Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
[Church in the
park today, photos capture the scene at Sladden Park]
The text that I want to
share with you this morning for our contemplation comes from the gospel
of Matthew, from chapter 11, verses 28 to 30:
‘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
This is, I think, a rather intriguing
text for us to think about on this particular weekend. Even though it's
not a text that I would choose to use for the July 4th holiday. I mean,
it doesn't say anything about freedom, liberty, and patriotism, or
eating hot dogs :). All those things that we associate with this
holiday. I heard this morning on the news that the champion hot-dog
eater consumed 54 hot-dogs, that's bizarre, a symbol of our times.
But it's the text that is assigned for this Sunday in the lectionary, so
it got me to thinking about the connections. And the first thing that
came to my mind, well, after all, this is a holiday weekend -- come to
me all who are weary and need rest. You know, it's the beginning of
summer (even though it doesn't quite feel like it today), and rest is
absolutely vital to our well-being, isn't it?
Think about it -- it is so important that it is written into creation
itself: on the seventh day, the Lord rested. It's part of the 10
Commandments: honor the Sabbath. Why? Because on that seventh day, the
Lord rested. So it's vital to our faith.
So it seemed to me this would be a good opportunity to preach on the
importance of Sabbath, the time of rest. But that's not the sermon I
want to share with you this morning. Then it got me to thinking about
this idea of sharing our burdens, to be yoked. Jesus said, take my yoke
upon you. To be yoked is to be connected -- think about a pair of oxen,
pulling that plough, or pulling that cart or whatever the case may be.
And the reason the yoke of Jesus is easy is because it's Jesus -- we're
connected to him. We share it with him, so he shares that burden with
us. Remember the old gospel tune:
What a Friend we
have in Jesus, all our sins and grief's to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
So the music is a little old-fashioned,
and maybe the theology puts a little more emphasis on sin than on grace,
but the core of that message is really a good message, to share our
burdens with Christ. To take it to God. It's a good message.
So take that idea forward 100 years, give it some modern music, some
modern theology, base it in the idea that Christ lives within us, and
what do you get? Simon and Garfunkel:
weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all
I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge
over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Alright, so there's a reason my son is
in an a Cappella group and I'm not :).
Bring it forward another 40 years, modernize it more, what have you got?
Lady Gaga! But I'm not going to go there today :), and that's not the
sermon I'm going to preach either :).
Because it is the July 4th weekend, I thought there's got to be some
connection to this, and then it hit me -- the Statue of Liberty. Give me
your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.
And you know what's really interesting about that quote, I bet you
didn't know this, it was written by a Jewish woman. Not only that, her
family immigrated to this country from Portugal. Those famous words that
we associate with the Statue of Liberty rose out of the history of
anti-Semitism. So here's that story.
Moses Lazarus and Esther Nathan were Sephardic Jews whose family settled
in New York during the colonial period, during a time of persecution --
a Pogrom -- in Portugal. So they came to this country. They had 7
children, the 4th of which was Emma, who had a gift for language. She
was fluent, in German, Italian, and French. She wrote a couple plays,
short stories, and some poetry. She caught the attention of Ralph Waldo
Emerson, the famous American poet, and kept up a correspondence with him
throughout her life. She translated a number of German works into
English, especially the works of Goethe and Heinrich Heine. In 1882,
there was one of those pogroms in Russia, and a group of Ashkenazi Jews
immigrated to the United States.
Emma worked with them, taught them
technical skills and English, in order to help them become
self-supporting. And it was working with this group of refugees, in
1883, when she wrote her sonnet at the request for a fund-raising effort
for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. So she contributed this
sonnet, it was auctioned off in that fund-raising effort, and quickly
became beloved by the country.
The title of it is titled "The New Colossus". The original Colossus was
one of the 7 ancient wonders, on the island of Rhodes, it was a big
statue overlooking that harbor, one of the islands of Greece. Those who
were on our World of Paul pilgrimage will remember this, we talked about
this a little bit, because Nero built a Colossus dedicated to him, in
Rome, and it was hated. So after his death, the Romans tore it down, and
they built in its place, using the spoils of the war against Jerusalem,
what? The Coliseum, for which it's named after the Colossus, the
Coliseum. So a little history there, a freebie, not part of the sermon
So that poem "The New Colossus" was published and people quickly got it.
It was placed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal beneath the Statue of
Liberty. And so it reads:
Not like the
brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands,
your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The sonnet of Emma Lazarus. When I read that story about Emma, I
realized that these comforting words of Jesus had come full circle.
Think about this: Jesus, a Jew, living
under Roman occupation, offering comfort to all those with heavy burdens
in this world. Words of such comfort that his followers were
strengthened by that. Of course a persecuted minority in the first two
or three centuries, until the time of Constantine, when they became the
majority, and blaming Jews for the death of Jesus began to use their new
power in ways that would have only appalled Jesus. And so began that
long history of pogroms and persecution against the Jews.
And now a Jewish woman, her own family forced out of Portugal, working
with other Jews forced out of Russia, echoes those comforting words of
Jesus: come to me, all who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give
you rest. Now on the lips of lady liberty, welcoming all who come to
this country seeking that rest from their heavy burden.
Two post-scripts about Emma Lazarus. She died at the age of 38, in 1887,
one year after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated. Thirteen years
before Theodor Herzl coined the term 'Zionism', and gave birth to the
modern movement of Zionism, Emma advocated, out of her own experience of
anti-Semitism, for a Jewish homeland in ancient Palestine. And so
there's a very real sense in that the yearning of lady liberty to which
Emma Lazarus gave voice, is the same voice that gave birth to the modern
state of Israel.
And we see that same yearning in the desire of Palestinians for their
own homeland. We see that same yearning in the Arab Spring taking place
in Egypt and Libya and Yemen and Syria and other places. And we make
that yearning to be about political freedom, but the yearning of which
Jesus speaks, of course, is so much deeper than that.
Come to me, all you that are weary, and carry heavy burdens. Whatever
they may be -- the tired, the poor, the homeless, all are beckoned by
Christ to be yoked with him for he is the one who shares those burdens.
Our burdens. Here in this community of Christ.
community that cares for one another. A community that shares that
caring with all who come to us -- the tired, the poor, the homeless.
That builds that kind of loving, caring community as we saw this
morning, feeding the hungry at the church. Sharing those concerns this
morning in prayer for one another, huddled together. Sharing that loving
concern in so many ways with one another, and with our community.
That is the spirit immortalized not just in the words of Emma Lazarus,
but also in her deeds. It is that spirit that builds a loving, caring
community like this. And so we celebrate this day, not just the liberty
of political freedom, but that liberty that comes when we discover that
we are not alone. That all the burdens we bear and not ours to bear
What a friend we have in Jesus, like a bridge over troubled waters.
Here, in the community of Christ, we find that rest.
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