Ordinary as Mud

Pentecost IV – Proper 9

July 6, 2014

Zechariah 9:9-12

Psalm 145:8-15

Romans 7:15-25a

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30


A sermon preached by Rev. Tanya Barnett (Disciples of Christ) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.


Ordinary as Mud


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds, find their way back to You, O God.  Amen.


Please  have a look at this banner:

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What do you think it is?  [A spinner for a really oversized board game?  A clock that goes from 1 o’clock to 52 o’clock?]  Because this banner hangs in our Godly Play room, maybe one of our younger friends can tell us what this is…


Yes, this is a calendar of the church year.  Every week in Godly Play we move the arrow one more block around the circle – a circle that reminds us that (as God would have it) for every beginning there is an ending, and for every ending there is a new beginning.  God is with us as we move from new things to older things, and God is with us when things die and come to life in new ways.  This is our calendar – we get to move through this beautiful circle together, every week and year of our lives.


So, please look at the calendar: we celebrated Pentecost outside on the labyrinth during this red bit [point out], and now we’re close to the beginning of all of this green section [point out].  Some people call this green season the “Time after Pentecost”; other people call this season “Ordinary Time” because the weeks follow a certain order that starts after Christmas and circles all the way back to Advent; and still other people call this season Kingdomtide because if pay close attention, we might see that God’s Kin-dom growing right around us!  I like to call this season the greening or growing season – because that’s exactly what’s going on in the world around us.  Just look at all the green out here!  And, it’s exactly what’s going on within our church life: these are the green, fertile days in which we have time to grow deeper and broader in our faith.  It’s the time of year when we get to read lots of verdant and complex Bible stories – like those Hagar and Ishmael, Isaac and Abraham stories we’ve been chewing on for the last couple of weeks; and it’s the time of year when we get to hear about how an extra-ordinary person – Jesus – understood and lived in the ordinary world.  It’s during this time that we get to be part of one of Jesus’ most wonderful secrets: that oftentimes the things that seem most ordinary, are the things that are filled-to-the-brim with Holy wonder.  A pastor named Martin Luther said it like this, “If you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.”[1]


Most likely, Jesus didn’t call this season “Ordinary” or “greening” time, but one of the really neat things about the Bible readings during this season, is that Jesus uses all kinds of very ordinary things to help his friends better understand and see the world as God does.  We have so many of his stories, sayings, and parables about familiar things: things like seeds, crops, and weeds; fishing nets; bread baking in the kitchen; a boat out on the waves; dogs; and even sewers.  In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus talks about a very common field tool: a yoke.  Now, many of us around here might not see people and animals using yokes every day, but you probably would have if you were hanging around with Jesus.  On any day of the week, you might have seen a pair of oxen yoked together hauling a load into town or out plowing a field.  A yoke would have been as common back then as, say, a wheelbarrow or a lawnmower would be for us today.  Just think of hearing Jesus say: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Grab hold of my wheelbarrow, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my wheelbarrow is really easy to use, and my burden is light.”


Whether then or now – Jesus still is talking about ordinary, unglamorous tools and work.  He’s still talking about animals laboring to till the soil, or you sweating up a storm mowing your lawn, or me attempting to haul several yards of gravel, or anyone throughout history who has had to work really hard for their daily bread.  For Jesus’ listeners, hearing words like “yoke” and “burden” would have been like code words for what it felt like to be pressed down as captives of the Roman Empire – pressed down by hard labor and cruel social rules, by the constant demand for unjust taxes and tolls, by debts that no amount of money, sweat, or soul could ever repay.  Jesus is talking to tired, pressed-down people about the ordinary, unglamorous, heavy stuff of life.


So now that Jesus has their attention, he unleashes that wonderful secret I just mentioned – the secret that whispers: in things that seem the most ordinary, that’s where we catch the best glimpses of the Holy.  Here’s a glimpse: Jesus uses the delicious word “rest”…as if hidden in ordinary, grunt work one could find this Holy thing called “rest.”  How can this be?  Any yoke is still a thing that binds you to work, any burden is still a burden… how can rest be found in either of these grinding words?


Okay, let’s go back to the beginning of “rest.”  God labors for six days to birth the universe – that’s what we hear in opening chapters of Genesis and that’s what will be hearing a lot about during our next week’s Art & Soul program with children and youth.  Six days of the most demanding work imaginable (because it’s as huge as the universe), then we get to the seventh day in the creation story.   As a Bible teacher named Norman Wirzba[2] points out, if you look at this Genesis story as rabbi’s have for a long, long time, on the seventh day God doesn’t go take a big, fat nap on a cloud or in a hammock; no, on the seventh day, God creates one more thing: God creates rest, holy rest for ALL of creation that’s just come into being.  Far from God checking out, the seventh day is the high point of God’s creative life!  Norman writes, “We need to recall that God has spent six days creating the world.  At the conclusion of this work, God is not tired or frustrated.  Rather, God can’t refrain [hold back] from delighting completely in the goodness of all [God] has made.  God looks upon creation and sees reflected back the concrete manifestation of [God’s] own love.” [3] On the seventh day God and every bit of creation gets to stand in complete awe over what is happening throughout the universe – everyone and everything gets to be part of God’s eternal enjoyment and delight!  This is rest!  This is full and good and beautiful – this is very bit of creation fully alive within God’s joy!


With this ancient, blessed sense of “rest” in mind, try to get a mental picture of what Jesus might have look like when he said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and 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.”   Here’s what I see: maybe, under his yoke, just below his sweaty forehead, maybe Jesus has a mysterious sparkle in his eyes; and maybe, just maybe he wears a secret smile that says things like: “Come here, my friend, let’s do this work together – I’ll be your yoke-mate and you can be mine.  We’re not running away from the work that brings life to this world, we get to be in the thick mud and muck of it… together.  And you know what?  It’s radiant and juicy and messy and fun!  Oh, and you know how sometimes it’s me who is the poorest-of-the-poor, the tired-est-of-the-tired, the least-of-these – well, when you experience me in this way you’ll have a bit more weight to carry.  This is the cross.  But please please remember this always: when you’re the one who’s poor and bone-tired and broken all the way down to your soul, I’ll be the one to lift you up.  This is the Resurrection.  In the in-between, “ordinary” time, when the work feels so right for both of us, we’ll dig deeper than anyone every imagined.  Never let me go, because I will never let you go.  We – together with every living person and thing – we are the ordinary, earthy, glorious manifestation of God’s own love alive in the world.  Amen.


[1] Bainton, Roland, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Mentor Books, 1955, p. 168.

[2] Norman Wirzba spells this out beautifully in his book, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age

[3]Norman Wirzba, “A Sabbath Way to Lead,” http://www.faithandleadership.com/content/sabbath-way-lead