Friday 4 July 2014

A lighter burden

I talk to a lot of people who are tired of "the church."  Maybe they used to go to church or maybe they never went, but they're really just tired of it.

They seem somewhat caught off guard when I agree.  And downright confused when I say that Jesus was, too.  Well, not "the church," I guess, but the religious authorities of his day.

It must have been frustrating to be Jesus, sometimes.  He offers a simple message of love and grace, of finding room in our hearts for God's love, and so many seem caught up in laws and traditions, more interested in judging their neighbour than loving them.  Really connecting with his human side, Jesus has a little bit of a rant, I think, in Matthew 11.  People don't want to listen to John's message because he was too wild and different, but they don't want to listen to Jesus because he was too ordinary and hung around sinners.  They're like children who won't play each others games, but only their own.  Some of the cities in which he and the disciples have done great things have virtually ignored them.  If that had been a place like Sodom, Jesus says, the people would have seen their work and the city would have been saved.

Wow.  Even a place like Sodom.  That's pretty damning.  Pun intended.

But that's the challenge Jesus puts out there.  To follow Jesus is to take into your heart this message of love and grace and to live it.  I'll say that again, to live it.

At least those Jesus seems to be chastising at first are those who don't hear the message.  But then he points to the religious leaders, the keepers of the law, the scholars and teachers who use their knowledge and the letter of the law to resist the message that threatens their power.  That's why the message is so readily heard by the powerless, the weak, the marginalized, the excluded - like children, Jesus says, they have no barrier to a love that welcomes and includes them, that cares for them and values them.

I think that's what Jesus means when he says this: “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 in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).  The weight of living up to the demands of society is heavy, the burden of following the letter of the law is exhausting.  But the "yoke" Jesus talks about binds your heart with God in living out this love he teaches.  That is no heavy burden, but an enlightening of spirit.  Learning to live that way is freeing and life-giving.

Hypocrisy is a lot of work.  So is maintaining power over others, controlling them and judging all that they do.  Jesus offers rest.

By the way, those people who tell me they're tired of "the church?"  I try to tell them we're not like that.  I mean, I'm sure we are sometimes, but we try hard not to be.  The church can change its own reputation, I know it can.  Just listen to Jesus.