Ask rain from the Lord in the season of spring rain.
Look at the rainbow, and praise him who made it.
The Invitatory and Psalter
The earth is the Lord’s for he made it. Come let us adore him.
Jubilate Psalm 100
1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his ;*
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
8 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 The LORD is loving to everyone *
and his compassion is over all his works.
10 All your works praise you, O LORD, *
and your faithful servants bless you.
11 They make known the glory of your kingdom *
and speak of your power;
12 That the peoples may know of your power *
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; *
your dominion endures throughout all ages.
14 The LORD is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.
15 The LORD upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
16 The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, *
and you give them their food in due season.
17 You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
18 The LORD is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.
19 The LORD is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.
20 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.
21 The LORD preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.
22 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD; *
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.
The earth is the Lord’s for he made it. Come let us adore him.
The First Lesson: Zechariah 9:9-12
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: God of our Fathers Daniel Crane Roberts Hymnal 1982 #718
God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
leads forth in beauty all the starry band
of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
our grateful songs before thy throne arise.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
in this free land by thee our lot is cast;
be thou our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay
thy word our law, thy paths our chosen way.
From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
be thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
thy true religion in our hearts increase,
thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
Refresh thy people on their toilsome way,
lead us from night to never-ending day;
fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
and glory, laud, and praise be ever thine.
The Second Lesson: Romans 7:15-25a
15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Love divine, all loves excelling Charles Wesley Hymnal 1982 #657
Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down,
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter every trembling heart.
Come, almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be alway blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray, and praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.
Finish then thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee:
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before tee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
The Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus said,] 16“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.’
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the 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.”
25At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.
Sermon: My Yoke is Easy
Whenever I hear the gospel my yoke is easy and my burden is light, I always ask myself, “Is it? Really?” Because sometimes it seems like the yoke of the gospel and the burden of the Lord can be quite heavy. If you have to change your life, or even give your life up for the Lord, it can seem that the burden might be a lot to pick up and carry around. Then there’s the weight of the guilt we feel even when we’re forgiven – not for nothing do we say, ‘the burden [of our sins] is intolerable.’ There’s the sense that once we make a commitment, take an oath, we are bound to it – and the Lord, it is said, is a jealous God and will hold us to our word. Plus, there’s the martyrdom to consider, and the saints we remember today were both martyrs, on top of everything else. If serving you, Lord, can cost me my life, how can you say that your burden is light?
There’s also all the strange things to accept, as followers of Jesus, because of the stories and tales that come down to us from way back when. These heavy intellectual burdens range from the virgin birth and the resurrection to all the miracles he is said to have performed and all the various things he did – walking on water, walking through walls, beaming from Judea to Galilee and back – that seem to defy what we know about nature. Accept Christ, it sometimes seems, and you accept them. Intellectually, and at times emotionally, the burden of Christianity can be quite high.
Those who’ve listened to me for a while will know that I tend toward the rational side of religion, and get a little nervous around the Gospels and the stories of things that we’ve been told happened, but that our understanding of physics and biology and humanity tell us really couldn’t have. From the incarnation and the resurrection to the feeding of the five thousand to the healing of a man born blind to the pick-up-your-mat-and-walk directive to the one who had not walked in years, to giving the disciples the power to do likewise, to raising Lazarus from the dead and Peter‘s mother-in-law from the nearly-dead, it sometimes gets to be quite a lot to bear, a weighty yolk, a heavy burden. If we add in the concept of the Trinity with its three-in-one and one-in-three, a doctrine so abstruse that Muslim scholars used to mock Christians for having a basic misunderstanding of mathematics and the way numbers work, it is clear that the burden of our faith can be heavy, indeed.
The historian Edward Gibbon, like many Enlightenment scholars, connected giving credence to things that are impossible with submission to inappropriate authority, or even tyranny, as well as to an actual weakening of the body, mind, and spirit. He worked out that submission to anything that was foolish, absurd, or that defied the conclusions of reason and the realities of nature was the equivalent of putting oneself in shackles or behind bars. Such enervating folly was something that any sane or sound mind, or moral person, would wish to avoid. Furthermore, to actively believe in things that could not happen was to give up rational discourse and one’s ability to fully flourish as a wise, self-aware, and free person. Beware those who seek in mysteries the power that can be found only in revealing them.
Voltaire, raising the Enlightenment bar one more notch, helped us understand another way that believing in things that cannot happen is bad for us. He wrote, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can also make you commit atrocities.” A cursory reflection on the past hundred years or so, or the past thousand years or so, makes it clear how true this is. Indeed, even five minutes’ study of the fascist, totalitarian, or ridiculous rulers who’ve held power in various places, past and present, make it stand out so clearly that a runner could read it. Those who can make a person believe what is absurd can make that person do pretty much anything. The mark of a truly dangerous demagogue and would-be tyrant is his or her ability to make people believe in things that are not true, and to reject belief in things that are true if they do not cohere with what people already understand or accept, or what the would-be tyrant wants them to know. In an age, and even in a week, in which the most powerful person in the world appears to have been found to have given aid and comfort to this country’s enemies and tolerated the murder-for-bounty of its soldiers, it is a sobering thought indeed to reflect how easily people can believe in things that are absurd, if those things make them feel better, and if an authority they trust tells them to do so. On this week when we celebrate the US’s Independence Day, there may be no better time to declare ourselves free from believing in illusions, delusions, and other forms of idolatry and lies.
These thoughts may seem to be a long way from the gospel for today, but they aren’t, really. Jesus asks little of us in this passage from Matthew that would challenge one’s sense of what is rational and reasonable, and instead actually reflects quite wisely on how people reacted to him. He understands that the people of his generation are quite childish. He notes that they got upset when people didn’t dance to the particular tune they were (literally) playing, or didn’t cater to their emotional needs without question or error. He notes that they could complained that John the Baptist lived a life worthy of an Essene, a Savonarola, or any other ascetic, and then complaining that Jesus and his followers didn’t. He notes, in a line that any Enlightenment thinker, and many a biblical writer, would happily quote, that “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Quick aside: For those joining us for the Sunday morning Bible study and the Tuesday evening of art and literature study, Wisdom is one of the bad girls and women of the Bible whom we will study in detail.
Speaking of wisdom: the wise say not to listen so much to what people say as yo watch what they do to know what they really value, what they’re about, and what difference they make in the world. One of the best things about Christ’s followers in any age has been the good that they do, or try to do, in the world when they do such things as feed the hungry, build hospitals, tend to the sick and the homeless, teach people who otherwise would not know anything, or variously behave with honesty and integrity in a world which seems to reward the opposite all too often. Faithfulness unto death in a Christ who saved the world from the power of sin and death and tried to spread the kingdom of God as a realm of pure, unbounded love have for centuries attracted people to the church, no matter what teachings it was that led people to behave so well. One admits, although with reluctance, that people can believe absurdities but still do amazing things because of them. They can also do the opposite. It would appear that we are complex creatures, and may never fully know ourselves or why we are motivated to behave as we do.
That thought, of course, leads straight into the sharp and whetted points of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, chapter 7. It’s one of the most powerful and psychologically penetrating of all scriptures, and one of the most elaborately and honestly human texts anybody ever wrote. Paul, in this passage, is a broken man – saved, but broken. Repaired, but still scarred – and most of his scars are self-inflicted, which is the nature of sin at its deepest and most insidious. One of the things that Christians who’ve felt most keenly the power of Christ’s salvation have always been very good at is discerning the limitations of their rationality, which includes their ability to behave well and make good choices, or even to understand themselves. The rational mind never errs in the face of truth; those of us who are human, all too human, are more than capable of rejecting truth because it is true, and choosing happy, self-serving lies even though we know they will hurt us in the end, and perhaps those whom we love. Paul knows this, and knows that he does not have control of his body or his choices or his thoughts or much else, sad to say. He experiences his body not as a glorious gift of God that was made good, but as a burden that drives him to do what is wrong. He believes that nothing good dwells within him in his flesh, because although he can will to do what is right, but often finds that he chooses instead to do what is wrong.
It is difficult to reconcile the thought in this passage with the powerful, beautiful insight in Genesis 1, that we are made in the image of God, and that God made all things good. However, Paul is not the only follower of Christ, though he may be the first, to have understood that he was not in control of his body or his mind or his choices. He wants to do good, but finds he chooses to do otherwise. This, he understands, is the power of sin, and the power of human weakness, to undermine us and work against our happiness.
Paul’s other great insight – which he shares with all, I suspect, who find his work inspiring, figures such as Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther – is that human beings cannot think their way out of evil. We also cannot act in such a way that frees us from the drives, the deep drives that make us do things we do not understand or that we believe, against all evidence, not to be wrong. The passions, as ancients and moderns alike call them, can overwhelm reason to the point where reason alone cannot defeat them. The Gibbons and the Voltaires of the world knew this, too, and it terrified them because they did not know quite what to do about it, other than to find better and better ways to share the truth, mindful that many people would not listen to any truths they found inconvenient or of great challenge.
The chief passion with which Paul had to deal was one that was common for many people who were drawn to Stoicism to have to deal: anger, and it’s corollary, self-righteousness. Paul, for good or ill, does not seem to have been drawn to the passions of the flesh as we tend to think of them, sexual or gluttonous or indulgent in those particular ways. He does not seem particularly avaricious or greedy, and one could not in any way call him slothful. But anger, being right, and needing to insist upon it to the point of breaking his pencil point in the midst of writing a letter or even dictating one, is most definitely his problem. As we were reminded this week in our celebration of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Paul got quite angry at Peter for being wrong and then backsliding and then changing his mind and then being otherwise not as Paul would have him be. Stunned by this, Peter essentially spurned the guy, and their relationship never really had a chance. Paul was very hard to get along with, and he’d be the first to admit it. He was also smarter than most people he met, and he’d have been the first to tell them that too – as well as admit to being a worse sinner than they could’ve ever imagined being. But even that can sometimes sound like the deepest of all sins: pride.
As we learned in our celebration of the Feast of Barnabas last month, both Barnabas and John Mark, held by tradition to be the author of the Gospel of Mark, quickly tired of Paul. They’d had such a bellyful of this apostle by the start of his second missionary journey that they simply left him, went home, and did their own thing. Paul never spoke of them, or of Peter, again. He, friends, was most certainly someone who know exactly what everybody else should do and think, and had no qualms and telling them what it was, He could drive himself into a blind rage if you somehow fell short of what he thought you should be or did otherwise than you thought he should do.
He is not proud of himself for this, though he was proud of his lack of pride, as this passage from Romans makes clear. He was, and I can never say this enough, permanently scarred by having justified and cheered on the murder of Stephen, the first Christian murdered for his faith, and by having persecuted the church in so many other ways. His writings are appealing to people who have committed heinous sins and evil because he understands how people could be motivated to do that, and how impossible it is to remove the guilt once you have done so.
One famous example must serve for all the others this morning. The author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, was a vicious slave trader before he became a convert to Christianity. He put the point as well as anybody has: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Whatever you may think of human beings and their choices, there is no other term for a slave trader then a wretch desperately in need of salvation and whose murder by his captives would not, by any honest or just court, ever be considered a crime.
The fact that it once was held so in this country is yet one more mark of our continued shame. Indeed, as this country continues to struggle with the ongoing legacy of slavery, racism, and stigma based on ethnicity, the clarity with which Paul and John Newton understand their wretchedness because of the horrors they’ve committed is well to keep in mind. Would that every racist, every bigot, every profiteer from the sale of human flesh into bondage, and every apologist for white supremacy, were thrown down on the floor of his or her mind by the conviction that she, he was absolutely wrong, a wretch, a failed person, but could not undo the damage without the power of Almighty God freeing him or her from sin and evil and the death they bring. The church used to preach a Commination against notorious sinners, naming exactly what they did wrong and what they had to do to get right with what God had done to free them from it, and it might be well to revive that tradition regarding this particular evil. See, what began in greed now resides in fear and anger and resentment, and is all too easily stoked by wielders of Jeff Davis’s and Dick Nixon’s Southern strategy, for us to rest easy with the state of freedom and equality in the US as it is. Would that those who use their bodies to hurt other bodies, far too often the bodies of people of color, felt the sting and the anguish that Paul expresses in this chapter, and then felt God’s grace in releasing them from the persistent evils in the American experience, still coiled like pythons at its foundation, threatening to undo it all, much as antisemitism and adherence to lies, and the lying liars that told them, once did in Germany.
Yet I, too, though no slaver, need to feel the release that God’s grace alone can bring. I, too, am justified by faith alone, and increasingly in the past three years have felt how anger and resentment and helpless rage at human ignorance, idolatry, and folly can truly be a thorn in the flesh. I have never been angrier at certain of my fellow Americans and their leaders who, in my judgment and in the judgment of most of humanity, are making things worse all the time, exacerbating everything from the evils of racism to the ill effects of the pandemic. I, too, know that I cannot save myself from this body of death, but that Christ must do so for me.
It may be with that in mind, knowing that I and Paul and so many others would find ourselves in the condition we often do, the Jesus says what he says at the end of this Gospel for Matthew. He praises his Father for hiding from the wise the great wisdom he has to teach, and revealing it instead to children. For children do not stay angry for long, and sometimes remember what they’re taught, and sometimes even apply it. Would that all who have much to learn learned as well as do children, from whom it is sinful to withhold even a cup of cold water, let alone truth and freedom.
Anyone who can free us from burdens from which we cannot free ourselves has a perfect right to say what it is impossible to deny: that whatever burden or yoke such a person would place upon us after setting us free would be easy, even light, as Jesus says his is. While the superstitions and impossible parts of our faith are hard to bear, the deep release that we experience from the power of sin and death, and from passions we can neither defeat nor avoid, is as real as the rain and the rainbow, and as easy to believe in. Let us in that spirit accept the burden that Jesus placed upon his followers: to love God with all our hearts, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to do justice, have mercy, and walk humbly with our God, being as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, spreading the peace of God and the kingdom of God to all those who need it, as God gives us the grace to do. If along the way we help others do so, too, all the better.
A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)
Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
A Collect for 5th Pentecost (Proper 9)
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Thanksgiving for the Nation
Almighty God, Giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land. They restore us, though often we destroy them.
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.
We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them.
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.
Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen.
A Thanksgiving for National Service
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Prayer after St. Alphonsus
O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.
Hymn: Once to every man and nation James R. Lowell Hymnal 1940 #519
1 Once to ev’ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
2 Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.
3 By the light of burning martyrs,
Jesus’s bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.
4 Tho’ the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Tho’ her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.
The Lord bless you and keep you. Amen.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. Amen.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.
Hymn: Spirit of the Living God Daniel Iverson, alt.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
About Episcopal Worship and this Pentecost Service
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost invites us into some of the most challenging and important scriptures in our faith. I hope that our worship, wrapped around them, is a blessing to you as summer waxes to the full, and we still struggle with the coronavirus and the limits on our ability to gather together as a community for worship, fellowship, and all the rest. May God grant us the grace to find the yoke of social distancing easy, and find light the burden of going without so many gatherings and activities we know and love. God preserve us in good health, and in freedom.
We also celebrate US Independence Day this week, mindful as ever that the national project to enable and institutionalize freedom and justice is ever imperfect and ever continuing, but part and parcel of our faith’s apostolic witness to our age and time. The hymns and prayers set for this day draw especial attention to that.
Christian worship is designed to have the congregation gather for prayer, lessons, the Eucharist, and song. In times of contagion and quarantine, the community may not gather or share the Eucharist. We have adapted this service to the conditions of the time, celebrating Morning Prayer in the Presence of the Reserved Sacrament, honoring God with our daily office prayers, thanksgivings, lessons, canticles, and hymns.
We give thanks this morning for our readers, Creamilda Yoda and Hilary Laskey, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.
Resources (available for free online)
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2,
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 Tune: “Holy Manna,” as found in Hymnal 1982 #238