- July 9, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for July 9, 2017 (Proper 9 REV, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Genesis 24:….; Psalm 45:11-18; Matthew 11:7-11,16-19,28-30
Title: Learn From Me
“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?…Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.”
My dear friends: if you want to experience God, if you want to live a life of depth and meaning and true joy, then you must avoid luxury and pursue simplicity.
Wisdom has called us to heed this reading from the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. In it, the Lord speaks about John the Baptizer. As we all know, John was not one to wear soft robes! That was the domain of Herod and Pilate.
They are ones who wore soft robes and lived in royal palaces.
That was not the way of John, because, after all, where would you expect to find the prophet? In the royal palace, or in the wilderness?
Inspired by John’s example, the Lord goes on to pray and to give thanks that the Father has not revealed the knowledge of life in the kingdom of heaven to the wise and the intelligent but rather to infants, to children, to the simple ones.
The contrast within the text is deepened. There is a clear distinction made between those who wear soft robes and those who live in the desert, between those who “get it” and those who do not.
But what defines those who “get it”? The ones who receive the good news and enter into life that is eternal?
They are the infants, the simple ones who have not yet been molded by the incessant demands of human society.
Finally, this chapter concludes with one of the most famous passages from the mouth of Jesus. It is his invitation, as the wisdom of God personified, for the simple ones to come and to find rest in him.
“Come to me, all who that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
On Wednesday night, we met for our second Mass on The Grass of the summer, and we discussed the second chapter of our summer study book called “Fresh Air.”
If you have not had the chance to read this, then let me explain that the primary exemplar in this chapter is the prophet Daniel. Daniel is one of the great character stories of the Bible and he is renowned for his discipline in the face of temptation
As a captive in the imperial center of Babylon, Daniel’s captors intended to turn him into a tool of the empire, to assimilate him fully into the imperial court.
But through careful discipline and through the pursuit of simplicity over ambition, Daniel maintained his identity and his integrity.
Daniel chose not to join in the heavy drinking and hearty feasts of the court, instead choosing to eat and to live simply, to pray three times a day and to stay close to God.
And as the story goes, out of all those in the royal court, it was Daniel who was filled with the holy spirit of God and given the gift of understanding dreams.
The lesson that we can gain from Daniel, as Dr. Jack Levison explains it, goes like this: “The spirit-breath of God pulses in people who opt for simplicity and humility rather than ambition and acquisition, people who choose simple veggies over lavish meals and fine wines” (Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life, p.62).
I think that Daniel and John the Baptizer and the Lord Jesus all shared this in common – this commitment to a simple life in direct connection with God.
Now, the question for all of us here today becomes this: what is luxury? And what is simplicity? Unfortunately, these things are not easy to define.
Is it a luxury or a simple necessity to have an smartphone? Is it a luxury or a basic necessity to have hundreds of TV channels? Is it a luxury or a necessity to have a car for each driver within a home? These questions could go on all day, but you understand my point. What is a luxury to some is a basic part of life to others.
Having multiple cars is a tremendous luxury to most in the developing world, but it feels more like a simple necessity to those living in a place like Maine.
How do we discern what is luxury and what is proper to a life of simplicity? Each person must decide after prayer and meditation and the asking of advice. What is clear is that we all are called to make a firm commitment to avoid luxury at all costs and to pursue simplicity.
After all, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces, and that is not where the prophet is found!
How this commitment takes on flesh-and-blood in your own life is between you and God. No one else can be the judge.
But the Lord’s call to us is abundantly clear: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”
One of those who took up that yoke with vigor was Francis of Assisi.
It is likely that you have heard this story about Francis and Brother Masseo before, but it is one of those stories that I carry with me throughout my entire life. It deserves some regular repetition.
Brother Francis and Masseo were walking and feeling quite hungry, when they came to a village. So, according to their Rule of Life, they went begging for food for the love of God. They split up and went different ways. After going through the village in this way, they met back together on the other side to eat what the villagers had given them. They found a spring with a large flat rock near it where they sat to eat, and Francis said to Masseo: “O Brother, we don’t deserve these great treasures!” And he repeated this several times, filled with joy and gratitude.
Masseo looked at the random pieces of bread which they had collected, and he saw something very different than Francis!
“Father, how can this possibly be a treasure?” Masseo finally asked.
And Francis replied, “This is exactly what I consider a treasure. Everything here has been provided for us by God. We have this bread lovingly given to us, this beautiful table of stone and this clear fountain of water. We should ask God to help our hearts to see the treasure of this.”
What do you think? Would you be able to see the treasure in that simple meal? Or would you complain about what is lacking, like Masseo was inclined to do?
After all, my friends, what is the goal of this life?
Is it to have everything that we want, to chase after the each thrill, the next experience, the latest gadget, the hottest fashion? Is that what this life is all about?
The truth is that Francis of Assisi had more real joy in his life than anyone who has ever lived in a royal palace.
God’s wants us to have joy – true joy, deep joy which comes from within, when we live in harmony with our true nature.
Fish cannot live out of water. Trees do not grow apart from the soil. And true joy cannot be found apart from a life of simplicity.
In Egypt in the fourth century, someone once came to the great Abba Moses the Ethiopian to ask for a word of spiritual guidance. Abba Moses replied and said, “Go and stay in your cell; your cell will teach you everything.”
Go and remain in your place. Your cell, your room, your home – in that place you can learn everything that you need. No, not through the internet or through the television, but through the direct presence of God.
There is nowhere you need to go to find God.
Right now, right where you are, you have everything that you need.
Do you believe that? Can you accept that?
The Lord said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.”
But truly there is nowhere to go. No movement of the body is required. Our movement to Christ is an act of the heart. It is a commitment to his way of life.
“For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
My sisters and brothers: there is nothing complicated about this life with Christ. It is simple, direct, easy and light.
All that it requires is for us to surrender ourselves into the life of God, to let go of our craving desires, of our need to BE something or to DO something.
Choose a simple life with Christ, and you will find rest and joy and peace that the world will never understand. Amen.