The encouraging church

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 always figure, whatever Jesus said, we should listen. Whatever Jesus did, we should do the same.

One of the things Jesus tried very hard to do, was to bear our burdens. He wants to lift us up, not put us down.

He said, “Come to me” – come to Jesus, come to Christ, come to the Lord – “all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus didn’t lay heavy burdens of guilt on people. Jesus never made things so hard and so heavy that people turned away from him. Jesus drew people to him, by offering them help.

The only time when Jesus turned anyone away in the gospel, was when they were hard-hearted and hypocritical, or when they twisted his message, and tried to make it sound like what he was doing wasn’t from God, but from the devil. The only time.

Jesus was willing to listen to a request for help from anyone. He called all people his sisters and his brothers. He welcomed people who were untouchable, with open arms. Didn’t matter if someone was rich or poor. Didn’t matter if they were his religion, or not. Like you hear people say, Jesus never knew a stranger. They were all just children of God, and he loved them all.

Jesus said, “I will give you rest.” Rest for the weary. Rest for heart and mind. Rest for people who work too hard, for too many hours, for too little pay.

Remember, a whole lot of the people who heard Jesus’ message, were slaves. Slaves were a major portion of society. They had no choice of what they were going to do. They never got a day off. They didn’t have any retirement plan. For people like that, Jesus’ message came like a blessing from Heaven.

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.

That’s what Jesus said. And if we’re trying to be Jesus’ friends, that’s the message we need to be sharing, too.

Earlier this morning, during the children’s message, I showed the kids an old old ox yoke from the Museum next door, and they were impressed. That was a real yoke, from a Quaker farms, right here in this area.

And ox yokes heavy. Imagine trying to carry one of those on your shoulders, all day long, under a hot summer sun in North Carolina. It would get pretty heavy!

Jesus doesn’t want to lay anything like that on us. Christianity isn’t always easy, but Jesus never wanted it to be something that would crush people.

One of the most important things we can ever remember, is that whatever the burden is, Christ bears it with us.

We are never alone. Jesus is always there, right beside us. He’s our partner, on the other side of the yoke. He’s always there, carrying at least half the burden. It really helps, to know there’s somebody stronger there, right beside you, somebody who’s been there before and who knows what it’s like. That’s Jesus.

This is not an isolated teaching, by the way. What Jesus says to us this morning, is repeated, many times, in other places in the Bible. In a letter Paul wrote to one of his new churches, he said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. . .” (Galatians 6:2)

That’s what Christians do. We help each other.

Back at the beginning of this year, we read another letter, that Paul wrote to another of his new churches, the one in Rome.

He said: “And as for people who try to make your life a misery, bless them. Don’t curse them under your breath – bless them! Share the happiness of those who are happy. Share the sorrow of those who are sad. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be stuck up, but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions. Don’t pay back a bad turn with a bad turn, to anyone. Always look for what’s good in everyone. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Never take revenge, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish them if he wants to.” (Romans 12:14-19)

The church that Jesus started, the church that Paul worked to build, was an encouraging church. It was a fellowship of people who worked together, and prayed together, and enjoyed meals together. It was a fellowship of people who knew about “bearing heavy burdens”, and they helped each other at every opportunity.

It says the same thing in the Old Testament, in the book of Ecclesiastes:

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.
Share the work, share the wealth.
If one falls down, the other helps,
But if there’s no one to help, that’s really rough!

Two in a bed warm each other;
Alone, you shiver all night.

By yourself, you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third friend? That’s even better!
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped!

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, The Message translation

I’m sure you’ve all seen those old cowboy Westerns, where the hero is a rugged individualist. He rides off alone into the sunset. He’s steely-eyed and self-sufficient.

Trouble is, that’s not the portrait of a Christian! Christians don’t have to be weaklings, but nobody is strong enough to face everything that life throws at you.

We all face problems with our physical health, with anxiety, with depression, with practical problems. We all have times when we don’t know what to do, when we don’t even know how to pray.

Our job, like Jesus, is to be here for each other. When somebody grieves, it’s our job to grieve with them. When somebody stumbles and falls, our job is to be there, to reach out a hand, and help them get back on their feet.

If someone is discouraged, we can lift them, with a smile and a joke. If somebody is depressed, our job is to listen – and maybe listen more than once, and let them know they’re being heard.

It’s so easy for us to judge other people. It’s so easy to put people down, because we think we’re smarter, or because we think we know better, or we think we are better.

But Jesus said, “Don’t judge! The same judgment you pass on other people, will be passed on you. The very same yardstick you use on other people, God will use on you. Other people don’t have to stand up in front of you. We all have to stand up in front of God. And God is the one who helps us to stand.”

Over and over, Jesus said, “There’s only two rules. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. You do just those two things, and you’ve fulfilled every law in the whole Bible!”

That’s what we’re supposed to be. We’re called to be an encouraging church. Our job is to do what Jesus would do.

If we meet somebody who’s suffering, we don’t tell them, “Oh, you’re a bad person. You must have done something really wrong. God doesn’t love you any more!”

No. We tell them, “Jesus really loves you. Always has. Always will. Jesus will never leave you alone. I know that’s hard to believe, but just to make it easier, I won’t leave you alone, either. I’ll stay by your side. I’ll help you if can.”

We don’t tell people who are struggling, “Oh, your faith is so weak! You should be a rough, tough, faith-filled Christian like me!”

No. We say, “Reach out your hand. Let me lend you some of my faith, till you’re stronger. None of us is an island. No one stands alone. We’re all connected – you to me, me to someone else, all of us to Christ. Let Jesus help – and I’ll help you, too.”

Our job is to be living proof of the love of Christ. We may not be able to lift up the other person’s whole load, but we can help carry a piece of it. We can listen to them, we can pray with them, we can help them laugh, we can encourage them, we can give them hope.
And why should we encourage people? Because that’s what Jesus did.

We love because – he first loved us.
We forgive because – God forgave us, and gave us a break.
We share because – God has shared so much with us.
We listen because – God has listened to our problems
We go the extra mile because – Jesus has gone so many extra miles with us.
That’s what it’s like.
That’s what we do.

We’re an encouraging church.

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