’re free to move to the unforced rhythms of grace.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 5


And here is the organ music for this week – two pieces: