Summary: Opening Sermon at Oakton UMC
Let Freedom Ring!
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
"Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" Matthew 11:28
Shall we pray:
O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.
George Buttrick, is considered one of the top 10 preachers of the 20th Century. He served nearly thirty years as pastor of New York’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. From that distinguished pulpit Buttrick began a teaching career at Union Theological Seminary, then as Preacher to the University at Harvard.
On one occasion he recalled an experience in which he knew he had preached a bad sermon. Not only was it bad but it fell as flat as a pancake, so he said.
When he was greeting his parishioners at the front door after the service, no one said, “Nice sermon.”
The last person out, a lady, said, “Thank you for that sermon, pastor.” Buttrick said, “I know it was too long.”
But the lady replied, “Oh no, preacher, your sermon wasn’t too long. It just seemed long.”
Well as I preach my first sermon in the pulpit at Oakton UMC my prayer is that will not be your reaction; but if my sermon today does seem too long then I pray that the Lord will have mercy on me today. And I guarantee you if the great George Buttrick had some sermons that fell as flat as a pancake, I know I will too. I just hope today is not one of them. But if so please be kind to me on my first Sunday here!
Since this is my first Sunday I’ll tell you anther preacher story that I heard recently.
A preacher was making his rounds to his parishioners on a bicycle when he came upon a little boy trying to sell a lawn mower.
“I’ve been needing a lawn mower. How much do you want for it?” asked the preacher.
“I just want enough money to go out and buy me a bike,” said the little boy.
After a moment of consideration, the preacher asked, “Will you take my bike in trade for it?”
The little boy asked if he could try it out first, and after riding the bike around a little while, “Mister, you’ve got yourself a deal.”
The preacher took the mower and began to try to crank it.
Pulling on the cord a few times with no response from the mower, the preacher called the little boy over, “I can’t get this mower to start.”
The little boy said, “That’s because you have to cuss at it to get it started.”
The preacher said to the little boy, “I am a minister, and I cannot cuss. It has been so long since I have been saved that I do not even remember how to cuss.”
The little boy looked at him happily and said, as he rode off, “Just keep pullin’ on that cord. It’ll come back to ya.”
I confess—I’ve had some of those moments with the lawn mower.
This week as a nation we have been celebrating our independence. We sang the words today :
"Land where our fathers died/Land of the pilgrim’s pride/ From every mountainside/Let freedom ring!”
On "Independence Day," the American people celebrate the great gift of freedom they have received as a nation.
Even so, in one of the most popular American songs of the Age, the lament "I want to be free!" is repeated over-and-over again.
"I want to be free."
"If only I were free of the burden of worry and grief ...
If only I were free of this or that responsibility ...
If only I were free of the drudgery of my work ...
If only I were free not to have to answer to anyone ...
If only I were free to stay in bed until eleven every morning ... If only ... If only ... If only ..."
Or as one song goes on a popular television commercial:
“I want it all and I want it now!”
The "Fable of the Birds" is a story about creation. All the newly-made animals were walking around discovering what it was like to be alive. All except the birds! They were doing nothing but complaining because God had given them a heavy burden that he’d given no other animal: those awkward appendages on their shoulders. God must be punishing them somehow. Why did they have to carry these things around, making it hard to walk? "Why?" they asked. "Why us?"
Finally, two or three of the more adventurous birds began to move their appendages. They began to flutter them, and soon they discovered that the very thing they had regarded as a burden actually made it possible for them to fly. And no other animals could fly. The "heavy burden" turned out to be a beautiful gift.