Weekly Seeds: The Weary
Sunday, July 9, 2023
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost | Year A
Everlasting God, may we abide with those who are weary as you abide with us when we are weary. Amen.
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “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 infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 and Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 • Zechariah 9:9-12 and Psalm 145:8-14 • Romans 7:15-25a • Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Are you well-rested?
What causes you to become weary? What burdens do you carry?
Who shares those burdens?
Whose burdens do you share?
What does rest mean for you?
By Cheryl A. Lindsay
Every generation is a reflection and response to the world in which they are born and formed. The circumstances and conditions of a society elicited a collective response. The GI or Greatest Generation lived through the Great Depression and World War II. The Silent Generation contended with the MacCarthy era with its emphasis on strident anti-communism and conformity. Baby Boomers both served and protested during the Vietnam War, led through the Civil Rights Movement, and had a wild time at Woodstock. Generation X lived through the AIDS epidemic, witnessed what seemed to be the end of the Cold War, and were the young ones when personal computing became a thing. Millennials were the young ones when the internet became a thing, experienced helicopter parenting, and were the first generation to engage in active shooter drills in school. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are still making their mark, and we wait in anticipation to see the events that will come to define their collective character.
One of the realities of generational differences is that while one generation may be more shaped by an event, that does not mean that they are the only ones to experience and be impacted by it. The perspective of an adult is different than that of a child, and both are valid. An elder responds differently than a young adult. An experience of our youth may impact us in a way that it would not as we approach mid-life…and vice versa. If that is true of us individually, how much more can that be true of us as generations?
The opening words of this passage indicate a divide: ““But to what will I compare this generation?” Jesus then goes on to compare the generation in question to children disconnected from one another who failed to respond appropriately to one another. When someone plays the flute, you dance. When someone expresses despair, you engage in solidarity with their grief.
Chapter 11 begins the Gospel’s third section (11:2–16:20), which narrates a growing division of responses to Jesus’ ministry (11:1; Carter 2000, 249–79). The section is bookended with two scenes that pose the question of Jesus’ identity (11:3; 16:13). Increasing opposition emerges from scribes and Pharisees (12:2, 14, 24, 38). Along with the issue of Jesus’ identity is that of his societal vision and claim to reveal God’s will. The section has been understood to reflect a post-70 context of conflict between Jesus-followers and other synagogue members.
Jesus reminds us that the response to John the Baptist and his ministry was problematic. John and Jesus are not only of the same family, they belonged to the same generation. Familial ties and common life circumstances bound them together just as their connected ministry kept them tethered until John is later killed. Like John, Jesus proclaims a message that reorients priorities and faithful practice. Both go out into the world offering the good news that change is possible. The conflict, in Matthew’s account, emanates from within the faith community.
These two prophets offer a profound shift that threatens the powerful while offering hope for the marginalized. In our current world, where maintaining silos of thought, belief, and identity, it’s easy to imagine that the privileged and the oppressed of Jesus’ time were isolated from one another, when in fact, the tension Matthew exposes reflects disconnection and proximity at the same time.
Again, generational divides provide an example of how this translates for today. There is an expression that claims a society is best judged by how it treats its elders and its young, the most vulnerable among them. Like holds its cycles, and in a typical lifespan, our power grows, peaks, and then wanes as we age. Our reactions, as members of these distinct generational profiles, will also shift as we not only encounter the events of the world around us but also as our lives evolve and mature. Still, it makes sense that so much of our character and nature is written in our childhood.
The biblical witness tells us that what we learn in childhood will come back to us later in life. Jesus insisted that the children, often ignored and ostracized, be brought to him. Alejandro Duarte posits that the Matthean text “provides us with tools to analyze the various kinds of confrontations we find in our societies…[to] develop an appropriate social critique.” In addition, the gospel is countercultural. In a text that concludes with a prescription for weariness, it may be surprising that it begins with an image of children, who many assume would be the most energetic of any generation.
What does it say about a society when their children are exhausted, aggrieved, and endangered? What does it mean for the future when youth are ignored, deprioritized, and unrepresented? How can a society stand when the destruction of youth and children runs unabated?
A literalist theological reading of the exodus and of Matthew can accommodate violence by asking: Is it not appropriate that a message about our liberation begins with images of the death of innocent others? Yet one can also note that in Matthew the exodus is presented as a denunciation of oppressive powers and that the response to violence is not additional violence and killing. For example, Herod dies, but he is not killed. There is no death of the first-born of Herod and of the rest of Israel, as there was in Egypt. The theme of the killing of children is a description and denunciation of what one sees in one’s society. Is it not the case that our societies kill our children? Let us not forget how social disenfranchisement, unemployment, and marginalization in the so-called first world engender violence and death, indeed, the death of our children. Are we not killing our own children in wars, even as we deny these murders in name of power-ideologies? Do we not kill the future of our children by destroying the creation? This is not a hyperbolic statement, because the degradation of the planet will affect everyone and will help increase oppressive powers.
When the most vulnerable among us are made whole, an entire society flourishes. The antidote is personified as Wisdom.
“Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (v. 19). Here Jesus identifies with Wisdom (Greek sophia; Hebrew hokmah), a traditional feminine image of the divine. Wisdom founded the earth, walks in justice, guides into truth, and is beloved of God (Job 28; Prov. 8). Later verses in this chapter (vv. 25–30) continue the themes of the traditional role of Wisdom including divine revelation and life-giving refreshment and comfort. “Wisdom” also has a history of mixed reception—accepted by the few and rejected by the many. This is Jesus’ experience as well.
Jesus holds both divine wisdom and human experience together. They transcend our problems yet they have felt what we feel. It is that dual nature that invites and assures, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This is more than a nap or a good night’s sleep. The rest Jesus offers is a transformed way of being in which our burdens are shared, alleviated, and ultimately eradicated. This rest lifts up the lowly and humbles the exalted so that all are valued, known, and whole. This rest that Jesus offers does not destroy with violence but triumphs through love, compassion, and care.
To welcome the weary is to embrace the incarnational life, in which we seek divine wisdom in responding to human need. I have recently been spending a lot of time analyzing the lyrics of contemporary Christian music. The commercialization of the artform is undeniable. As a result, too many send a message of self-imposed and righteous isolation in our relationship with the Holy One. There’s nothing wrong with emphasizing personal relationship with God; that can be commendable and restorative for those who have felt human rejection. The theological damage happens when personal relationship becomes exclusionary and substitutes for kindom participation. Our love story with the Creator must include our neighbor to be complete.
We do this by representing Jesus by bearing the burdens of friend, stranger, and foe. We welcome the weary by using our power to change the circumstances that facilitate human deprivation. We welcome the weary yoking ourselves to their condition in solidarity and support. Only through welcoming the weary and transforming those experiences into flourishing may we be faithful agents embracing the kindom of God.
Welcome the weary.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired – Dec. 20, 1964 Speech by Fannie Lou Hamer
What I’m trying to point out now is when you take a very close look at this American society, it’s time to question these things. We have made an appeal for the president of the United States and the attorney general to please protect us in Mississippi. And I can’t understand how it’s out of their power to protect people in Mississippi. They can’t do that, but when a white man is killed in the Congo, they send people there.
And you can always hear this long sob story: “You know it takes time.” For three hundred years, we’ve given them time. And I’ve been tired so long, now I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we want a change. We want a change in this society in America because, you see, we can no longer ignore the facts and getting our children to sing, “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed.” What do we have to hail here? The truth is the only thing going to free us. And you know this whole society is sick. And to prove just how sick it was when we was in Atlantic City challenging the National Convention, when I was testifying before the Credentials Committee, I was cut off because they hate to see what they been knowing all the time and that’s the truth.
For further reflection
“He ached with weariness, but it became part of him; he scarcely noticed now that he was weary, he might always have been thus, it was so familiar to him.” ― Tanith Lee
“Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
Sick of the city, wanting the sea” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay
“She’s the first person to smile at me today.
The first to make me feel wanted.
I blink back tears.
It’s unknown how many students’ lives
librarians have saved
by welcoming loners at lunch.” ― Lisa Fipps
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (email@example.com), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.