9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
16‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, 17“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the 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.’
25At 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; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All 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. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Every now and then, the sound of a particular album gets stuck in the bottom of my brain, and the only way to dig it out is to listen to the album over and over, soaking up its rhythm, its character. I end up immersing myself in the music, playing it in the background while I’m working here at the office, or while I’m playing with William at home. I end up developing a kind of theme music, kicking the music around and letting it rattle alongside with the other ingredients of my life.
Sometimes its the music that ends up giving a theme, other times it’s a concept that gives its theme to the music in my head.
I’ve been on kind of a discipleship kick lately. What does following Jesus Christ look like?
You see, theology, the heady stuff that considers who God is, who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is, only goes so far. It can’t be just a game to show how “smart” you are, our how smart your pastor is. At some point, faith must become action, it’s got to lead to living the law of the Lord.
And so, what does following Jesus Christ look like?
If only there was a simple answer. I’ve got a multi-volume theological dictionary in my study. Two of them, in fact! I’ve got a library full of references, and the faculty and staff at Columbia Theological seminary tell my that I have some how Mastered Divinity, whatever that means… As if by moving through a curriculum, one could become the master of the divine? Listen God, I know you’ve said that this is the plan you’ve laid out for all of creation, but I’ve finished all my required courses, and have plenty of elective credits, so, as a Master of Divinity, let me tell you how I want you to handle things…
Of course that’s not how it works. The hard part about discipleship is that we like Jesus as Savior, but we’re not crazy about him as Lord. We’d love to have a Savior, who solves all our problems and saves us from eternal threats. A Lord, however, tells us what to do and expects us to obey. If Jesus is only a savior, then we can continue in immaturity, insisting that he dance to our music, or mourn with our wailing. There’s no challenge to respond, to grow, to become disciples, if Jesus is only there to make us feel better.
Jesus is the Savior, and has carried the unbearable burden of our sins up to the cross and into the tomb. But that’s not the end of the story. God emptied the tomb, and set Jesus loose on the world again to give his disciples the push they needed to carry the good news into the world, making disciples of all nations. The challenge to grow in faith and act in righteousness, following the teachings and commandments of our Lord is an important part of the good news.
Salvation is the work of God alone. Discipleship is the work we do while the Holy Spirit is at work within us. Discipleship is not an answer to a question or a solution to a problem, it’s a process. Discipleship is the process of trusting that Jesus is Lord. “Discipleship involves living our lives with integrity and faithfulness to God.” It’s the process of learning the dance while the music is still playing, stumbling along until we get the hang of it.
Not everybody ends up with the same dance moves. John the Baptist expressed his faithfulness to God by living at the margins, embodying a voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing a way for the Lord. Few of us are called to live our faith in that pattern. If there were only one pattern for discipleship, we’d have figured it out a long time ago, and then we just have to conform to that way of being.
Discipleship looks different when different people take it up. Just as each follower of Christ is created a little different, so each disciple’s faith process is going to be particular to who that disciple is. One thing is certain, however. Following Jesus, practicing trust, leads to a hostile environment. The first part of this passage gives tells us where following Jesus is likely to lead us. Discipleship calls us to places where we are unwelcome. “‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” The culture around us, the place from which our discipleship begins, expects us to dance to its tune. As soon as we define ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, we join a different dance. The old ways are quick to diagnose our discipleship as some sort of defect: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!,’” That’s the consequence of working the process of discipleship.
So why bother? We know that Jesus has saved us, why work that process of discipleship knowing that the harsh environment around us is going to try and sabotage our growth in faith.
Buddhism has this concept that “existence is suffering,” and while that’s maybe a little bleak, I do think that in a sinful world, suffering is an unescapable part of life. All of us have burdens to bear, chronic diseases, family drama that gets passed from generation to generation, fear of our own mortality, whatever. Nobody has a life that is perfectly free from struggle and suffering. If there were, I'm sure that person would be completely insufferable.
The fallen, broken world in which we live is a harsh environment. But what matters much more than the harshness of the environment is the way we respond. That’s where discipleship makes the difference. Following Jesus Christ allows us to respond in ways that are faithful, that are true, that are liberating, that are righteous, and that do not allow us to be ruled by sin. In a world where all of us are burdened in uncountable different ways, Jesus gives us his own invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
This passage does not tell us to lay our burdens down, it tells us that Jesus gives us a better way to carry them. Jesus promises us rest, “What Jesus offers, however, is not a hammock, but a yoke… The yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light because it is the way of God, and it is profoundly satisfying to the human soul.” The tasks of discipleship are difficult, the call of God may lead us to environments that are downright toxic.