9 July 2023 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In this post-Pentecost season, Jesus is teaching us how to be apostles…by sending us out to do his work in the world…to proclaim, to heal, to raise…to comfort and console…to praise and protest…and today he reminds us—again—that we are not doing this alone. That he is with us…yoked…right along side of us…while we try and fail…struggle and stumble… and do our best to figure out what all this “reign of God has come near” stuff really means.
Just because the yoke is easy and the burden is light doesn’t mean that we won’t have to do any work…or that he will do it all for us…it means that the work he asks us to do…that he needs us to do…he will be doing with us…the whole way. And that does make anything that we are asked to do a whole lot easier.
And let’s remember what he’s actually asking us to do. A few weeks ago, remember, he said that he was sending us out like sheep into the midst of wolves…which sounds daunting, but remember…the “wolves” he is sending us to, are people we know…our friends, neighbors, and relations. This sheep metaphor is less about the potential dangers out there…and more about how vulnerable doing this work will make us feel…and that he expects increasingly uncomfortable levels of vulnerability from us. But remember he is our Good Shepherd, and he is right there with us.
Two weeks ago, Michael highlighted one aspect of this vulnerability…noting that we are to proclaim from the housetops what we know to be true about following Jesus…and it’s sometimes risky and challenging to share our faith because we don’t want to be lumped in with the fundamentalists…we don’t want to be seen as “that kind of Christian.” The trouble is, when we remain silent…when we don’t speak up, and share the faith that motivates us, we leave the floor open…for more strident voices of fundamentalists and Christian nationalist to dominate the narrative. So let’s remember that Jesus speaks—and lives—in the language of love…and all throughout scripture he has a clear preferential option for the poor, and marginalized…and he speaks truth to all in power…let’s remember that we are yoked to him, and even though it means being vulnerable…we need not be afraid of sharing the faith that is in us…
Last week Tammy explored another level of the vulnerability Jesus asks of us. She heard Jesus say, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” And Tammy reminded us of the sizable risk but even greater reward of being vulnerable enough to show true hospitality; pointing out that to truly welcome someone requires us to stretch and grow and change…To extend a warm welcome to someone is one thing…but true hospitality—the kind Jesus is expecting—means being open to change…means being vulnerable enough to be transformed by the gifts that the people who are sent to have to offer…lest we miss a key gospel message, and Christ’s messengers shake the dust off their feet against us and move on.
And today we get yet another tincture of discipleship vulnerability. Today, Jesus compares this generation to “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
And that seems a little ridiculous, because that seems pretty straightforward…doesn’t it? To celebrate with people who are celebrating…and grieve with people who are grieving.
And sometimes it is…but many times it is not. We live in a culture with a very limited understanding of and a tragically distorted view of the value and importance of emotions. White, patriarchal, western culture privileges a very specific kind of rational thought, and consequently views emotions as troublesome things to be tolerated (barely), managed (hopefully)… or (better yet) simply suppressed…A culture where children of color are taught by their elders…generation after generation…to never show too much emotion—not sadness, not fear, and certainly not anger…lest the white people get upset…Where female identifying people who have a passionate intensity are mis-read as angry, or bossy and then reprimanded or dismissed…Where higher-pitched vocal inflections and overall “female” presentation—dress, and personality traits—are policed and regulated…Where male identifying people are drilled from a very young age that the ONLY permissible emotion is anger…and where very, very few people have an emotional vocabulary that extends much beyond mad, sad, glad, and afraid.
And yet, we all probably know (and feel) intuitively that emotions directly impact both our thinking and our behavior. Professor Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, argues that, “Our emotions are a big part—maybe the biggest part—of what makes us human” [Brackett, Permission to Feel]. There is no rational thought without them, and yet, learning how to accurately recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate them are skills rarely taught.* If we can’t understand ourselves…and our own emotional lives, how can we hope to understand anyone else? We are not the generation Jesus is talking about, but we could easily be described as a culture fundamentally missing some pretty basic emotional cues from our fellow humans.
Opening up to the depth, and richness, and currents of our own emotional lives…let alone the emotional lives of others…requires what? You guessed it, even more vulnerability…sometimes maybe more vulnerability that we think we are capable of. But it’s work we must do…how else can we respond compassionately, creatively, and gracefully to the people Jesus sends us to…or sends to us? How else can we even begin to tackle many of the larger issues facing us, if we can’t simply sit with one another and share our true, authentic, vulnerable selves?
Learning to be more and more vulnerable and more emotionally intelligent is not work that Jesus can do for you…but it is work that he needs us to do…and he will be with us…yoked together…every step of the way.
**This is Professor Brackett’s R.U.L.E.R. process, and if you want a kickstart on exploring and beginning to recognize and understand your emotional life, I highly recommend his book Permission to Feel.