Lay Preachers
by Molly Lanzarotta
Sunday, July 6, 2008

I was thinking about the New Testament readings when I was in Honduras last week, volunteering with a couple of other families from St. Paul’s on work projects in rural mountain villages.

In both of our new testament readings today – excerpts from Paul’s letter to the Romans and the gospel of Matthew – the early Christian writers of these texts were grappling with the same paradox that Christians have grappled with throughout the centuries and that we each confront today.  The paradox is that the teachings of Christianity are pretty simply: “Love one another, love God, share what you have, forgive each other.”  Basically, that’s the gist of it.  And yet, as each of us has realized at one time or another, it can be really hard to forgive someone.  It can be hard to be generous.  And it can seem impossible to love people we don’t like, or who drive us nuts, or who scare us.

This excerpt from Paul’s letter begins “I do not understand my own actions” and many of us have been there.  I meant to be kind to that person, but he’s so annoying.  I was going to go and volunteer but then I didn’t feel like it.  Or, in my case, I really wanted to go to Honduras, I felt like it was the right thing to do, but then a plane crash closed the airport in Tegucigalpa and we were going to have to take a bus across the entire country, and it started feeling complicated and a little dangerous and, in fact, I was feeling scared about the whole thing.

Paul says, “ I do not do the good I want”. These teachings about love and generosity were counter-cultural, and counter-intuitive, 2000 years ago and they are still radical and challenging today.

In the reading from the gospel of Matthew, we are given a story in which it seems Jesus is in a way addressing this same paradox.  His teachings of love and forgiveness are a stumbling block to the wise, but perhaps can be best understood by “infants” he says, by those who don’t complicate things too much.  He tells his followers that his wisdom is so simple that it becomes hidden from the wise.

Then this reading ends with words that many find to be among the most comforting in the New Testament:
“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.”
These are very comforting words, but I see them, again, as reflecting the same paradox.  This story about Jesus has him saying “share my burden, my burden is light.”  But have you ever thought of Jesus’ burden as being light?  And, really, when you think about Christians throughout history, many of Christ’s followers seemed to carry quite a challenging burden, too.  I remember the Sunday before we left for Honduras, Terry preached on another reading from Matthew in which Jesus’ commissioning of his apostles’ ministry is recounted:  go out and proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, give without payment. Take no money, no bag, no clothes with you.” My yoke is easy and my burden is light!?

Well, in Honduras, I saw a cow wearing a yoke, and it didn’t look very comfortable.  In the rural area of Honduras where we were staying, the agricultural metaphors of Jesus’ times are not as foreign as they are to us modern city-dwellers.  You can see a cow wearing a yoke, a big wooden collar that allows them to pull heavy burdens. Sometimes, in some places, people still wear yokes, to carry water, for example.  If you think about the metaphor a bit more, you can image that perhaps the gospel writer was using this wooden yoke as a metaphor for a wooden cross – “take up your cross and follow me.” For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

And so even in these words of comfort, we still have the paradox that the simple and inspiring teachings of Christianity can get complicated for us to live, and sharing the burden of Christ can turn out to feel like quite a heavy burden sometimes – maybe even feel like a cross --  but still, somehow, can bring rest for our souls.

It was challenging for me to journey to Honduras, in many ways. In my mind, I knew that it was very much in line with what I believe as a Christian to reach out, take a risk, venture outside of my comfort zone.  I trusted, that for all that I was feeling nervous, that the “heavy burden” of traveling to an unknown place and a sharing in an unfamiliar culture, would, in the end, bring a sort of peace to me that I’m not always finding in my everyday life.

I experienced hospitality and friendship as well as challenges to my complacency, and the whole endeavor shook up my world view. My experiences in Honduras did not always leave me feeling comfortable, but the experiences were gifts indeed. Amidst poverty I could glimpse tremendous hope; across language barriers, I could feel friendship and good will. The teachings of the social gospel challenge us to go against conventional wisdom and reach out in love to the stranger, to share what we have, to venture on risky journeys whether we feel prepared or not.  Sometimes, this can feel like a burden, but sometimes, it may just lead you to find rest for your soul.


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