In this final week of field education at the Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I prayed and thought about the sermon for the coming Sunday based on the Gospel reading of Matthew 11:16-19 and 25-30.
In our Gospel reading today there are two parts that identify both the rejection of Jesus, and how He can ease our burdens.
The people who are rejecting Jesus are like children who cannot decide which game to play and form teams or take sides.
Jesus compares this to how the message of both He and John the Baptist were rejected. John, focused on judgment and repentance which provoked strong reactions, while Jesus, like John, announces the coming of the kingdom of heaven but was not as harsh and abrasive.
The people He was addressing find reason to take offense at their messages and do not act like Christians. Like today, we too can reject the message and division can also show up in our day to day lives.
On the radio I heard a report that said we still have a divided society but whilst a few decades ago the divisions were about race or economics, todays divisions are mainly about which political party a person supports. They said that polls have identified people in one party are actually afraid of people in the other party. Political discussion, even between friends and family is causing argument.
Last week in the over 55’s resort where we are staying one political association had a list of all their members and had planted American flags in their front yards. Initially we thought this was just the Home Owners Association (HOA) being patriotic but then we noticed the flags were not on every yard.
In talking to someone we knew who had been in the resort many years, it appeared that the “flagless” were very upset because being without flags made them seem unpatriotic.
They also did not want to play the others game or be mistakenly seen as part of that group by planting their own flags.
Just little gestures like this without thinking of the impact on others causes divisions between friends and neighbors which may require some healing.
It is easy for us to forget that the game to which Jesus call us is not about division, but is about doing the work of God in the world.
In the second part of our gospel, Jesus mocks the religious leaders and the elites who oppose Jesus. They claim intelligence and wisdom which only blinds them to what God is really doing. These leaders place these heavy burdens on the shoulders of others but they are unwilling to help people cope.
Today, the world has become exceedingly sophisticated in laying heavy burdens upon us and constant marketing tries to make us believe we are deficient in some way. The largest companies in the world deploy psychology to encourage us to buy into a lifestyle or feel inadequate if we cannot or do not buy their products. And then there are the burdens and stress we impose on ourselves through “to do” lists and daily plans.
As in our world the people Jesus addressed were also weighed down by temptation to sin, oppressive rules and regulations so He invites them (and us) "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"
It’s easy for us to interpret this passage as an offer from Jesus to take care of all our problems without us having to work. Jesus is not saying that if we come to him and follow him we will be able to take off our yoke and walk through the rest of our lives completely unburdened.
When Jesus invites us to be “yoked” to him, to walk with Him, to learn from Him, to do God’s will with Him, Jesus is not asking us to take on more and more tasks. He is asking us to carry out our own tasks in a different way, with compassion, with empathy, humbly and with sisterly and brotherly love for the people we work alongside.
Here at CBTS we are so blessed to have a community made up of many Christian denominations, living, worshiping and praying side-by-side as a common body. We also have non-Christian residents who also need spiritual guidance and pastoral care.
At the start of this field assignment in pastoral care I saw the tasks as burdensome and difficult. I did not know how I would cope with providing pastoral care to a community I did not know or how I would react being placed in situations I was unprepared for.
On reflection I now know I had to learn to take on Jesus’s yoke and reflect His teachings as I carried out my daily tasks. At the start and end of each day I had to pause, think, learn and most importantly pray.
Looking back over the past 12 weeks of this field assignment it was more “formation” than “education”. The education part was through the mentoring I received from various people on topics such as how to develop and deliver sermons, conducting services (of the word), providing pastoral care, and how to participate as part of the team within the CBTS environment.
In reflection some key topics I prayed about and discussed with residents in this community were:
· Jesus draws near to us sometimes and we are unaware. He meets us in our visits, prayers and worship, and He talks to us in many different ways so we need to actively listen. He stays with us always, so we just need to invite Him in and be comforted,
· People, like sheep, cannot be treated as tasks on a project plan. God is not on our timeline and schedule so although there are some things that happen as planned many do not,
· With each exposure to God’s Word and presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit is actively changing us,
· Looking back on all our life experiences allows us to recognize how we see and feel God’s glory in our words and deeds,
· We are all within a sheepfold and are being guided to do God’s will,
· Whilst in this world there are some mysteries we will never fully understand, but having some understanding of the Holy Trinity deepens our worship and helps us to be specific in directing our prayers,
· We all have varied talents and skills but as we bring people to God we should also focus on making differences, even small ones, to one person at a time,
· We need to welcome all strangers, support all our community members in what they are trying to do and carry out even the smallest of tasks in love,
· There will be times we are fearful but we should remember the depth of God’s love, remember Jesus’s words “Do not be afraid!”, and pray until we focus on God and His will rather than ourselves,
· Be aware of how the things we say and do can cause division within our friends and family and we may need to act or communicate in a different way,
· Let Jesus lift that heavy burden from our shoulders by asking for forgiveness of our sins and for help resisting temptation to sin again,
· We need to learn to take on Jesus yoke
· Trust Jesus, share His yoke which is far easier than the ones we make for ourselves, and reflect His teachings as we carry out our daily tasks,
· Preaching the Word should not be rushed and it is one of the most important things we can do each week.
If we do all the above I feel that we will start to love all our neighbors in thought, word and deed
I am very pleased that this field assignment has provided formation and has affirmed and strengthened my calling. It has now presented me with the opportunity to continue in service in the role of Chaplain at CBTS and as Pastoral Care assistant at St Michaels-By-The -on a permanent rather than volunteer basis.
Thanks be to God!!!