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Pentecost 4A RCL July 6, 2014

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45”11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Our first reading today is one we have seen only once before, in 2011. It is a new addition in the Revised Common Lectionary. Sarah has died. Isaac is now grown up. Abraham is getting old. Abraham wants Isaac to have a proper wife from their own extended family. So he sends his trusted servant on a special mission. Scholars think this is his beloved servant Eliezer, who has been with him for years.  God is going to guide every step of this journey, and, if Eliezer does not find a suitable wife for Isaac, he is to come home.

As it turns out, Eliezer goes to the well, the social center of the village, and he finds a wonderful young woman, Rebekah, who extends consummate hospitality. Not only does she give Eliezar a drink; she waters all of his camels. This is an outstanding virtue.

In those days, women and children were treated as chattel—objects, possessions. The father could hand over his daughter to be married. But this does not happen in our passage. Rebekah’s family asks her whether she wants to go and marry Isaac. She has a voice. Her opinion is respected. Her new husband, Isaac, does not treat her as an object. He truly loves her.

This story is a touching and human expression of at least two important themes: asking God for guidance and following that guidance, and showing respect for all human beings.

Our epistle shows Paul at his most human and compelling level. All of us can identify with this passage.  Paul writes, “I do not do what I want, but I do the thing I hate.” We are called to practice the life of prayer, to seek God’s will and, with God’s grace, do God’s will. But it is not always easy. We all fall short. No one is perfect. When we do something we know we shouldn’t do, or do not do something we know we should do, we can acknowledge these sins of commission and omission in our review of our life at the end of the day and ask God’s forgiveness. Usually, slowly but surely, we make progress.

But sometimes there are patterns that defeat us. No matter how hard we try and how devoutly we pray, we just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Addiction is indeed a disease. But it is my best example of sin as well. We know that we are drinking too much these days. We shouldn’t take that drink or that drug, but we do it over and over again. We have no power over it. We are powerless. It could be the sin of ira, wrath. We lose our temper. We pray for help, but we don’t have any control over it. It could be any one of those seven root sins—pride, wrath, greed, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.  We feel we don’t have enough money or things. We envy someone his or her success.  We fail to be grateful for the blessings God has bestowed on us. Whatever the sin is, when we realize that we have no control over it, we also realize that we are powerless. We need God’s help. We must ask for that help and depend totally upon God to get us out of this mire of sin. And, if we trust God, and Jesus, and the Spirit, we can be freed from that endless bondage of sin.

In our gospel, Jesus is commenting on the fickleness of human nature. Sometimes we are impossible to please. John the Baptist leads the life of an ascetic prophet, fasting and drinking only water, and people find fault with him. Jesus associates with all kinds of people, and eats and drinks and people think he is a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus seems a but frustrated with all of this, and this simply reminds us that he was fully human, and sometimes he had to learn things about us that were not easy to deal with, and sometimes he got frustrated.

Jesus says a little prayer thanking God for giving wisdom to those who try not to complicate things. And then he says that thing which has been such a comfort to us humans over the centuries: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke 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.”

Whenever I think about this passage, I remember that, back in Jesus’ time, a skilled woodworker would make the yoke for each ox. The woodworker would measure the ox’s neck and shoulders and chest and would note every lump and bump on those contours and would exactly mold that yoke to fit that animal. When we decide to follow Jesus—and we make that decision new every day, we ask him to lead us and guide us in every action we take and in everything we say. He knows us and he loves us. He knows all the lumps and bumps and contours of our spirits. And when the going gets tough, he gives us the grace we need to carry the load and to make the journey. As time goes by, and as we more and more naturally, through prayer and grace, follow his will and walk in his way, a task that used to seem impossible is actually pretty doable. Our spiritual muscles are strengthened. And, as unlikely as it may seem, when we are called upon to do something we would have thought impossible, with his help, it becomes as easy and natural as breathing, because he is now living in us. His grace is carrying us through.

“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Dear Lord, thank you for your amazing grace.  Amen.

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