SCRIPTURE: Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
There is a hymn entitled "Simple Gifts". It is a Shaker hymn written in 1848 by
the Shaker Elder, Joseph Brackett. It was written to be sung in worship. Listen to the
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd
To bow and bend we shan't be asham'd.
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.
The Shaker tradition was marked by joyous music, simple music, and by dancing
in worship. We can appreciate joyous music. We can appreciate simple music. I hope
there will be a day when you and I can appreciate dancing in worship. But I promise you
right now, I won't be leading it, so just relax.
The hymn tune for "Simple Gifts" experienced a revival in 1944 when Aaron
Copeland popularized it with his ballet score, "Appalachian Spring". The tune came back
again in 1963 when Sydney Carter put new words to the tune.
The words are what you and I know as "Lord of the Dance", that we just sang.
"Lord of the Dance" uses the metaphor of dance to look at the life, ministry, death, and
resurrection of Jesus. In 1970, Judy Collins resurrected the original words from "Simple
Gifts", and made it popular as she sang across the country.
It had been so popular that President Reagan had it sung at his second
inaugural. President Clinton had it sung at his first inaugural. President Nixon had it
sung at his funeral.
In the 1990's it came back to us in yet another form. This time it came back as
the background music for an Irish dance review called, "The Lord of the Dance." In this
version there was no reference to Jesus, but rather the reference was to a mystical
In 1996, Oldsmobile used the tune for "Simple Gifts" in one of their ads. If you
remember the ad, it depicted a driver floating through the galaxy while astronauts put
together his dream car. Behind it all the strains of "Appalachian Spring."
Also in 1996, National Conference of Music Educators named "Simple Gifts" as
one of only a handful of American tunes that every American should know. You see,
"Simple Gifts" isn't all that simple anymore. It keeps coming back to us, modifying its
form a little bit, but coming back. The reason it is so popular is because it speaks to a
deep desire of our human nature. The desire is that somehow life would be just a
A young woman was talking one day to a friend and said, "My life is too
complicated. I am going in all different directions at once. There is too much to do, too
many people to see, too many places to go. I have a schedule I need to keep just to get
my children to their appointments." The scary thing for her was that her children were
still in preschool. She knew that as her children got older it would get more complicated.
We have a schedule for everything, don't we? We have all kinds of devices to
remind us of our schedule. We have beepers that go off. We have cell phones that ring.
We have multiple alarms on our wristwatches. We have Ipods that vibrate. We have
five-minute notices that appear on our computer screens. All of that is to remind us that
we have business appointments to keep, or a social engagement to make, or, by all
means, we have to take that pill that slows us down just a little bit. Life is complicated
these days, isn't it?
Jesus said, "To what do I compare my generation?" It's like children playing in
the marketplace. There are some kids on one side of the marketplace, saying, "Let's
play wedding. Let's play the flute and dance." And there are children on the other side
of the marketplace, saying, "No, no. Let's play funeral and wail and moan." The children
pull each other back and forth trying to find some common ground.
But Jesus says it's not just the children, adults do it too. "John came among you
and he did not eat or drink, and you said he had a demon. The Son of man came among
you, and he ate and drank, and you said he was a glutton and a drunkard and a friend
of tax collectors and sinners." People are constantly pulling each other back and forth.
We are asking for each other's time, attention, and energy.
Paul, in the passage from Romans, said, "I don't do the things I know I am
supposed to do, and the things I do, I really don't want to do." Life is confusing. We are
pulled in all different kinds and directions.
So what do we do? Do we just up?
Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you
rest." He was speaking to people who were facing a complex system of laws. There was
the set of laws that came from Rome, and there was the set of laws that came from
their Jewish leaders.
They were contradictory oftentimes, and competing for time and attention and
people's devotion. What were they to do to in that kind of situation? Jesus says, 'Come
to me, and I will give you rest."
You and I don't have competing laws between the government and the Church,
but we do have competing laws in our culture. If you want to really be a success, be
important to your families, make a reputation for yourself, have status and prestige, you
must do certain things that pull at our time and our lives. Jesus says, "come to me you
who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
When we turn to Jesus we experience something. Paul experienced it. He points
to it in is later writings. He says, "There is one thing I do now. I respond to the upward
call of Jesus Christ in my life." In another place in his writings he says, "There is only
one thing I preach about now, and that is Christ crucified." Paul began to find a focus in
his life. He, too, was being pulled all about with so many needs of people. He began to
preach and live just Jesus, and nothing else.
You and I don't need a wristwatch that has multiple alarms. What we need is a
compass that will help us set the course of our life towards Christ, and then with Christ,
into the rest of life.
The first step is to focus on what Jesus and Paul did, and every other Christian
has taken down through the ages. The first step is our interaction with God on a regular
basis. The first step is our turning to God, to listen for God's voice, to hear God through
the scriptures, to hear God through the still, small voice, to hear God through trusted
friends who speak to us, to hear God through the circumstances of our lives.
It is when those voices of scripture, and the still small voice, with our friends and
circumstances point us in the same direction that we know that God is truly speaking to
us in one voice. We need a compass that will lead us to Christ.
Then we need to be led on with Christ. What do we do once we come to him?
We need to have him as our life partner, as the companion of our daily activities. It is he
who guides us.
The Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts," is really a hymn about dancing. There are
dance instructions that we hear when we read that hymn. The bowing, the bending and
the turning were part of their dance, but they were also a part of their theology that we
were to bow and bend and turn towards God.
As they danced, they understood that they were rehearsing how they were to act
with their Creator. And then they acted that way in all the rest of life. Their worship was
a rehearsal for life. Their theology geared them for life: live as simply as possible and
turn to God.
Jesus said, "If you are weary and heavy laden, come to me, and I will give you
rest." For the time of your life that really matters, use a compass, not a clock.
The Call to Christian Discipleship today for you and me is to turn to God as a first
step for a life that really matters.
Prayer: As we turn to you, 0 God, meet us and guide us, so that we see our neighbors need and we find your joy.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH