There’s a story told of a priest who really went the extra mile by volunteering to donate one of his kidneys to a member of his church who was critically ill. While he was recovering in the hospital, two women from his congregation dropped by for a visit. He felt heartened by their presence for a few brief moments until one piously remarked, “our last priest donated both of his kidneys last year.”
I guess no matter how hard you try, there’s no pleasing everyone! Sometimes as human beings we respond less than adequately to life’s unfolding.
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus reminds his followers and us by extension, that religion is not immune to such indifference either, for it too can become easily desensitized and even apathetic toward the call of God today, “But to what will I compare this generation?” Jesus says, “It is like 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.” (Matthew 11:16-17)
The generation Jesus was referring to was one that had forgotten its roots. It was one that had become disconnected from God’s love song to all creation, and as a result its connection with the mission of God had become sterile. It can be difficult to remain unmoved after hearing a compelling piece of music played with feeling and precision, or to watch a ballet or figure skating competition and not react with a sense of awe and astonishment at the superbly choreographed movement being executed before you.
Similarly, Jesus reminds his audience that it is just as incredulous for us to remain indifferent to the melody of the flute or wailing of children, or the call of the Spirit on our lives today. These moments require an appropriate response, a response that is born out of gratitude and passionate engagement, rather than indifference and apathy.
As Assistant Dean of Ministry Studies at Yale Divinity School, William Goettler writes,
The passage begins with the children of the land whose song is never quite understood. When they played a glad song, no one danced; when the song became a dirge, no one was moved to tears….Jesus is not addressing the failure of individuals to respond, but of society as a whole, indeed of the entire generation, a people who somehow fail to respond as they might to a song that is utterly clear…..We are so often and so easily lulled by the other songs and voices of our culture. Not only do we miss the moments that matter; we regularly dance when we ought to mourn. (1)
So, the first part of this Gospel passage we have before us today, is a wake up call. It is a reminder to us as a community of faith to remain actively engaged in our baptismal promises in our daily lives, not out a sense of duty, but out of a genuine desire to participate in joining the Spirit’s call in composing a new song for all of creation, a song that can hold the complexity of life, from joy to sorrow and everything in between as sacred and as entry points into Divine love.
Our Baptismal Covenant provides the antidote to the kind of apathy Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel. This Covenant is what we commit to at our baptism, it aligns us with Christ’s passionate plea to remain engaged in the call of discipleship so that others may be lifted up and know the sustaining love and presence of God in their lives whether they find themselves dancing or in mourning.
Our Baptismal Covenant invites us to join the Holy Spirit to compose a new kind of song for humanity and indeed all of creation. In it, we promise to;
Each of these promises is a passionate response to God’s love song to all of creation. In holding just one of these as our focus throughout the week, we cannot help but be passionately engaged in the call of discipleship and the mission of God today.
This past week I met with a man who was incredibly riddled with guilt over a belief he had failed God. This guy was clearly at the other end of the spectrum from the spiritually disengaged group Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel. As soon as I sat down with him, I knew he had a passion for God and a heart the size of Texas. But he was burdened with the responsibilities of providing for his loved ones, he had taken on far more than perhaps he ought. But the reality for him was that he was sinking under the weight of his perceived failings. There was a disconnect between what he felt called to do and what he felt physically and fiscally able to do. And so whilst he had a real desire to seek and serve Christ in all persons, he also needed to recognize that God was able to take some of the load as well, he didn’t have to bear it all on his own. I shared with him the closing verses of today’s Gospel that has Jesus say,
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, 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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
These are words for all of us to hear, whoever we are, wherever we might find ourselves on the journey of life and faith. This story I share also demonstrates the other side of the coin; namely, that as we passionately engage with the Gospel and seek to respond appropriately to its call on our lives, there will come times when we too may feel our inner and outer resources lacking. In times like these, we’re encouraged to know the Spirit of God and our community of faith carrying us through, even when we feel inadequate to the task.
In a great orchestra, there will inevitably come a moment when a musician will rely on the rest of its members to carry them when they have either lost their place or can’t find the right note to land on. Once they have found their place again, they resume their contribution to the whole, adding their own unique sound to the piece. Our faith journey is not that dissimilar. There will come times when we too will lose our place in life and faith. There will come times when we will struggle to know where we are in the great symphony. Jesus, in today’s Gospel reminds us that in those moments, know we are loved and held by community, know we are loved and held by the eternal symphony of the Spirit, a song that reminds us of our inherent belovedness and identity as child of God. For it is in knowing our belovedness and identity that we are able to find our place again and resume our part in the wonderous symphony of life, of love, of Spirit.
(1) W. Goettler – “Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume B.” Louisville, KN: Westminster John Knox Press. (2011) pp. 215, 216.
(2) “The Book of Alternative Services: Baptism Service.” Toronto, ON: Anglican Book Centre. (1985) p.159