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Pentecost 5A Sermon
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
July 9, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

This past Thursday when I returned to the church from the hospital, Phyllis handed me my copies of the finished bulletin for the week. We had talked about what image to put on the front, but I had forgotten which one we settled on. I looked at it and was quickly reminded that on the radio just before turning off the car engine, the announcer said that on that day in 1994 the movie, “Forrest Gump” was released in theaters. Forest Gump is one of my all-time favorite movies, and as I looked at the cover of the bulletin I pictured Tom Hanks in white pants, white jacket, white and blue plaid shirt buttoned all the way up, wearing old worn tennis shoes, sitting on the bench with a box of chocolates on his lap. I was so inspired that I watched the film that night after dinner.
If you’ve ever seen that movie you know that Forrest had quite a life. Raised by his single mother, Forrest was never given a chance by anyone that mattered. He was considered, “slow” in school, and had to wear braces on his legs to walk. He discovered that he didn’t need them one day when he was being chased by a bunch of bullies and he broke loose right out of them. Forrest spent his life running … from various bullies all through is High school years … from would-be tacklers as a star running back at Alabama … from the Viet Cong in war … and at one point, just to run across the country four times for no reason. He seemed to be in the middle of a lot of important events from the late 1950s through the 80s. As the movie opened, the camera focuses on a floating feather, symbolic of Forrest’s life which seemed to go from one place to another.

By the time he gets to this particular park bench, it is obvious that Forrest needs to rest from life, so he spends time there, telling his story to whomever will sit and listen while they wait on the bus. This morning, we have come to this point in the section of Matthew called, “The Commissioning Narrative” in which Jesus speaks to the 12 disciples and to the crowds in order to instruct and encourage them in their calling to share the love of God in their lives. John the Baptist has just sent some of his disciples to ask if Jesus is the one that is to come, or if they should look for another. In the beginning of our reading today, Jesus uses John’s example to warn everyone that no matter how you live, someone will find a reason to criticize you. John fasted and he was considered a demon; Jesus ate and drank with sinners and he was called a drunkard and a glutton. In many ways, by being faithful disciples we are dooming ourselves to being condemned by someone … and that is okay. Our task is not to be liked, but to be truthful, generous and loving.

So we come to the end of this section of Matthew, and Jesus promises once again his own presence to us to the very end. We are going to need it if we are faithful! If you remember over the last few weeks, Jesus has warned about how difficult it is to live faithfully in the world. There will be conflict. There will be rejection. There will be persecution. All of the things that Jesus experienced will and does come our way as modern-day Christian disciples. Come to me, he says, if you are tired and carrying heavy burdens. I will give you rest. Jesus is the source of our rest in the middle of the Christian life, which is chock full of witness, worship and working for justice. Come to me, Jesus says – come to me and I will give you rest. But notice that it is a rest that still involves a yoke! A yoke is nothing like a park bench. A yoke is not for the seated – a yoke is for the standing, for those who stand shoulder to shoulder to work for the one who has called us to discipleship.
Those park benches on the bulletin cover could be likened to the pews in our sanctuary. This is the place that we gather on the day of rest – on the day that God set aside as he did on the seventh day of creation in Genesis 1 to provide refreshment and renewal to all of his creation – so that we can listen to the stories of our lives and of God’s presence. Just like Forrest on that bench at the bus stop recounts the grace of his life story, so we recount the grace of our life stories here. But just like when Forrest was told that the love of his life, Jenny – who he was on his way to visit – lived in the apartments just a few blocks away, got up and ran once again to get to her front door, so we are called to run … or maybe, to walk with purpose … out the doors yoked to the spirit of the one who calls us to rest and sends us out to plow the fields of God’s creation.

As I reflect on the week that was this past week – a week in which I was faithful at times to my calling as disciple and not so much at other times – I recall the many ways in which I need the rest of this holy place and time. It was a week of attending to leaks in the church building, taking and picking up kids from Church Camp, celebrating our nation’s independence with friends, writing a sermon, picking hymns, making plans, moving tables and chairs, and praying with a family in the good, hopeful time of a successful hip replacement surgery on one day, and then praying to entrust him into God’s arms of mercy a few days later; I am thankful for Jesus’ invitation to come to him at the beginning, in the middle and especially at the end of such a week. You all could recount your weeks of discipleship as well, I know. I hope that you are thankful for this gift too. Jesus’ invitation is to all of us who still travel this journey of faith and life, trying to love God and each other as best as we can is that we find refreshment for this time, and accompaniment for when we go back to plow the fields with each other.

At the end of the movie, Forrest stands at Jenny’s grave talking to her tombstone. He says, “I don’t know if mama is right and we all make our destiny, or if Lieutenant Dan is right and we are floating around, being blown places without our control. I think it’s a little of both at the same time.” I agree, Forrest. It is a little of both at the same time. There are ways in which we control our lives and there are ways in which our lives are helplessly out of control. But the constant in all of it is the presence of our Lord and savior, who promises rest, comfort and healing. May we all find the rest that comes through our relationship with Jesus this week as we bear his yoke shoulder to shoulder with each other. Amen.