This is a sermon I prepared for Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor this morning on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. Most of the scripture text is embedded in the sermon. The video above is from Facebook Live. If you have any challenges accessing the video in this post, feel free to go here. There is a transcript below.
I know this doesn’t come as a surprise, but…
There are times when people don’t want to listen and don’t want to change. There are times when we don’t want to listen, and we don’t want to change. And so we live in contradictions — whether they are held within ourselves, or whether they are held within our culture at large, particularly upheld by those who have the most power.
“I don’t see color,” some say, while also making broad, generalizing statements about whole groups of people according to their skin color and what “they” are like.
“I want a haircut!” some demand in protest at the Michigan state capitol — some also with guns — while lambasting Black Lives Matter protests against state violence and police brutality.
“Wearing a mask is an infringement on my liberty!” some cry, including some in Texas where other Texans are no longer permitted for the time being to have important surgeries because medical professionals need to make more space to treat COVID patients.
These contradictions are all on display right now. And we carry some inside ourselves — some large, but some much more subtle. They’re not always sinister, though they can be difficult or painful. They may also do harm inside ourselves or to others.
Of course, there are also times when people use contradictions as excuses to avoid listening or changing. There are times when we use contradictions as excuses to avoid listening or changing.
Our Gospel text begins with one of these. In fact, Jesus is frustrated with it. “To what will I compare this generation?” he laments. Then he seeks some analogy, some image to bring it home. “It’s like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,”
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed and you did not mourn.’”
It’s never good enough. There’s always some excuse not to participate or change. There’s always some excuse to discredit the ones who are calling for participation or change.
Jesus continues and says, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon;’ the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’”
Indeed it’s never good enough. There’s always some excuse not to participate or change. There’s always some excuse to discredit the ones who are calling for participation or change.
“Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” Jesus says. When we live our lives in the direction of transformation, wisdom vindicates those deeds, and in fact, those deeds vindicate the wisdom behind the actions.
Without needing conditions to be perfect or good enough, there are always reasons to participate and change. There are always reasons to follow the leadership of those who call for participation and change. Wisdom is often vindicated in the end.
Jesus seems to believe that wisdom is turned on its head or perhaps revealed most fully at the bottom — revealed among those who are just as valuable as anyone else, yet who pushed to the bottom of the social hierarchy. Wisdom is vindicated inside these people and these communities. And Jesus gives thanks.
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to the infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Greg Boyle is one of the people I most admire. He’s a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California, an organization that provides job training and healing to people who want to leave gangs and people who have been incarcerated, giving them a new chance and building kinship community together. At Homeboy Industries, people who used to belong to rival gangs work side by side, heal their lives, and open possibilities for a new future.
These individuals have known great pain and have often caused great pain. In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle writes that every single person he has ever met who joined a gang, did so not because this was ultimately what they wanted to do with their lives but because they were running from something — often great, personal trauma.
And together, at Homeboy Industries, they do that healing work, the work of transforming the past, making amends, and healing toward another future. Father Boyle teaches them about a God who loves them, enters their pain, and invites them to transform the pain they have experienced, ultimately participating in God’s final things — love, justice, peace, wholeness, and connection with God and neighbor.
This is what Greg Boyle says about those who live at the margins. This is the calling he places before us too. Imagine this vision… There is…
“No daylight to separate us.
Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.” (From Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion)=
It is to those on the margins and to us that Jesus says,
“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.”
What if we were to move closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased?
We know this can be hard work — not necessarily getting to know the neighbors who are pushed the the margins, but giving up the privilege that so readily centers and comforts us. I know that I feel this even as I say this… I know that I find myself sometimes living in contradiction with what I am apt to say and preach. This work is not always easy and light. It is sometimes filled with internal tensions; it is often challenging.
But life on the margins, so that margins are erased? This great vision that Jesus practiced with his living and loving? When we live in kinship, the yoke is easy and the burden is light; it is no longer heavy and burdensome for some alone.
We also know we haven’t realized this vision. Not fully. We live far from it in many ways, and yet it calls to us. And yet… it is invoked by Jesus, one who is a friend of the tax-collectors too, one who meets with the powerful and accompanies them into transformation too.
“Come to me,” he says. “Come to me, all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens”… those who are under the load of oppression and those who are weary of the distorting role of oppressor… Come to me… toward the margins… so that the margins will themselves be erased… so that their reality will be transformed, and we ourselves will be transformed.
No daylight to separate us.
Only Kinship where we will find rest for our souls.