Jul5SunA sermon for July 5th, Pentecost 5 July 5, 2020
After last Sunday’s difficult and challenging sermon,
dealing with human sacrifice and punishment and suffering,
I’ll let you know, today’s sermon is a lot less demanding.
It’s more of a relaxing summertime sermon,
one to put up your feet beside the pool and sip a cool drink,
because it sure is a hot week this week!
Our sermon text today is from our Gospel of Matthew reading,
and it’s sometime entitled “The Great Invitation”.
I’ll read it to you again in the Eugene Peterson translation.
Jesus says: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
What refreshing words of Jesus, and how fitting for this hot day, now 4 months into this global pandemic!
What refreshes you in the summertime?
What are things you look forward to doing
when it gets to July and August?
What does Rest and Relaxation look like for you?
For me, I look forward to holidays in the summer,
as usually church work slows down a bit and I can take time off
without having to work too much in the weeks before and after I’m away.
Getting out of town seems to do the trick for me,
to get my mind off of work.
I enjoy camping, or visiting my in-laws’ cottage by the lake.
I can recharge my batteries when I have a little more time to exercise,
go for runs, bike rides, or swims.
When I’m relaxed I have more time to play my violin, more time for prayer, more time with my wife and children.
And most of all, relaxation means no checking emails!
Jesus says to us: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (v28)
Jesus’ words are an imperative: an urgent invitation.
Come! With an exclamation point!
Come to me!
Jesus doesn’t plead: “oh please, if you want,
you might want to consider coming, perhaps,
maybe at a time it’s convenient,?”.
No Jesus says simply: Come!
It’s pressing and essential!
Sometimes we need such a direct instruction
so that we pay attention and listen.
I doubt we would dare or presume to come to Jesus if he only said: “please come”?
Since Jesus says these words with such authority,
I think we’re more likely to come and follow this urgent call.
If you’ve ever been in our St. Matthews sanctuary, you’ll notice that one of the most prominent features is the Christus Statue,
a copy of Thorwaldsen’s original in Copenhagen.
This statue of Jesus, above the high altar, is depicted looking down,
with arms wide open in embrace,
with a regard of compassion and welcome.
The title of the statue is precisely our verse:
Come to me, all ye that are weary ,…and I will give you rest.
No doubt this statue has given many people comfort and reassurance, esp. as they came up for communion and drew closer to the altar.
When I look up at it, it invites me into a closer relationship with Jesus,
I know that for sure.
When Jesus invites you to come to him, if you’re hurting, scared, or worried, you can rest assured,
Jesus’ presence will give you comfort
and will help you through difficult times.
What does this comfort look like?
Perhaps a little story can illustrate this:
In a hospital in a city somewhere,
there lay a young boy on a hospital bed.
He was due for a major operation.
His father had brought him to the hospital and was trying to console him and give him some encouragement.
“Dad” the boy said, “I am not scared if you stay with me.”
The father replied: “Of course. I’ll stay with you.”
The surgeon allowed it and so the father sat beside his child,
who was now lying on the operating table.
As the anesthetic starting taking effect,
the boy looked at his father and asked: “Daddy, are you there?”.
And then he fell asleep.
The doctor told the father: “now you can go!”
as the operation was about to start.
But the father answered: “No. I promised my son that I would stay with him, and so I would like to stay”.
“Alright then,” the surgeon replied.
And the operation began.
When the boy awoke from the anesthesia,
his father was still holding his hand.
The boy smiled and whispered: “Daddy, are you there?”
And he fell back asleep.
He knew that his father had stayed with him.
I think this story illustrates a lovely point.
Jesus’ comfort is like that of a caring father who will hold on to our hand when we’re asleep, undergoing a painful operation.
Jesus won’t let go of our hand, even if he has the opportunity to.
His promise means something, and he won’t break his promise.
Jesus invites us into his comforting presence, when we are weak, tired, and frustrated at this pandemic, when we can’t take it any longer,
and we just want to get back to normal as soon as possible
and are angry that we might have to wait many more months.
And how does Jesus provide this comforting, restful presence?
It is because Jesus knows his heavenly Father,
and he is in relationship with the Father.
When we come to Jesus, we come into relationship with the Trinity,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We come into the sustaining presence of God,
the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth,
for whom no burden is too heavy, and no problem too difficult.
Jesus has the power to hold us up and carry us when the going gets tough, because Jesus is not alone.
Jesus has the power of the Holy Trinity to back him up.
Jesus has the ability to deliver on his promise, but sometimes,
the way in which Jesus helps is not apparent at first.
One popular poem that illustrates this idea,
is one you may be familiar with.
Its title is “Footprints in the Sand”,
And it goes like this:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most,
You would leave me.”
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you.
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
This well-known poem has provided much comfort to people,
so much so that many people have the poem
(with a picture of footprints in the sand)
framed and hanging in their office or home.
Sometimes Jesus walks beside us in our life’s journey,
and sometimes Jesus carries us.
Only in hindsight is it often apparent how Jesus’ comforting presence has helped us though our trials and testings.
Jesus’ love for us, and his promise never to leave us,
will never be broken.
We can rest assured of that.
Jesus will carry us if need be.
So if we’re all clear on how we can come to Jesus and bring our burdens to him, and he will give us rest,
and comfort us and sustain us in troubled times, then all is good.
There’s just one catch.
Jesus doesn’t promise us a rest of inactivity,
Of doing nothing when we come to him,
He doesn’t promise us an eternal la-z-boy chair,
It’s not an all-expenses paid vacation when we come to Jesus.
Rather, Jesus has a new mission for us:
He tells us:
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.
We get to lay our burden at Jesus’ feet,
our burden that is too heavy for us,
But we get something in return.
Now a yoke is a: “wooden instrument that yoked 2 oxen together
and made them a team.”
What Jesus is saying here is:
“Become my yoke-mate! Learn to pull the weight.
The labour will seem lighter, so pull the load with me!”
Jesus calls us into a new partnership where we are yoked together
with him like two oxen pulling a plow.
It’s not an easy life, but you’re also not doing it alone.
You’re pulling with Jesus and Jesus is pulling with you.
And the yoke Jesus gives us is a good and easy one.
A good yoke: is one that is carefully shaped
so there is a minimum of chafing!
A good yoke is kind to the shoulders,
and helps you to carry the load more easily,
It’s well balanced, like a good baby pack carrier that allows you to carry a toddler for an hour or two,
something that would be impossible
if you were carrying the baby at arms’ length or on a hip.
When Jesus gives us his yoke, this means we can now serve a good master, and we are on the good path,
A path that emphasizes justice, mercy, faith and humility! (23.23)
A path that lifts up and amplifies the contributions of women and minorities in our society, and is critical of racist and misgynist rhetoric that threatens to undermine the fabric of our communities,
For example in the racist Mt. Rushmore speech of the wicked President.
Jesus’ yoke is light compared to many, but it is a responsibility,
to feed the hungry, comfort the oppressed and give voice to the voiceless.
We can take on this yoke, because we know we are yoked together with Christ, who will help us carry it,
and who will lead, guide and sustain us through all the trials of life,
even through this pandemic trial.
As our Hymn of the Day reminds us,
We can come to Jesus just as we are, weary, worn or sad;
We will find in him a resting place and he will make us glad,
This Jesus who is like that father holding his son’s hand during the operation, and who carries us when the going gets tough like in the Footprints poem.
Come to Jesus, spend time with Jesus this week,
Lay your burdens down, drink of the water of life,
And you’ll find that your thirst will be quenched,
and your soul revived. Amen.