War, disaster, plague

War, disaster, plague

Homilist: Hector Cumming


Zechariah 9:9-12; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Two weeks ago Peter spoke on the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah said “from early times prophets prophesied ‘war, disaster and plague’. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord.

In tonight’s reading the prophet Zechariah prophesied that a king will come humble and riding on a donkey and he will command peace to the nations. We know from the Gospels the Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. But did Jesus command peace to the nations? Was Jesus recognised as one truly sent from the Lord? In tonight’s reading from Matthew they said of Jesus “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The citizens of Korizon, Bethsaida and Capernaum did not recognise Jesus. They did not repent in sackcloth and ashes as did the citizens of Ninevah.

Jesus went on to say that the citizens of Sodom will have an easier time on the day of judgement than the citizens of Korizon, Bethsaida and Capernaum. A difficulty for all those who believe that Sodom was destroyed for other than the lack of hospitality.

In Matthew 24: 6–7, Jesus said “you will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but do not be alarmed. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. We may ask ourselves how are we to live out our lives knowing that there will be wars, disasters, plagues. In this time of Covid – 19, our prime minister urges us to be kind.

In tonight’s reading from Romans, Paul says “the good I would do I don’t and the evil that I don’t want to do I find myself doing. Wretched man that I am.” We can all sympathise and relate to Paul; if we are honest. Paul goes on to say “who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul relied on Jesus to save him from himself.

There is an old hymn;-

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs 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!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

This poem was written by Joseph Scriven born in 1819 in Ireland. To well off parents. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1842. Aged 23 he became engaged but on the night before his marriage in 1843 he watched helpless from the bank as his fiancé, crossing a bridge across the river was thrown from her horse into the fast moving river. Where she drowned.

Joseph in grief joined the Plymouth Brethren which estranged him from his family. He left Ireland and went to Canada where he worked as a tutor and would cut wood for widows and the needy but not for those who could pay him to cut wood. Being a young man he fell in love again. Tragically, before they could marry his fiancé became ill and died of pneumonia.

Learning that his mother was ill in Ireland, and being to poor to return to Ireland he sent her the poem “What a friend we have in Jesus”. Joseph continued to work as tutor. When aged 66 he went for a swim in a lake and drowned. It is not known whether it was an accident, a medical incident or suicide.

We also can rely on Jesus. Being a Christian means having a personal relationship with Jesus. When someone you love dies, you can no longer see them, you can no longer touch them, but you can always talk to them and sometimes, just sometimes you can feel their presence with you, alongside you. There is a story of a person looking back on their life and seeing two sets of footprints in the sand. However sometimes there was only one set of prints. Asking God,” was this when you left me alone?” God replied “no that was when I carried you.”

Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” For those here who may not know what a yolk is, it is the wooden collar that sits over the necks of two bullocks. Chains or ropes are attached to the yolk and in that way the bullocks are used to pull logs, to plough or to move a grindstone. Some farmers still use horses or bullocks, instead of machinery on their farms.

The relevant point for us tonight is that we do not carry that yoke are on our own. It is not a slave’s collar, fastened around our necks. No, a yoke is shared between two bullocks, and when Jesus says take my yoke upon you and learn from me he was telling us that he is a partner in life’s tasks. He walks alongside us. Just as an older bullock shoulders the greater burden when ploughing with a young bullock, so Jesus shoulders the greater burden when he walks alongside us.

Moses was given 10 commandments from God. The Pharisees added many shibboleths – read Deuteronomy. What you can and cannot do. These laws had become burdensome to the people that Jesus was talking to. Jesus said “ learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart.” The prophet Micah said “ Love justice, act with mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Our Prime Minister repeatedly urges us to be kind.

So how we survive in a world of war, disaster and plague, is to yolk ourselves, as individuals, to Jesus; for his yoke is easy and his burden is light.


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