Proper 9a – Sunday 3rd July 2011
Matthew 11: 16-19; 25-30
One of the first sermons I ever preached – some 25 years ago now – had as a sermon illustration a story about a victim of the Jonestown Massacre. I can’t remember the cut and thrust of my argument, I can’t even remember what the sermon was called. All I remember is the illustration I used.
The Jonestown Massacre claimed the lives of 918 people – approximately 12 of whom were killed or murdered, the rest taking part in a mass suicide. The events leading up to November 18th 1978 make for painful reading. The story surrounding Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple is a tragedy that has yet to be surpassed.
One of the victims of the massacre had her story told by her sister after the events in Guyana – I apologise profusely for not giving any more details, but I’ve gone over my archive store and can’t find the original details!
The woman in this story was an ordinary young woman, married with two young children, living in a middle class suburb in California. At the beginning of the 1970’s her husband had an affair with a work colleague, and then left his wife. Seeking solace and support the young woman approached the pastor of her church, who told her in no uncertain terms that she was responsible for her husband leaving the family home. He told her that she would have to step down from her responsibilities in the life of the church for the time being. Consequently, she found herself isolated, ignored and overlooked by the majority of the church members, and she felt no longer able to attend.
She related all this information in a letter to her sister 12 months later, when she concluded that she was now a member of Jim Jones Peoples Temple, because she had found love, acceptance, compassion, friendship and care. She was happy again.
Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?”
There are times when I absolutely hate religion. When you read about massacres, suicide bombings, Jihad and fundamentalism at Westboro Baptist Church. When you read about paedophile priests, intolerant preachers, sanctimonious synods and gatherings. When you hear of the hurtful things said in church, or the thoughtless actions committed by one church member on another.
The only thing that gets me through this particular ‘valley of the shadow of death’ is that this religion comes out only of the heart of humankind. It’s not God inspired. It’s not God authenticated. It’s not God blessed.
Jesus said, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.”
What a bloke Eugene H Peterson is. Once again the words of The Message are my only way into this familiar passage. How often I’ve read this passage and missed so much of the beauty that I’ve been surveying today.
Jesus said, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
The unforced rhythms of grace. Whilst writing to this I’ve been listening to the Jacques Loussier Trio’s take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. What a discovery this was. A jazz take on a classical piece of music. So relaxed. So chilled. So inspiring. Just like reading a passage from The Message that I’ve known for so many years, and yet today I’ve seen it in a whole new light. The unforced rhythms of grace have washed over me and have brought me so close to God. He’s taken the load from me. I’m going to stick with him, it’s the only way I’ll get through.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”