Midweek Extra topics: Creative ministry, Christian nationalism

Camera lens view of Interim Pastor David Mueller

Interim Pastor David Mueller has invited St Mark’s members and friends to send him topics, issues and questions for him to address during these Midweek Extra videos. And the ideas and questions keep on coming!

Today’s topics include:

  • Creative ways of developing Christian service during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Christian nationalism

If you have questions you’d like him to tackle, call or email the church office.

Here’s today’s session:

 

Today’s Message: How to Pray

Hands folded in prayer

If you could talk with your Creator — would you keep that appointment? What if you knew the Holy Spirit was interceding on your behalf? How do you talk with God anyway?

Interim Pastor David Mueller looks at prayer in his message today, discussing what it is and also what it isn’t.

Join us for our prerecorded worship service, using the link to our YouTube channel below, which goes “live” at 10 a.m. Sunday. You will also find the text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon below.

Also participating in today’s service are Barbara Sheridan, our worship assistant, and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts.

This week’s virtual choir includes: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell, Paige Stebner and Teresa Stebner.

“How to Pray” (Romans 8:26-39)

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

I must admit to having my spirit tested these days as much as any time in recent memory. I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky sort of person, who tends to be positive most of the time. I can get depressed, but usually no longer than a day or two. Generally I am happy with myself and am particularly secure as a believing Christian.

The forces attacking us all these days, however, are heavy in the extreme, far too heavy to bear with our typical resources spiritual, emotional, and physical. There is profound political division within our nation, a deadly virus and — at least for now — hotter and muggier than most of us enjoy.

Nothing that I can name then is more important, especially right now, than that we pray without ceasing — that is, regularly. What does that mean? How does it look? What might it accomplish? Please revisit that very special Christian privilege, but before we begin to talk and learn about prayer, let us pray!

Dear Lord, we are being humbled these days and that might just be the greatest benefit of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Allow us to be emptied, forgiven and relieved of all false senses of security. Fill us anew with your love and grace and teach us anew how to pray. In Jesus’ Name, we say, Amen!

Clearly Paul was writing to relatively new Christians in Rome when he shared: “… we do not know how to pray as we ought….” Prayer is such a profoundly beautiful exercise, however, that we might think of ourselves as new Christians. Romans 8 is a jam-packed chapter, but — most important — about prayer.

In Matthew 6:5, we learn what praying is not: “the heaping up of empty phrases … many words.” Also, prayer is not a public but an intimately private matter: “Go into your room and shut the door….” James the Apostle in his letter wrote: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (4:3) 

There is another even more significant revelation about prayer in all four Gospels.

I will stick with Matthew in 26:36-46. There are several extremely revealing truths within this text.

The Last Supper was finished and Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. In his first petition, he prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (26:39).

The next petition shows a subtle but real change: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (26:42)

In his last petition we are told he “prayed for the third time, saying the same words.”(26:44)

We may recall that between each of these petitions, he found his disciples taking a nap.

Most significant, however, is what Jesus said following prayer: “Get up, let us be going, my betrayer is at hand.” (26:46) He was ready to face his reality!

The sign on your kitchen wall or on a bumper sticker piously proclaims: “Prayer changes things!”

The reason I am not so sure about that is that it did not work that way for Jesus. His circumstances changed not; he went to the cross.

Often our prayers ask God to change everything and everyone around us but not us, when all too often what needs to change is us. We may need to face our reality and not escape it!

The pleasures James reports we pray for are not all bad. Praying for family, friends, community, country and the like seem so benign. But praying for any of those can often require an empowerment of us so that we might become more significant agents in the family’s or country’s well-being.

And there is more. Paul in Romans 8 makes a definite connection between the Holy Spirit and prayer. As I have shared several times previously, the Greek word “pneuma” can mean spirit, breath, wind. This time around, the “breath” helps us in our weakness … with “sighs too deep for words.” The “breath,” writes Paul: “… intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

If we allow this biblical truth to set with us and sink deeply into our hearts and minds, what we get is that prayer is spiritual breathing, that is, inhaling the word and will of God and exhaling his praise. When that happens, we are fully alive; when it does not, we are not spiritually alive. So breathe, folks, that beautiful and powerful fresh and clean air of the “Holy Breath.”

So far then we are to admit that when it comes to prayer we do not know what we are doing. We offer many words and so many of those words are about changing everything and everyone around us but not ourselves.

When we pray appropriately, we are breathing the breath of God. The promise which flows from this living exercise is that “… all things work together for good for those who love God.” (8:28)

The primary problem I have and share with many if not most of you is timing. God’s promises are seldom fulfilled immediately. We may have to wait a while or a whale of a long time.

What happens in this at times painful meantime is that we are promised that nothing … NOTHING … NOTHING we can name “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The significance of this in a practical way cannot be overstated. I belong to God in Jesus Christ. I have been called by name, made his own and have God’s promise never to leave nor to forsake me!

So, I or a loved one having a significant medical issue is among all other things an opportunity for me to remember joyfully that I belong to Christ Jesus. That can never mean that I sit back and lend no support to the medical professionals. It never means that in any way I fail to be supportive of the loved one. I still do everything reasonable and potentially helpful that I can, but first and foremost I believe that whatever “this” is cannot separate me from the love of God.

If one loses a job, secular and spiritual resources will tell you that whining and complaining and being dragged down won’t help, but remembering who you are in Christ Jesus can never hurt you in your pursuit of another job!

Given the current shape of things political, the current attack of things viral, whatever else is happening or not in your personal life, breathe easy, breathe in the word, will and wonder of God and breathe out his praise and your faith in his promises. That is exactly what prayer is and if it changes anything for sure, it will change you and you will love the change because it will place you in the best possible position and condition to be an agent of positive change in others.

Amen.

Tentative reopening date: Sunday, Sept. 6

St. Mark's altar

Here’s the date we’ve all been waiting for: Sunday, September 6! That’s our tentative reopening date, as outlined by St. Mark’s leadership.

Details were included in a letter sent to members and friends by the Worship Committee last week.

As part of the planning process, the Worship Committee distributed a survey, asking respondents their preferences about returning to in-person worship. St. Mark’s building has been closed since mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Seventeen people are ready to return as soon as possible. Sixty prefer to wait until Delaware enters “Phase Three” status — or later.

The plan now is to re-open St. Mark’s for a single 10 a.m. service. The plan is tentative and will follow state guidelines, with proper safety measures and volunteers in place in our worship area.

The following recommendations were made by the Worship Committee:

  • Greeters will ensure that names are gathered, temperatures taken and will distribute homemade face masks, if needed
  • Ushers will distribute communion items from a table prior to entering the sanctuary and provide guidance as people move to pews and leave the service.
  • The congregation will not sing or speak during the service.
  • Communion will be consumed in the pews
  • The offering will be collected in a basket at the rear of the church

Several volunteer roles are essential for us to re-open. If you are planning to attend when the building is first opened, we ask you to prayerfully consider filling one of these roles during this time of transition:

  • Greeters – take temperatures, gather names, hand out face masks, if needed
  • Ushers – monitor communion table elements, guide worshippers to their pew, count the number of worshippers in attendance, dismiss worshippers at the end of service, take offering to the church office.
  • Liturgist/worship leader – Read the prayers and scripture
  • Sound board – operate sound board and livestreaming equipment

In order to familiarize you with these recommendations and roles, a video will be produced to illustrate the manner in which worshippers enter, attend and exit the church.

We hope that you prayerfully consider volunteering for one of these roles and that you will attend church at St. Mark’s when you feel it is safe for you to do so according to your personal needs. Services will be livestreamed for those continuing to worship from home.

Our prayer is that you be blessed by our worship service wherever it finds you!

Please indicate your willingness to serve by filling out this form by August 14 so that we may prepare for returning to Sunday worship on September 6.

Returning to worship services at St. Mark's
Help us plan for reopening St. Mark's building by telling us if you plan to return and, if so, whether you are willing to serve in one of the volunteer roles.

Midweek Extra: Finding joy and making reparations

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Where’s the joy when we’ve got a virus?

Where’s the joy when we’ve got storm troopers in Oregon?

Where’s the joy when we have such animus between various peoples in our own country?

Where’s the joy when we have economic concerns about how we’re going to manage economically and financially?

Where’s the joy?

Interim Pastor David Mueller attends to that subject in today’s Midweek Extra, an informal video discussion of questions sent to him and his thoughts on assorted issues of the day.

He also discusses making reparations for slavery and other injustices.

Have your own questions for Pastor Mueller? Send them to the church office for future consideration.

Thanks to John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for producing these videos.

 

 

Have you loved a weed today?

Wheat field

If you’ve been gardening during this time of Coronavirus pandemic, you may have strong feelings about weeds these days. Interim Pastor David Mueller has a weed-related challenge for us in his message today.

Join us as we worship by way of a prerecorded video, produced by our Director of Music and Worship Arts, John Lasher, who has worked with Pastor to provide these online services each week.

Also participating today are Cheryl Powell, worship assistant and soloist, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner.

The link below will take you to the video on our YouTube channel. The video goes “live” at 10 a.m. The text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon  is also included below.

“Have You Loved a Weed Today?” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) 

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

In a class at Princeton years ago, a professor claimed that many parables of Jesus were intentionally designed to confuse his listeners. Confusion is a state of affairs most people cannot tolerate, which compels them to work their way out of the confusion, to think through all angles until it begins to make some sense.

The perfect example is the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). “Which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”

Any shepherd, as well as anyone else for that matter, would find this absolutely insane. One cuts his loss of one sheep and continues to watch out for the 99. What on earth was Jesus saying?

With today’s parable, even though Jesus explains it, listeners are left with incredible questions and concerns. I am no botanist, but I have enough yard to know that if weeds are allowed to grow, they take over quickly. Explaining this by speaking of people instead of plants makes thing worse and not better. Evil in the midst of us tends to thrive even as we suffer difficulties at least.

Haven’t many or most of us at one time or another, perhaps more often, asked why God doesn’t do something about certain people, groups or forces that tend to be so effective at causing problems? Why can’t basically good people be left alone to accomplish good things? Why are we constantly confronted by resistance?

Yet again with incredible energy, we are faced with the evil of racism raising its ugly head ironically in the north and not just the south, perhaps in our very midst here at St. Mark’s? How can some people be so cruel, insensitive and selfish as to fight for not wearing a mask when all the research strongly supports wearing one is a main mitigation against the virus?

Is this mere misguidance or is it evil? Where is God in any of this? Must the devil so often prevail so it seems?

Jesus, as a Jew, got much of his teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures. I turn to the book of Ecclesiastes of the Wisdom Literature to seek some assistance. There are at least a few hints herein.

Solomon, traditionally believed to have been the author, says in 7:15: “In my vain life, I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.”

Ain’t it the truth!

Similarly in 8:14, Solomon says: “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous.”

God, this is just not right!

Both Solomon writes and Jesus says that in the end, the righteous will prevail and the wicked will fail miserably, but what a hell of a meantime this is.

Have you heard about the lawsuits against the poison Roundup? It kills weeds for sure, but evidently has caused many cancers in those who use it frequently. That sort of risk Jesus raises — namely, that we do not want to harm the wheat or good folk as we poison, cut, or in some way kill the weeds. I get that!

In Romans 12,9, we note: “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” We are not told here to hate evildoers, but the evil they do.

There are children and families still stuck in cages at our southern border. I hate that! It does no one any good to hate the perpetrators!

There are tens of thousands of good police personnel without whom life and crime would be worse. What of those police who cause unnecessary harm, even death? That is a question for us all these days.

What of those white guys who wave foreign and domestic enemy flags, shout racial slurs, make violent threats, and — all too often — are violent? I hate that!

What of politicians and government officials who fail in their duty to keep Americans safe and secure, physically, financially and otherwise? I hate that!

Speaking of police, Gigi and I were in Venice, Italy, on what we called our “There is Life after Tuition Trip.” After dinner one evening, we walked what there is of streets amidst the canals. We came upon a very drunken Gondolier who was surrounded by six policemen. There were several Carabinieri, military police, and an equal number of Polizia di Stato, civilian police, being incredibly patient with this young man. They spoke softly to him, encouraged him to stop shouting and making a fuss, and seemed prepared to take whatever time it took to wait him out or wear him down. There were no threats, no gestures of force, no drawing of weapons. That has stood in contrast to all too many scenes here in America. I realize that we are not frequently exposed to our police being patient and kind.

There is almost nothing in the words of Jesus that could be interpreted as “do nothing!” If then, weeds or evil people are so near us, what do we do? Hating, killing or harming them in any way is not the Christian way. What then? Love them! How? Allow them to get away with their evil ways? Not really. Come on, Mueller, you are suggesting this, so what do we do?

Love is misinterpreted sometimes. There is absolutely nothing mushy about love here. It is not a weak gesture. It is not passive but active. It seeks to express care for sure, care they probably have not known in their lives or they might not be the people they have become.

“Pray for those who persecute you.” (Luke 6:28) Offer them an example which is their moral opposite! Pray for them! Be Jesus to them, forgive them, show them mercy and grace. Pray for them! Be the redeemed person you are and they are not!

“Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) Let them see the rejoicing we do in what is good, true and positive. Let us refuse to rejoice in their evil ways. Pray for them! Praying cannot hurt. It can keep us engaged!

Back in seminary with a student body of approximately 400 or so (oh, to have that many today!), there were about a dozen of us who were not satisfied with what we were being taught about certain matters or about important matters about which nothing was being taught.

We set up what was an “inner seminary.” We had retreats, discussion sessions, prayer times. What really kept the seminary administration’s bowels in an uproar, was when we planned a weekend retreat with special guests or held an evening symposium.

We invited Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party to come and speak to us. In the late Sixties, one of their stated desires, not goals but desires, was to get 13 states in the South for themselves. I remember moving from the back of the room right up front where Fred was sitting with several of his companions. When given the chance, I asked if after getting their 13 states, might some small percentage of their own people start to exploit them? His answer was “perhaps, but at least they would be our own people.”

Sadly, two weeks later, he and another Panther were shot and killed by the Chicago police in a raid.

There were then and there are now those white folks who would think of the Black Panthers as a terrorist organization. They did have a violent streak in what could better be called riots and not just protests back then. But we engaged them, sought to understand them, did not have to agree with them on anything. How Fred Hampton thought of a bunch of German Lutherans inviting him to dialogue we will never know.

As Christians, washed in the blood of Jesus, forgiven and freed, loved forever, we cannot allow ourselves to merely become victims of the evils around us. Engaging evil in a careful, caring, intelligent, faithful and prayerful manner is far less risky and potentially far more effective than doing nothing. Jesus engaged the devil and those throughout his ministry who were less than righteous.

Have you loved a weed today? If not, give it a shot! You might just discover a new and possibly righteous part of your Christian self.

The Midweek Extra for July 15

Interim Pastor David Mueller

He called for questions — and you are sending them!

This week’s “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — an informal, half-hour video hosted by Interim Pastor David Mueller and produced by John Lasher — focuses on the social statements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the denomination St. Mark’s is part of, and what it means to be a congregation in the ELCA.

Pastor also talks about Christian sexuality in an increasingly permissive society.

If you have questions of your own, feel free to send an email to the church office.

Here’s the video:

 

Today’s message: ‘The Messy God’

Interim Pastor David Mueller

We gather again today to share a prerecorded service with worship, prayer and a word from Scripture. Our building remains closed in this time of Coronavirus pandemic and we are thankful indeed for the work of Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, which allows us to continue to meet and share a common experience, albeit from afar.

Also participating in today’s service are Nancy Myers, worship assistant, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. We will also hear from vocalist Paige Stebner.

The link to the prerecorded video is below, along with the text of Pastor Mueller’s message: “The Messy God.”

Also, be sure to check out the new “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra,” which offers a more informal encounter with Pastor Mueller, who offers to reply to questions we submit and also shares his reflections and thoughts on a range of other issues for about half an hour. The broadcast started on Wednesday, July 8, and it is planned as a weekly event, usually arriving online by 10 a.m. You can find last week’s discussion — and all those to come — on our YouTube channel.

“The Messy God” (Matthew 13:1-9, 36-43)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor 

You may or may not find it interesting that seminary education in Lutheranism traditionally has included four theological disciplines: Biblical theology (exegetics), history, systematics, and practical theology. I am troubled that far less history is required these days.

I want to center for just a minute on systematic theology, which is like engineering. If the foundation of a bridge has not been built correctly and strongly, it could easily collapse. The engineers have to put the design together in such a manner so that various parts of the bridge support rather than conflict with each other, making the whole a safe and practical bridge.

Systematic theology, which includes our Lutheran Confessions, seeks to make certain that various points of theology, belief and practice fit together and in no way contradict. Systematic theology is structural and quite technical. It is an attempt to neatly package what we believe even if complex.

Along comes Jesus speaking in parables which often defy neatness and order. I will not go through a number of them to prove my point, except to look at the Gospel lesson appointed for today about the sower and the seeds, which, as Jesus reveals when He explains what He first spoke, is really about the word and kingdom of God. God the sower flings seeds all over the place, in hopes that some will fall on good soil, take root and grow.

Seeds cannot and do not germinate on the road with birds eating what is not destroyed by traffic, like the devil coming along and snatching the seeds away.

Seeds cannot grow well on rocky ground either for the soil is not deep enough, which is like a person believing initially until the going gets hard and persecutions and other troubles come along and the person falls away.

Seeds can fall among the thorns and weeds, but get choked by the thorny cares of the world and wealth, yielding nothing.

Finally, seeds grow best on good clean and rich soil. The word is received, understood, the seeds germinate and produce fruit in various measures.

Interestingly, in the appointed Gospel for next week from just a bit later in Matthew 13, the weeds and thorny things are left to grow together.

It is all very messy and doesn’t seem to fit together very well. God does the things God does whether flinging seeds in reckless fashion or allowing weeds and seeds to co-exist.

In the familiar Psalm 23, we hear of cups running over, making a real mess on the table. God can be and often is quite messy.

We do ourselves and anyone else no favors by looking at the various places seeds land and identifying people we know who are like that. Good old Charlie gets very involved in things at the church but can never sustain his excitement. Henrietta simply cannot keep up with the thorns and weeds which end up killing off her many efforts. Mortimer always has his mind on what is best for himself and how he can make a killing. We all know people who seem to fit into these three categories. We can even identify the ones among us who do all the work, take little credit when all goes well and take a lot of guff when things go badly. These characters are all here at St. Mark’s in full and living color.

But what if there is a deeper interpretation without meaning to outdo Jesus here. What if in each of us there are four kinds of soil? What if there are birds which take the seeds in us which have not been smashed by traffic? What if in a spiritual sense we have rocks in our hearts much like stones in our kidneys which can act up? What if we find ourselves so wrapped up in the things of the world that there is no room left for the things of God? What if there is in each of us really good soil? If all this is true, what to do? Move to the good soil and let the word and will of God grow; avoid the other places in our lives where no growth of consequence is possible!

There is a parable in Matthew 21:28-32, where one son said yes when asked by his father to go out and work in the vineyard but who did not show up. The other son said no to his father but showed up and did the work. Which son did the work of the father? Obviously the one who showed up after all. This is a messy business as well because to have said “no” to a father in those days would have been asking for real trouble. It would be nice if sons or daughters always said a loving and obedient “yes” and did the work. But a case can be made that two sons like that or daughters are in each of us, doing some sort of battle. Which of them wins in us? It is like the soil. Move to the good soil in yourself!

I believe I have shared about the Native American grandfather who told his grandson that there were two wolves in each person, a ravenous, angry, dangerous one and a kind, friendly, but protective one. “Which one wins?” the grandson asks. “The one you feed,” said the grandfather.

There is clearly an eternal implication to all of this, that is, what is it that makes life last forever and not just for a while? But there is an immediate temporal significance and benefit as well.

Listen to the Prophet Isaiah in our first lesson as he lists the beautiful things God will do: to summarize, there will be joy, peace, hills singing, tress clapping hands. There will be no thorns but the Cypress, no brier but Myrtle. It is all an everlasting sign that people will not be cut off from the Lord.

Paul in our second lesson (Romans 8:1-11): set our minds on the things of the Spirit and live or on the things of the flesh and die!

As we ask ourselves what we want out of life, we Christians are invited to believe that the word, will and wonder of God is well worth it, while the stuff of bad soil, bad boys and big bad wolves are worth nothing in the end. Believing then and having living faith is setting aside our stuff — whatever it is — and allowing God in Christ to sow His abounding and steadfast love in us, on our hearts and in our minds.

There is clutter like thorns and thistles in us. There are false but formidable forces calling us to destruction. Let Jesus die for that so that you might be good soil on which God sows good fruit! Amen.

St. Mark’s Midweek Extra starts today!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Here’s your chance to ask those questions that have been bugging you and  listen in as Interim Pastor David Mueller tackles them and shares his perspective on the past, observations on current events and ideas about the future.

We’re calling it “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — a half-hour-ish video hosted by Pastor Mueller and posted on Wednesday mornings. This week, Pastor Mueller will discuss “hating the sin but loving the sinner,” explain what led him to accept the Interim Pastorate at St. Mark’s and share some observations about the future of the Church in general and St. Mark’s in particular.

Check it out by clicking the link below. Then send an email to the St. Mark’s office. with questions you’d like Pastor to address in future encounters.

Pastor Mueller’s Message: “Rest? What is that?”

A yoke with the words "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me" written above it.

It’s a holiday weekend — and happy Independence Day! But it is a strange holiday indeed. With much of our world still shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a different perspective on the idea of freedom and liberty and what it means to care for each other in sacrificial ways.

We know many are carrying heavy burdens. Today’s prerecorded worship service includes a sermon from Interim Pastor David Mueller that looks at Jesus’ invitation in Matthew’s Gospel: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The service, which is available at 10 a.m., is led by Pastor Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts. Also participating are Greg Landrey, worship assistant, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. There is other special music, too.

The link to our YouTube channel is below, along with the text of Pastor’s sermon.

“Rest! What is that?” (Matthew 11:25-30)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

We are into a moment in history where there are those who seem given to the taking of risks, especially young folk but some older folk who should know better as well. Being in a crowd — whether in a bar or a church — not wearing masks and keeping distance is as risky as it gets these days. There are Christians who claim they are exempt from or immune to the virus due to the protection of God.

In the book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — all Jews — were thrown into a furnace of blazing fire for refusing to give homage to Nebuchadnezzar, but God preserved them (Daniel 3:8). Christians meeting without protections are like those running into a burning building not to save anyone but to prove God would protect them, like our three friends from Daniel. They might just be in for the surprise of their lives. With one exception, we are not to tempt or test God.

I am reminded again of the book of Daniel when in Matthew 11:25, we read: “I thank you, Father, the Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” That sounds very much like Daniel 2:20 and following: “Daniel said: ‘Blessed be the name of God … for wisdom and power are his … he gives wisdom … and knowledge … he reveals deep and hidden things.’”

In the Zechariah passage, which foreshadows Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the King comes “triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey.” Just as the entry of Jesus was a slam on Roman pomp, so also Zechariah’s is a slam on the comparatively ridiculous image of seemingly more powerful earthly kings with their decorated steeds, banners and well armed troops. The earthly powers here mean nothing. The King of kings is The Humble One!

And He comes for the humble ones and not the proud; the poor and not the rich; the common folk and not the “upper crust,” that bunch of crumbs connected by a lotta dough. We would do well to listen to the words of the Prophet and those of the King.

“Come to me, all you who think you are special, who wield the power, who have the wealth, who believe they need nothing.” Whoops! Wrong book! That is an unholy book. The Holy book invites the weary, burdened and nearly worn out!

It would seem that if you are rich, you lose! Is there inherent blessing in being poor? Doubtful. So what is going on here? It is simply that those who don’t have much are open to gifts Jesus offers. Those who have much don’t need Jesus!

The “yoke” here is an interesting matter which requires an explanation. The image is of the yoke that holds two cattle together leading a wagonload of whatever. What we are offered is a trade, the yoke we are burdened with in exchange for that of Jesus. What we get with this trade is relief and rest.

We have all heard it said that so and so has a great cross to bear due to reasons of poor health, broken relationships, financial ruin, job loss, etc. We may have said that of ourselves when we feel overloaded. There are, indeed, crosses like that to bear, but Jesus invites us to “take up our cross and follow Him.” We get a new cross; it is His cross and not ours. The cross must be born before the crown is worn. Here also, we get a new yoke, Christ’s yoke, which is easier and lighter.

We turn to Paul who must be exaggerating his flaws when he makes his claim in Romans 7. “Wretched man that I am!” Even on the surface, there is a lesson here. Just imagine Paul if instead he claimed: “I am the greatest of Apostles! I know everything! I am holy! I am wise! Whatever sins may linger in me are few! Do what I tell you and maybe you can be the wonderful Christian that I am!” It would be as if he were still the Pharisee he was. Instead: “I am the least of the Apostles and the greatest of sinners.” I can relate to that.

It really takes a great deal of energy as well as nerve to pull off being someone we are not nor meant to be! It can be exhausting. The person who has wealth, power and influence could use all of that in the service of humanity and the praise of God, but all too often does not. To be free of self-centeredness, false pride, which is the only kind there is, and the desire to manipulate and take advantage of others is to become open to caring and sharing and daring to be truly alive. That is what Jesus offers here! “Give me all your junk and I will give you joy!” “Give me your burdens and I will give you rest!”

There is something else here. Scholars believe the “yoke” is the “Law.” The Ten Commandments are good, but to think we can keep them is a burden for sure. Jesus kept them. In trusting Him and casting our sins and shortcomings on him is to be free to live; free to let the law come alive in its invitation to love God and others and ourselves for positive reasons. It is the intelligent wise thing to do!

Jesus here in Matthew claims: “I am gentle and humble in heart.” In Biblical Greek, “gentle” is “praus” (“meek”) and “humble” is “tapenos” (“of poor estate”). Remember that Jesus entered Jerusalem, as did the king in Zechariah, on a donkey, the humble beast of burden and not a war horse. If Jesus is who he says he is, then to have wisdom and intellect capable of knowing him is to be humble and of poor estate ourselves. Those of the high and mighty crowd just don’t because they cannot get it.

Jesus offers a prayer here as well, not only thanking God as did Daniel, for who are the truly wise and intelligent ones, but claiming this as God’s “gracious will.” God the Father, gives “all things” to Jesus and Jesus offers “all things” that matter to us. Wealth, power, influence and the like will not last, but “all things” do!

Jesus is not a spiritual sleeping pill, nor a tranquilizer to numb the effects of our reality, whatever that may be, nor a pious cocktail to calm the nerves. Jesus is the one who offers us freedom from burdens of guilt, shame, blame and whatever other game our unredeemed hearts and minds would have us play. In THAT freedom to love and care, to rejoice and share, there is genuine rest because THAT is what we were initially created to be and do.

I don’t know how much we really need open bars and restaurants right now. I feel for the owners and managers of those businesses. I cannot for absolute certain believe that what we need is open churches and other places of faith. I do know that God-given and Jesus-won wisdom and smarts requires of us to humbly wear masks, keep appropriate distance, stay out of large crowds and wait patiently as God’s gifts of medical scientists do their thing.

Oh, there is plenty else to be about in hopeful, healing and helpful ways to come. In this meantime, let there be rest and quiet rejoicing.