Sermon from October 30, 2011
(Pentecost 20 – Year A)
Matthew 23: 1-12
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
I am a hypocrite.
And you are a hypocrite.
As hypocrites, you and I tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and we lay them on the shoulders of others.
As hypocrites, we do deeds to be seen by others.
As hypocrites, we love to have the best seats in the luxury box at the stadium.
As hypocrites, as human beings, we are burdened down and heavy laden.
Jesus says to us hypocrites:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it;
But do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others;
But they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
They do all their deeds to be seen by others.
They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.”
This morning, it would be much easier to hear Jesus’ words and to rationalize that these words are about someone else.
Those people: those nasty scribes and Pharisees who heap on heavy burdens of law.
Those bankers on Wall Street - who heap on heavy burdens of upside-down mortgages.
Those politicians in Washington - who heap on heavy burdens of tax codes.
Those mega church evangelists - who heap on heavy burdens of religion.
It is much easier to hear Jesus’ words and to make them apply to someone else.
Yet the burden of our hearts is that we are hypocrites in that we do not always practice what we preach.
And our inability to practice what we preach is a burden.
When I was in the 8th grade, the expectations regarding homework in school were different than what I experience in schools today.
In each one of my classes, we had homework most every single night.
In social studies and history, we had to keep up with current events by reading the newspaper and making a journal of current events.
In math class, we had pages of mathematical equations to solve.
In English class, we were reading novels every night.
In the winter of my 8th grade year, I got very sick with the flu.
I was out of school for more than a week.
My mother called up to the school to ask how I could keep up with my homework.
I had hoped that my illness would have relieved me of the burden of completing my assignments.
Yet my teachers did not relieve me of the burden of the assignments.
Instead, after school each day, my mother went to the school office and picked up a list of my missed assignments for the day.
I gave her the combination to my locker and she got out the books that I would need.
After my mom got home, she plopped the books and assignments and projects in my bedroom.
And shivering with fever, I would stare at the stack of books that was my burden.
As I looked at my burden of missed homework, my 8th grade teachers became scribes and Pharisees to me, tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on the shoulders of others, unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
All of us are burdened.
We are hypocrites.
We are sinners.
And our sins and our hypocrisy and our shortcomings are our burden.
Jesus uses the word ‘burden’ only twice in the Gospel of Matthew.
The first time occurs in today’s Gospel passage as Jesus teaches us:
“The scribes and the Pharisees tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others.”
And the only other time that Jesus uses the word ‘burden’ is when Jesus invites us by saying:
“Take my yoke upon me and learn from me...
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The yoke of our sin, the yoke of our hypocrisy, is a heavy burden.
Yet when we are yoked to Jesus, his burden is light.
I might be bursting your idyllic vision of the priesthood, but Jimmy and I work more than just one day a week than Sunday.
And the last two or three weeks, it seems like I have been working through a burdensome to-do list.
Like you, I acutely feel the burden of all the things that I must get done today:
The phone calls that must be returned, the emails that must be answered, the reports I must complete for the diocese, the bishop I must contact about confirmation this coming Wednesday, the All Saints’ Day worship leaflet that must be edited.
All of us can look at our daily lives and feel the burden, the stack of undone homework that sits beside our bed, the burdens of life that are hard to bear, with no one willing to lift a finger.
Yet our life in Jesus Christ is not defined by our hypocrisy and our burdens.
For when we take Jesus upon us,
Then Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light.
An old Sunday School song sings:
“Jesus took my burdens and he rolled them in the sea.”
Yet Jesus does not magically take my burdens and roll them into the sea.
But Jesus invites me take some time with him in quiet prayer and in public worship.
And when I am yoked to Jesus, he gives me his peace, peace in the midst of my burdens.
For me, I am yoked to Jesus when I go off to the gym and I pray and in my prayers I imagine Jesus sitting right beside me.
For me, I am yoked to Jesus when I worship at St. Alban’s, imagining Jesus worshiping and singing and eating at his table with me.
I imagine Jesus being yoked to me – being tied to me.
And Jesus takes away my burdens.
Jesus takes my burdens and he gives me his stillness and his peace in the midst of my hypocrisy, in the midst of my sins, in the midst of the unfinished stack of my burdens.
We hypocrites have come into the church this morning.
We hypocrites are scribes and Pharisees with heavy burdens, hard to bear, laying them on the shoulders of others, with no one willing to lift a finger.
We hypocrites are burdened with sin and with a stack of undone homework and with a to-do list a mile long.
The burden of these things is intolerable.
Yet Jesus comforts us hypocrites, inviting us to take his yoke upon us.
So in private prayer, tie yourself to Jesus.
In public worship, tie yourself to Jesus.
Come to Jesus, all you who are heavy laden.
And he will give you rest from your burden.