What’s Easier?

The 10th and 11th chapters of the Gospel of Matthew are tough going. They’re full of violence and, for those that choose to follow Jesus, intimations of violence.  Perhaps most famously there’s Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  You’re to “take up your cross.” If you love your father more than Jesus, you’re not worthy. Continuing on to chapter 11, Jesus says that at the judgment it will be worse for Capernaum, his home area, than it was for Sodom. Yet chapter 11 ends with one of Jesus’ most famous utterances. It’s about rest and lightness when he invites people to come to him because his yoke is easy and his burden light.

It’s a head-turning surprise if you’ve been following with any closeness at all.  In what sense is following Jesus easy?  The VIDEO below is of a sermon where I try to grapple with this idea.

I had wanted to start by playing one of the toughest rock songs of all time, John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey,” especially the song’s end, where he conveys with frightening groans and screams what it’s like to try to kick heroine addiction “cold turkey.” The congregation was spared from the gut-wrenching experience when our tech person extraordinaire, Daniel Chavez, informed me that since we were live-streaming the service, we didn’t have the rights to use that song.

But to the question what’s easier, going through the intense pain of cold-turkey withdrawal or continuing to take drugs, I thought a significant number of people—perhaps most?—might just continue to take drugs.  A less painful choice in the short run, perhaps, but not in the long run? Perhaps that’s the simple concept: short vs. long runs.

I explore two areas in which Jesus asks us to do some hard things, but things which make our lives incalculably richer in the long run, sparing us and others the pain of choosing a seemingly easier path.  The first is facing yourself: who you are, what you’ve done, and what’s been done to you, and the second is staying in the present.

Resmaa Menachem, in his book My Grandmother’s Hands, writes about choosing clean pain over dirty pain.  I think Jesus urges us to chose clean pain over dirty pain—that is, to truly face who we are, rather than choose the path of dirty pain where we avoid the realities of ourselves, deny the pain we have both suffered and caused, and instead blame others for what we do and become.  He also urges us to do something that may sound simpler but is not: to stay in the present.  I think these two things must be deeply related, though I’m still thinking through the how’s and why’s of this so didn’t go into it in my sermon.  In any case, because both are difficult, I end by turning briefly to the Epistle passage associated with this Gospel passage in the lectionary readings for the Sunday I preached this sermon. It’s the famous passage in Romans 7:15-25, where Paul says the things he would like to do he can’t, but the things he does not want to do, those things he does. Jesus’ grace delivers us from this perplexing paradox, not necessarily by taking away the conflict, but by understanding its deep roots in human life and offering us grace as we struggle through it. We truly want to face ourselves, I believe, but often end up doing the opposite. We want to be lighter in life by staying in the present, but often weigh ourselves down by borrowing trouble from tomorrow and next week and next year.  I recently saw a t-shirt with these words on the front: “The future is where anxiety lives.” Amen to that.

Go HERE for a complete list of sermons, like “Pentecost Means No ‘Supremacies,'” “Sacred Doing,” and “Theology and Race.”

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