Good morning, Friends!
The folks who come here regularly know that I like to start the morning with something to make you smile.
There had been a community revival service in town one time, and after the revival had concluded, the three pastors were discussing the results with one another.
The Methodist minister said, “The revival worked out great for us! We gained four new families.”
The Baptist preacher said, “We did better than that! We gained six new families.”
The Quaker minister said, “Well, we did even better than that! We got rid of our 10 biggest trouble makers!”
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.
– Matthew 11:28:30
I wish that everyone who comes to our meeting would feel, not just the warm, human welcome we try to extend. I wish everyone would also feel the deep, divine welcome that Jesus is talking about.
I don’t know if you have ever thought about the people who first heard those words.
The people who Jesus spoke to were folks who were tired and beaten down. They were poor – the people who Jesus spoke to in Galilee were so poor that most of them had lost their homes and their land to bankruptcy. Many of them had lost everything they had, generations before.
They were so poor that many of them were forced to sell their own children into slavery, in order to pay their debts. That was one of the principal sources of new slaves in Jesus’ time. People sold their own children.
They had no insurance, of course, which is something a lot of people today know about. They didn’t live very long – 40 or 50 years made you an old person. There were diseases doctors could do nothing about then. A lot of people were blind. A lot of people had terrible diseases like leprosy, which made them outcasts in society.
An injury, a childhood illness, an accident, or just being old and worn out – and there you’d be, a beggar by the roadside. The “good old days” in the New Testament were not such an easy time.
And, of course, they lived in an occupied country, which we so easily forget. Their land was controlled by Roman soldiers, who could do whatever they wanted.
People had no vote – there was no way to change things. There were dozens of violent groups and special interests. Jesus would have no difficulty today in giving his message to people on the West Bank, or in Iraq, or Afghanistan. That’s what it was like, back then.
It was to people like that, who Jesus spoke to. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. . .”
We need to hear those words, too. Our situation has similarities to the situation in Jesus’ time. But our situation is also different.
We may not have the same grinding, unrelenting physical labor that most people had then. Yes, I know there are still people in our society who do. But we do have a work ethic in our society, which can be nearly as punishing.
Farm workers, people who wash dishes and wait on tables, people at the bottom edge of society – they live on almost nothing. A lot of people I know work two jobs, or extra shifts. Some people are full-time students, and work in addition to their studies. Parents with young children often today don’t get to enjoy them, because they’re working so hard. We know about work!
I’m sure we all know people who are retired, who put in more hours, than they did when they were working. The fact that it’s volunteer work doesn’t mean that it’s not work!
As a society, we are in danger of working ourselves to death. And on top of work, we worry all the time. We are stressing ourselves to death. And even if we think we can handle the stress, we’re overloaded with information and responsibility.
We pride ourselves on our multitasking ability, but you know what? “Multitasking” simply means we have a too many tasks.
How many people try to stay in touch with all the news, every day? It’s pretty tiring, isn’t it? How many of you feel you’re chasing around all week, taking kids to 4 different games and practices, and never getting any family time? How many of you spend all day Sunday doing the chores you didn’t have time to do the rest of the week?
What is Jesus saying to us? “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. . .”
Jesus is calling us, whatever our situation, to a different way to live, to a deeper and richer and more restful spirit. Jesus is calling us, not to more work, not to take on more burdens, but to something different.
“Come to me, and I will give you rest. . .”
That’s so hard for us to handle, because we really don’t want to change. That habit of over-work, of deadly work, is so ingrained in us. We may listen to God for a few minutes, but five minutes after worship, we want to get our noses right back to the grindstone again.
The first and most important thing Jesus says, is, “Come to me. . .” Part of what prayer is about is simply coming to God. It may not be a matter of physical movement. We may stay physically right where we are. But there’s a tremendous inner movement, a movement of the spirit, which Jesus asks us to make.
“Come to me. . .” That is such a simple call. It’s so easy to understand.
It’s as though one moment, we’re anxious, and burdened, or dealing with grief, or anger, or whatever weighs us down. We spend so much of our lives, so far from God. And then, maybe without moving a muscle physically, we make an inward movement, and we turn toward God. And it’s as though we’d suddenly traveled light-years.
The distance from where we were, to where we’ve come, feels almost infinite. It’s like crossing the ocean. It’s like moving to another city. And outwardly, we haven’t moved an inch.
You can stop for prayer, any time. You can take an inner break, in the midst of whatever you’re doing. You can be driving down the road, or taking a shower, or cooking a meal, or working on a project. And you can stop for a minute, and draw near to God.
Prayer is a kind of a movement. It’s moving in the direction of God. It can be an emotional movement. It can be an intellectual shift. I think of it as spiritual motion. And it’s all wrapped up in that phrase, “Come to me. . .”
God doesn’t call us out of our own personality. God doesn’t make us throw away who we are. God calls us inward, to who we really are. God calls us to turn in a different direction. And in that turning, in that motion, we discover ourselves and suddenly our relationship to God becomes something quite different.
Sometimes it happens in a moment. Sometimes it happens slowly, even painfully. But when we pray, we make that change, and inside ourselves, we move. “Come to me. . .”
Then Jesus goes on to say, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. . .” One of the most healing things that God does, a healing that goes to our very hearts, is to give us rest.
That’s not a new thought. The idea of rest, of taking a whole day to rest, on a regular basis, goes back many, many years. God commanded people to take a regular day of rest every week. Do you remember? It’s one of the Ten Commandments.
In fact, if you think of the Ten Commandments as being presented in order of importance, and not just in some random order, then the commandment to rest takes on a special meaning.
Think about that with me for just a moment. First God says, “I am the Lord your God; you mustn’t have any other gods instead of me. Don’t commit idolatry, or bow down to anything else. Don’t misuse my name.”
And then: “Remember the day of rest, and keep it holy. Work for six days, and do everything you have to do. But every seventh day, don’t do any work – and don’t make your children, or your servants, or your domestic animals, or even the immigrants who live among you do any work, either. When I made the heavens and the earth, it took me six days, and after that, even I, the Lord God Almighty, took a day off. What makes you think you’re better than me?”
The emphasis placed on rest, putting it right up there close to the top of the Ten Commandments, implies that if we pay attention to the first ones – knowing and loving and honoring God, being free from idolatry, and taking the gift of rest seriously – if we do those, then maybe all the other commandments, from honoring our parents, to giving up violence, to giving up adultery, theft, lying and wanting what doesn’t belong to us – if we love God, and pay attention to getting our proper rest, then maybe all those other things will come more easily to us.
It’s worth thinking about.
What are you planning to do, later today? Anybody going to go home and do yard work? Do the laundry? Cook a big meal? Work on a lesson plan or catch up on your homework for next week? Pay your bills?
We are so far from being a restful people, that we often feel constricted and suffocating, even though we’re the richest people on earth.
One of the simplest and most basic prayers all, is simply being quiet, and breathing. It’s so simple, that we mostly don’t do it. We would rather be busy, than breathe! We would rather not pray, for weeks, or months, or even our entire lives, than admit we need to go back to kindergarden in the school of prayer.
The writers of the Psalms always put it so well: “Be still, and know that I am God. . .I waited patiently for the Lord, and the Lord heard my cry. . .for God alone my soul waits in silence. . .I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a nursing child. . .”
That sense of inner quiet, that sense of being relaxed and at peace in the presence of God, is something we cultivate here in meeting for worship. But it’s something we need to cultivate during the rest of the week as well.
If we feel rested, if we feel welcome and accepted and free, if we feel surprised and blessed by the love and grace of God, that affects everything we do.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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. . .”
Jesus is talking about a transformation in our whole lives here. Jesus is talking about a complete inner makeover. All of the stress, all of the anxiety, all of the grief we carry around, the unfinished business, the emotional and spiritual baggage, the rage and resentment, the bitterness and disappointment – those are burdens. They’re so heavy that they make it impossible for us to really live.
That state of inward rest and inward freedom isn’t just for a day. It isn’t just an hour, or even one day in a week. It’s a sense of permanent strength, which comes from a continual, inward sabbath.
Rest is healing. Rest is part of the word restoration. It’s a sense of freedom we don’t just feel for a moment, but a freedom which never goes away, and which transforms our whole lives.
I love that part of the passage where Jesus says, “. . .learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. . .”
Gentleness and humility go along with the kind of inward rest we’re talking about. If we walk with Jesus, if we learn to pray with Jesus, we will never lose our sense of patience. We will never be ashamed to be with people who are simple, or humble, or poor.
Gentleness and lowliness are among the fruits of the Spirit, the ways we know that we are really on the right path.
When we spend our days feeling that there is never enough money, never enough time, never enough security, then something’s deeply wrong. When every waking moment, we’re dealing with competition, failure, fighting life and fighting fate, at war with the world, then we are way off the path.
Christ calls us to healing, to freedom, to simple truth, to forgiving and being forgiven. Christ calls us, not to be burdened, but to rest – and then to take up different burdens, and to discover that they’re not really burdens at all, because we bear them together, and because Christ bears them with us.
“Come to me. . .take my yoke. . .learn from me. . .you will find rest. . .”
It’s really simple. It’s really basic. And we always have to learn it again.
The reason we pray isn’t just to ask for things. We pray, because we want to enter into the sense of rest that Jesus talked about, the sense of holy rest. The rest which lets us put down the burdens we bear every day, and rest our weary minds and bodies.
A rest which heals us. A rest which gives us room to think, and room to feel, and room to breathe.
Rest isn’t one more thing we’re supposed to do in addition to all those other things we do. Rest should never be a burden. It’s the opposite of being burdened. Rest is letting God lift things up off our shoulders.
If you feel that the work you do every day is a burden, then you need to let God help you.
If you feel anxious all the time, or worried, or lonely, you don’t need to carry that burden alone. God is always here, as close as your heartbeat or as close as your breathing.
If you’re burdened with your family situation, if there are people with whom you aren’t in a healthy relationship, if there’s tension around you all the time – that can be a huge burden. Let God help. Let God at least share it with you, even if things don’t change right away.
Often, things do change, if we let God be our partner. Simply opening ourselves, asking God to show us a different way, can make an amazing difference.
Prayer is a way of coming to God, laying down the burdens we’re carrying, admitting to ourselves how much we ache and hurt, and letting God either take those burdens away, or letting God share the weight. Things are never as heavy, when we let God help us carry them.
Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Brown