How is it with your Soul?
What joys are you celebrating?
For what blessings do you feel grateful?
For what losses do you mourn? What burdens are you carrying?
There are certainly plenty of burdens these days. It can be so confusing, paralyzing even – It’s overwhelming. What can I even do about them?
In the first part of this morning’s gospel, the answer seems to be, no matter what you do, you’ll be met with criticism, “You’re doing it WRONG!”
But let’s back up a bit. The lectionary drops us right in the middle of a story, skips a couple of other brief events in other locations and then picks up again in the middle of Jesus teaching in a still another town.
John the Baptist is in prison at the beginning of the chapter. His disciples go to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t make any claims, he just tells them to go back and describe what they have seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to new life, and Good News is proclaimed to the poor. What matters is what is happening in people’s lives.
John’s disciples leave and Jesus teaches the people about John – to open their eyes to what is right before them, what they already know in their hearts – they went out to see John in the wilderness because he is a prophet. He is the one who would go before the Messiah to prepare the way.
Jesus continues in the passage we heard today. He’s addressing the critics, the authorities: You have Elijah right in front of you but you’re so wrapped up in your own expectations you can’t even see. You’re behaving like children on the playground arguing over your own made-up rules. You’re so busy saying, “Not that way. No, not that way, either. You’re doing it ALL WRONG!” that you can’t even see the Kingdom of Heaven, the Realm of God, the Commonwealth of God unfolding right in front of you.
Does that sound at all familiar? Not that way, or that way, or that way, either.” I guess it’s part of the human condition.
We face a daily barrage of burdens; new worries, new outrages, all on top of the long-standing underlying burdens of this age.
From Climate Change to Police Brutality to Racial Injustice, the list is endless. And then we have this pandemic threatening our lives and livelihoods. Both our bodily well-being and our economic well-being are at risk. It’s isolating us, keeping us in our homes, apart from one another which in itself is surprisingly exhausting. Some of us may be feeling helpless or even hopeless.
So, How Is it with your Soul? We’re used to coming together in times like these. We’re used to going to that familiar place where we find rest and peace and food for our Soul; but we can’t. And on top of that, you’ve lost one of your priests. Have you allowed yourself to grieve?
No wonder we’re weary. Emotionally weary, physically weary, soul-weary. The Good news is, we don’t bear all the burdens of this world alone. It’s not all up to you, or me, or any one of us. We aren’t called to pick up each and every burden.
We do have each other, even though we have to be separated, we still have each other and countless others around the world who are sharing the burdens, sharing God’s mission toward Justice and the flourishing of all Life.
Most important, though, Jesus is with us shouldering most of the burden.
It’s a good thing, too, because we’re in this for the long haul. This isn’t a sprint, as they say; it’s not even a marathon. It’s more like circumnavigating the globe in a rowboat. It is an endeavor that won’t be completed in our lifetime, although there are and will be amazing progress and change along the way. Small steps, big steps, at times backsteps. Plenty of reasons to celebrate.
As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote,
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint; therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.
So, we need to rest, to take a break now and then, we set down our burdens for a time, secure in the knowledge that even as we rest, others are carrying on. Just as we do while they rest.
The opening of the Service of Night Prayer in the New Zealand Prayer Book reminds us, “Those beloved of God are given gifts even while they sleep.”
How is it with your Soul?
This week, would you call one of your parish friends, your siblings in Christ, and ask them, How is it with your soul? Ask them to pray with you. If you don’t know where to start, you can pray the Lord’s Prayer together. OR use one of the prayers in the Prayer Book. Pray for yourselves, for each other, for the parish, for the burdens we all share.
“Come,” Jesus says. Not please come, or would you like to come, or why don’t you think about it? No, it’s an imperative. “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Take my yoke and learn from me. Come to me, and I will give you rest for your souls. May it be well with your soul.