(watch here: https://youtu.be/OKUwyp9xWo4)
9 Rejoice 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. 10 He* 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. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
We begin our readings assigned for this morning with these prophetic words from Zechariah. The prophet is speaking to the people of Israel as they set about the task of rebuilding the temple of Jerusalem. Recall that the Babylonians had destroyed the temple in 586 B.C. and sent the Israelites into exile. They wandered for nearly 70 years before God spoke to Zechariah with these words of hope and encouragement. Finally, the Israelites were being called back home. Finally, they were being called to rebuild a familiar place of worship. Finally, they were being called back into loving relationship with God after wandering for so long. Their true king, their true God, came to them triumphant and victorious, eager to restore a long-lost peace.
As our God comes to each of us. We, too, are wandering through the wilderness of the Pentecost season. Of the six seasons of the church year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost), this season can seem the most challenging. And not simply because it is the longest one! No, it is the most challenging season of the church year because it is a season meant to nurture and develop disciples. In many ways, the path of discipleship is a path through the wilderness. There is no clear, easy, safe path of discipleship. Indeed, it is a path through the unknown. But we are never alone on that path. Our God walks with us as He walked with his beloved Israelites through their 70-year exile. Our God is triumphant and victorious! Perhaps more importantly, our God is a friend. Our God is a friend who will never abandon us. Our God is a friend who will always look out for us. Our God is a friend who deeply loves us. Let us celebrate our friendship with God through a song entitled, “Friends.”
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. 10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you. 11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power, 12 to make known to all people your* mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your* kingdom. 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.* 14 The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
This psalm does a great job of distinguishing how our God is a friend like no other friend. Some of us have had friends to help us through a certain season of our lives. Once the season ended, so, too, did the friendship. Some of us have had many friends, each connecting with unique parts of our personalities. Some of us have had “friends” who we later found out weren’t really our friends. Some of us have had lifelong friends who have remained loyal and true through the ups and downs of life. Indeed, there are several types of friends to have in a lifetime but none as rewarding as a relationship with God. Perhaps because God is unlike any one person you’ll ever meet! God is the best of all people! And David gives us the words to praise him in all his glory: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”…”the Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” Who do you know that is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?! Who do you know that is faithful in ALL his words, and gracious in ALL his deeds?! Who do you know that will uphold ALL who are falling, and raise up ALL who are bowed down?! Who has compassion over ALL that he has made?! Who is good to ALL?! Friends can be good, friends can have their moments, friends can be kind and forgiving, but not like God. No, God shows compassion and mercy and kindness and goodness in ways we can’t even begin to understand. God’s love for us is so deep, is so complex, is so everlasting that I don’t think we could ever fully understand it. We must simply accept God’s love for what it is—a gift and a blessing. Let us honor him and his gift of love through a song entitled, “How Great Thou Art.”
(“How Great Thou Art”)
15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Ahhhh, Paul! In his letter to the Romans, the great apostle put words to the internal turmoil that so many of us struggle with. We want to feel worthy to receive his friendship and love but we invariably don’t feel worthy. We feel completely and utterly unworthy to receive his friendship and love! Why? Because time and time again we do things that make us unworthy. We, like Paul, “do not do the good [we] want, but the evil [we] do not want is what we do.” Of course, it isn’t US that does what we don’t want to do…it is the evil within us that does what we don’t want to do. It is the sin within us to blame, not us. I know, it sounds like old Paul is trying to shift the blame for all the bad things he did: “No, no, it wasn’t I that did that bad thing but something else within me that compelled me to do it!” If Paul tried to make such an argument in a court room today, he’d likely be considered crazy! But I don’t think Paul was trying to justify his bad behavior but rather to assert the power of God’s love. It is true, we all have sinful natures. They are our default natures. When all else fails, fall back on sinful behavior to help save you. It won’t save you…in fact, it’ll only make your life worse. But sinful behavior is quick and temporarily satisfying. Now then, just because we are “blessed” with sinful natures doesn’t mean we must live according to them. We also have sinless natures. We have natures that want to please God. We have natures that are pleasing to God. We have natures that make us worthy to receive God’s friendship and love! And Jesus brings out these natures within us. Jesus nurtures these natures. Jesus grows these natures. All we have to do is listen to Jesus! All we have to do is make Jesus our Lord! All we have to do is dedicate ourselves to being faithful disciples of Jesus! God’s love is much stronger than sin. God’s love changes us into being worthy of his love. Let us hear of how we are changed by his love through a song entitled, “Changed and Climbin.’”
(“Changed and Climbin’ [I’m Climbing Up the Mountain I’ve Been Changed]”)
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.’
Finally, we hear words from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We’ve heard how God is a friend unlike any other friend who offers us a love like no other love. We’ve wrestled with whether we are worthy enough to receive such friendship and love. In Jesus, we come to realize that wrestling over worthiness is ultimately fruitless: Jesus comes to us regardless of our worthiness. Jesus comes to us just the way we are. Jesus comes to us poor, wretched sinners that we are. So we might be unworthy of God’s friendship and love…that doesn’t mean He won’t stop reaching out to us in friendship and love! God loves us, each one of us! God sent us Jesus out of deep love for us! And what a gift Jesus is to us! What a gift to hear his precious words, “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give rest.” Who among us isn’t carrying some type of heavy burden? Who among us is without worry or fear or anxiety or pain or suffering of some sort? Who among us couldn’t benefit from a little more rest, especially the rest that Jesus so eagerly wants to give? I think we could ALL benefit from a little rest from Jesus. I think we ALL have some type of heavy burden that we’d love to have lightened if only a little bit. And Jesus wants to lighten our burdens. Jesus wants us to come to him, take his yoke upon us, and learn from him. Jesus wants us to know the Father’s love.
As we go forth through this wilderness of Pentecost, let us take comfort in knowing God walks with us as a friend, eagerly sharing His love along the way. Let us not be so concerned with whether we’re worthy to receive his friendship and love. We ARE worthy! Let us walk assuredly and gladly. We close our time of reflection with a song entitled, “Jesus, Hold My Hand.”
(“Jesus, Hold My Hand”)