Just before our Gospel reading today, Jesus is talking behind the back of John the Baptist. If your reaction to what I just said is confusion, I understand. Talking behind somebody’s back is a bad thing, and Jesus does not do bad things. Just before what we read today, Jesus is talking behind John’s back, and here is some of what he says, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” A statement made without context is easily misinterpreted. Jesus was talking behind John’s back because John was not there, but he was saying good things about John.

Communication is a complicated thing, isn’t it? When we communicate, our goal is that all who hear the message we deliver understand it the way we want them to understand it. Unfortunately, that is a near-impossible task, and I say this with great authority, because I am up here in front of all of you regularly, and I get the opportunity to hear dozens of different interpretations of what I say every time I preach. Perhaps I can be more explicit, or possibly, each person listening to what is said receives it from their own perspective and personal life experience.

I have a great example of this. In October, my family and I drove to Georgia; Kate’s cousin Kaylin was getting married, and I had the pleasure of officiating the marriage. The day before we were to leave my mother in law sent me a text message that said this: “be careful once you get off the highway, the deer are in rut.” I took this message to heart and wrote back to her, letting her know I would be extra careful. The next day as we were exiting I-75 and getting onto the back roads of Georgia for the last 2 hours of our journey, I turned to Kate and said this: “Sweetheart I need your help, your mom texted me and told me that the deer have been hiding in the rut, and since I’m not from Georgia I don’t know where the rut is, so if you could keep an eye out for it, and make sure the deer aren’t jumping out of it, that would be great.” Kate looked at me and asked, “did my mom really say that?” I answered, “yes, I have the text message right here.” Kate asked to see the text message, so I handed over the phone. Kate laughed and said, “Chris, she said the deer are in rut.” I exclaimed, “yeah, that’s what I said they are hiding in the rut on the side of the road.” Kate looked at me like any girl raised in the south would look at a poor, uneducated city boy from NY, and said, “Chris, in the rut means it is mating season.” My response was, “Why didn’t she just say it was the mating season?”

Communication is a hard and complicated thing, isn’t it? It is nearly impossible for a group of people to hear one message from one person and not receive dozens of different takeaways. It doesn’t mean some people got it and others did not, it means that none of us completely gets it. It is especially true in the case of the words of Jesus. The Gospel today tells us that Jesus also struggled with communication. He compares his listeners to children who argue over trivial matters. Some said John had a demon, and others called Jesus a drunk and a man who associated with people of low regard. God’s final messenger, His last prophet, was ignored by many, and then, they continued to ignore God himself, even though he was performing mighty acts. Jesus says woe to those who reject him, woe to those who are unable to hear the truth, because of their preconceived notions of truth.

Jesus continues, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Jesus is not talking literally about children here; Jesus is talking about those who have an open mind. Before you hear what I said incorrectly, since that would be a tragedy as this sermon is about communication, I want to define what it is to have an open mind. To have an open mind is to be able to hear what is being said for what it is, not adding any of your baggage into it, not considering who is saying it and what their “real” intentions are. It is to receive the gift of communication from another person, to honor that gift by receiving it, and then to return the gift with further communication. This exchange is almost identical to the exchange we have with God in the Eucharist. Our society is in the situation it is currently in because we, all of us, choose not to receive ideas as a gift, but as a threat. I want to be abundantly clear; I am not damning any side of any issue. I am saying that we are all guilty of putting ourselves first, our preconceived notions first, and not receiving communication from others in love.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In the first century, “Only the poorest people would use a yoke to pull their loads. When used figuratively, a yoke represented submission.”[1] Jesus is calling all people to take his yoke upon us, the yoke of Jesus is the submission that He is the way and the truth and the life. That he is the only person to ever to speak real pure truth. It is the submission that all people, all people, are made in the image of God. It is that when faced with hate and cruelty, we respond with love and charity. It is a call to die to self and live for God. It is a call to meet those with whom you most strongly disagree, with the innocence of a dove and the wisdom of a serpent. Part of this yoke is the need for us to begin to listen to others with an open mind, and the love of God in our hearts, in doing so we die to self and live for Christ. To be one nation under God each of us must die to self and live for God.[2]

Sermon preached by the Rev. Christian M. Wood

Church of the Redeemer

Sarasota Florida

5th Sunday after Pentecost

5 July 2020

[1] NIV Cultural Background study Bible.

[2] Important note the Lectionary Gospel reading for July 4 is Matthew 5:43-48.