“Grace Given”

Texts: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Matthew 11: 16-19, 28-30

By: David D. McDonald

July 5, 2020



3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

NRSV MATTHEW 11:16-19, 28-30

16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

17 ‘We played the flute for you, and

you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Silence and debate, war and peace, living and sacrifice; life is full of difficult choices. As the Statue of Liberty beckons the weary and heavy laden to our shores we know that our freedom to choose carries a heavy price. For the Christian community there is a dilemma to be faced on this Sunday, the day after July 4th. We may well find ourselves living between tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Our morning scripture text reminds us of such things. Our lives often change in a blink of an eye. Sometimes a wedding’s festive mood is suddenly dampened by the news of a sudden death or accident. On the other hand, I can remember a funeral in my first pastorate in the mountains of Virginia which I officiated and the funeral procession was suddenly halted by a road block of state troopers looking for an escaped prisoner from a nearby penitentiary. The troopers looked in the hearse to see if there were any stow-aways. Charlie Taliaferro, a good friend and driver of the hearse, commented, “We’ve taken care of him; he won’t give you any trouble. The trooper looked at the casket, laughed, and then began waving cars on that had head lights burning. Looking in the rear view mirror I could see cars turning on lights all the way down the mountain. Following the graveside interment, I could hear the family chuckling. Well, “John” had a bigger procession then he could have predicted. I bet he never had so many friends in spite of a couple of no-shows in striped suits. Sometimes God just seems to inject a little comic relief into the saddest events.

Matthew’s Gospel depicts just such ambivalence as it tells the story of Jesus Christ. Matthew begins his Gospel with the wondrous, miraculous birth of Jesus Christ and moves with deliberation towards the crucifixion of a humble, innocent man, Jesus Christ who is the Savior of the world. He concludes with the great commission:

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

If we read the Gospel too hastily and jump from Christmas to the Resurrection, we miss the great invitation of Jesus to all people to come and follow, to learn, to find peace for today and not just in the past or the future; thereby, finding rest in a troubled and broken world that is celebrating birth and death at staggering speed.

The Biblical book, Ecclesiastes, reminds us that every season has its time. Each day has its place and God ordains each day according to His purposes. We find God all along the way for He is the Lord of all of time, but there are times when it is so hard to see that. In the midst of a critical health crisis, we can hardly bear the wait for the time of healing to come. It is far too slow in coming and requires far too much energy. Yet, even so, it is time given to us by God, but for what purpose? That is the question that often has no easy answers. Likewise, the spouse who suddenly loses their beloved after many years of marriage there is a hole in life that seems almost impossible to fill. W. Victor Malloy, an executive director of the Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care wrote a little book entitled Night Musings. In it, he reflects upon his personal experiences with life which like ours are sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter. As a small child he was nearly killed when a frying pan full of hot oil on the kitchen stove was tipped over on him. He reflects about that long road to healing and the scars that were left behind:

“Along the way I have been blessed by the love and encouragement of wonderful people. That love and encouragement have enabled me to embrace my limitations and even to see my near-death experience as a gift! Thus, I am content to refrain from seeking and instead to respond to that which crosses my path. My experience is that as I do that, I am more likely to meet God along the way.” (p. 55)

W. Victor Malloy maintains that the key to understanding the activity of God’s Spirit in our lives is being open to the fact that we ultimately belong to God and we have a deep spiritual hunger to experience community and belonging. Further, he argues that perception of that activity of the Spirit of God requires some flexibility since it is God’s activity and is not cast in the molds that we make. He quotes W.H. Anden to make his point:

“I know nothing except what everyone knows – if there when grace dances, I should dance!” (Ibid, p. 83.)

That thought brings us directly to the heart of the words of our Lord that constitute this morning’s text. Jesus tells those who have gathered that they are like children who have not learned that it is time to dance when they hear the flute nor have they learned to mourn when those around them are wailing. Our Lord continues and in a series of very sharp and poignant sayings rebuffs those who lay heavy burdens upon those who seek God. Instead, he offers an invitation. Recall the words:

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

When we gather to observe the Lord’s Supper, we gather at a table with cups and plates. The invitation to come to the table is our Lord’s. We who are weak and heavy laden are welcomed. The promised rest of the kingdom is ours because of Jesus Christ. It is not so much something we do as we receive. We speak of, “receiving the sacrament” and truly that is the proper attitude for disciples. We can not truly rest until we rest in God.

We cannot truly rest unless we let another share our labor. Jesus Christ invites us to rest from our weariness and our heavy burdens, not by ceasing all activity, but by answering his invitation to share his yoke. Thereby, even our heaviest burdens are graced by the presence of Christ to whom we belong, with whom we are joined.

It is in some sense a matter of vocation. It is a matter of becoming a yokefellow with Christ. W. Sibley Towner in Interpretation. wrote an article entitled, The Inner Self, the Word of God, and the Cause that Matters.” He maintains that a calling is essential to life. From the beginning of scripture in Genesis when man and woman were placed upon the face of the Earth until the grand climax in Revelation when all the saints are singing in the presence of God each has a calling. To answer that calling is an invitation to a way of life. As Parker Palmer puts it in his rich little book, Let Your Life Speak, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” (p. 193)

We are invited to share in labor that matters, to rest from our heavy burdens and the weariness of the world and proclaim the time of the joyful feast of the Lord. Let us receive grace upon grace to be found as we pause from our labors and partake of that which our Lord offers.