Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday July 9 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
“Mixed Feelings About Mixed Feelings”
These past few days I have experienced a certain degree of tension, of mixed feelings and I sense the experience is mentioned in today’s Bible readings as well as in the wider community of town and state, national and global community.
It began in earnest last weekend when Wendy and I returned to Philadelphia – to attend the marriage of an erstwhile colleague and also the 25th Anniversary of Dr. John French as Organist/Choirmaster of The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square. It was, may I say, weird to be back in the church where once I served as Rector but now sat in the pew. I remembered the title of Thomas Wolfe’s book “You can’t go home again” (especially the “again”).
Then, of course, July 4th celebrations bring mixed feelings to this Brit by birth and American by choice. Mixed feelings as I recognize the colors of red, white and blue but now in a different pattern. Mixed feelings when I come to sing “My country ‘tis of thee” to the tune once used for “God save our gracious Queen.”
I have concluded that to be human is to live often in the atmosphere of mixed feelings, to swim in an ocean of conflicting thoughts. I have concluded that to live a life of settled decision, free of tension, is to live a life that risks becoming indifferent to God and God’s constant offer of grace; to inhabit a make-believe world of self-sufficiency.
The prophet Zechariah (chapter 9) walks with his people as they engage with mixed feelings of anticipation – on the one hand, the king is to come triumphant and victorious but, on the other hand, he will come humble and riding on donkey.
Jesus, in Matthew 11, remarks on the confused, conflicting hopes of the crowd who both condemn John for his sobriety and plainness (“He has a demon”) but also condemn Jesus for his engagement with tax-collectors and sinners. Truly, damned if you do… damned if you don’t.
And then we come to the confessor of confused thoughts, the missionary of mixed feelings, the apostle of antipathetic considerations… listen to these words of Paul (such fun to read, such pain to live) “the good that I would, that I do not; and that I would not, that I do” (Romans 7).
We would like to think that Jaden, Natalie, Cecilia and Grace (children to be baptized today) have little or no experience of the angst of mixed emotions, conflicting feelings and yet sometimes even children reach a point of tension that the only resolution is for them to be held tightly with loving, sensitive and compassionate arms.
And, friends, maybe there is the clue, the signpost to resolution, rescue and redemption.
It is as we experience embracing love, constant presence, indefatigable hope that we find some relief from the tension that surrounds us, the tension in which we often feel immersed.
Tension and mixed feelings may often be creative and constructive, but there are times when we can become paralyzed, overwhelmed, constrained and confused.
Here we need, in Zechariah’s words, to be “prisoners freed from waterless pits, rescued prisoners restored to safe places.”
Here we need to make the profound discovery of which Paul speaks with joy, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God… Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The so-called comfortable words at the end of today’s Gospel are intended for all people and no less those who find themselves embroiled in inner conflict, psychic tension.
The invitation – “Come to me, says Jesus.”
The guests – “All you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.”
The event – “I will give you rest.”
It is no sin, it is no oddity, it is no badge of weakness “to be weary and to carry heavy burdens”; what is absolutely unnecessary is that we carry them alone. So Jesus, who loves us and these four children with such an ardent love invites us to walk in step with Him, pulling a burden made easier by a yoke shaped for us and intended for two (I couldn’t get out of mind “a bicycle made for two” but here we have a “yoke… made for two”.)
Friends, the day will come (one day) when we will be liberated from mixed feelings, creative tensions… on the day our relationship with the Lord will be unfettered, unencumbered and crystal clear… until then we ache that these words of the Shepherd will be grafted in our hearts and shape our lives…
“Come to me , all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Oh, thanks be to God… from the bottom of my soul… thanks be to God. Amen.