The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
E. Bevan Stanley
July 5, 2020 / Year A, Proper 9
“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.” In the name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Many of us are weary and carrying heavy burdens. We have families to take care of, jobs to earn money, and concerns for ourselves, our families, our nation, and our world. That is true all the time. Now we have the additional burden of dealing with the COVID19 pandemic. Piled on top of that is a new awakening to the issues of racism, both in our attitudes and assumptions as citizens and in the political and economic structures of our country. I find am tired and weary and feel burdened. Jesus invites us to come to him. He offers us his yoke. At first this sounds simply like yet another burden. Nor does Jesus say that we lay down our burdens first before taking on his. Rather he is saying that if we take on his yoke all the other burdens will be lessened and some even vanish entirely. He asks us to learn from him for he is gentle and humble in heart. This is not assertiveness training or a success TED talk. What are we to learn from Jesus? God loves us, everyone of us, no exceptions. And the yoke Jesus invites us to shoulder are to love God and love each other, no exceptions.
This weekend we Americans are celebrating the day on which we declared our independence from King of England. We do so in the midst of a new awakening of our collective conscience around matters of race in the United States. There are some who think that sermons should avoid politics. Indeed, the IRS may take away the tax exempt status of a church that endorses a particular candidate. This is party politics or politics with a capital “P.” Then there is politics with a lower case “p.” This is the realm of discussing what it means to be a citizen, and what our country stands for. Small “p” politics is is about how we manage our common life, how we share resources, how treat each other, how we care for those who need care. For us Christians it is the area in which we try to figure out how our commitments to the Gospel and building the kingdom of God on earth affect how we participate in our democracy. We have the obligation and duty apply our Christian values to our actions as citizens. For example, if God tells us to love everyone without exception, then we must work to ensure that all people are treated equally under the law—that the weak are protected against oppression and the strong are held accountable for their use of power. The event that we celebrate this weekend is the signing of a document that reads in part:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
We Christians happily concur with the idea that all men—now we say “all people”—are created equal in value, dignity, and worth. We agree that Governments are instituted to secure these rights by the consent of the governed. For far too long, people of color have not been treated as equals. Even when laws have changed, the implementation of them has been uneven and in many instances inadequate. The fact is that black lives do matter, and no Christian can say they don’t. It is the fact that both our history and our current practice have made it apparent that the United States does not hold black lives as important as white lives that makes it necessary to affirm they do. We should not have to say it, but we do.
The other event we remember this weekend is the ending of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War. In commemorating that battle later, President Lincoln reminded us the point of the war and the goal for which those men died was “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” This is Christian politics as I know it.
To achieve this new birth of freedom there are two areas in which we have work to do. First is the individual and personal. We have to examine ourselves. If we are white, we need to acknowledge the benefits we derive from our culture and systemic systems of white privilege. We need to admit that we are not watched as closely as black people when we visit a store. We are less likely to by physically harmed in and encounter with police. We can voice our opinions more freely in a business meeting. We don’t have to represent our fellow whites when out in public. If we are not white, we can decide how best to channel our righteous anger to effect change and encourage the white majority to do the right thing.
Second is systemic and institutional level. How do get police departments to treat people of color as they do white people? How do we get banks to lend money to black people at the same rates and under the same conditions as white people? How do ensure that hindrances to voting registration are removed so that all citizens have equal participation in our democracy? How do we make up for the fact that for hundreds of years our laws, institutions, culture have denied black people equal access to education, capital, and even equal wages so that black families have not had the opportunity to participate in capital growth alongside their white neighbors?
All of these questions come from our Christian commitment to love our neighbors and to treat all people with dignity and respect simply because they are made in the image of God.
“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.” We shoulder the yoke love and pick up the burden of righteousness so that this nation that we love can live up to its ideals.