Traditional Sermon Pentecost 5
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Colossians 1:3).
Today’s Gospel passage from Matthew Chapter 11 contains one of my favorite Bible verses. In verse 28 Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I have often quoted this verse when providing pastoral care—it is such a comforting verse, especially to those who are suffering heavy burdens.
It can safely be presumed that most people will agree that life has its ups and downs. Some may even go further to say that life is nothing but a continuous, never-ending cycle of ups and downs. In a perfect world, there would be no downs, but I am sure we all know that this so-called perfect world does not exist. Think about it, too, that if there were no downs, there would no decent reality TV shows to watch. Most reality TV shows tend to focus on people going through ups and downs, but usually the downs. At some point or another, we are all burdened with issues or situations that negatively impact our lives. The things that weigh us down hit us in a variety of ways as well as vary from person to person. Situations such as suffering financial hardships for various reasons due to, for example, getting fired or laid off from a job, the death of the primary wage-earner in a household, divorce, bad investments, etc. can raise one’s stress level. Then there are health issues, especially if it involves a serious illness. And then we have personal hardships such as dealing with the death of a loved one or a pet, ending a relationship with someone, having to deal with failure, getting one’s feelings hurt, aging, and even the most trivial things like breaking a finger nail or having a bad hair day—or in my case, a bad mustache day (!)—the list can go on and on. It’s always something! Yes, it would be nice if life would be just the way we would like it, but that’s very hard to do and attempting to achieve that goal can crush our spirits.
Of course, we can take measures to resolve some problems to decrease the burdens that have weighed us down. For example, if we are sick, we seek medical help. If we are faced with unemployment, we look for a job. In other instances, if need be, we can find help through the goodwill of others such as through government and private aid organizations as well as the many houses of worship, which of course includes St. Peter’s, that have various types of missions to support those in need in the community. Unfortunately, however, we can only do so much because not every situation can be resolved. Some burdens will remain while new burdens continue to add to the weight on our shoulders. Doesn’t look very good, does it?
Despite this sounding so gloomy, there is good news that we get from the gospel that gives us hope! As Jesus said in verse 28, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is clearly extending an invitation to us. Theologian Dale Allison says the invitation from Jesus is “to redirect our lives.” Jesus is calling us to follow in his ways. Allison adds that “One learns of Jesus by doing, by adopting his spirit and living his imperatives.” However, there is a problem: there are people who don’t listen. This is illustrated in verses 16 to 19. One group of children wants to play wedding but can’t get the others to dance. The other group wants to play funeral but can’t get the others to mourn. The two sides don’t want to listen to each other. The end result is that the children don’t play either the wedding game or the funeral game and instead just sit there and start complaining. Other than complaining, nothing happens. Does this scenario sound familiar? Look at Washington between the Republicans and the Democrats: neither side wants to play the other side’s game so both sides just bitterly complain about each other and nothing gets done. This scenario is not limited to politics. It can be found elsewhere, too, such as at the workplace, at schools, at churches, etc. Those that do listen are noted as “infants” in verse 25. These so-called infants are those who come to Jesus for healing of body and spirit, namely the “rest” that Jesus offers us. But what type of rest is this? Theologian Elizabeth Johnson says that rest can represent salvation, “of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising ‘rest,’ Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing into being.” We can also look at Jesus’ invitation as rest for our soul through the Word, water, and communion we share in Jesus’ blood and body that is given for our salvation.
And just like those TV infomercials, that’s not all—there’s more! Jesus further extends his invitation to those carrying heavy burdens in verses 29 and 30: “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.” The idea of wearing a yoke may be confusing to us today but during the time of Matthew’s original audience, the peasants quickly picked up on what was being conveyed. Yokes were laid on the necks and shoulders of oxen and we can see this similarly being done today right here in Lancaster County where the Amish put yokes on their draft horses to plow the fields. However, in our gospel passage, the yoke “is used metaphorically for what controls people as they make their way through life.” Hence, what Jesus is offering is to wear the yoke he provides to guide us through life and to learn from his teaching, his way of discipleship. Moreover, Jesus assures us that he is gentle and humble and his yoke is easy and light. Mind you, Jesus is not saying that wearing his yoke will suddenly make life easy. Instead, taking the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves will enlighten us through the teaching of Jesus and guide us to find the rest for which our souls long. Elizabeth Johnson points out that Jesus “calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery. It is life yoked to Jesus under God’s gracious and merciful reign, free from the burden of sin and the need to prove oneself, free to rest deeply and securely in God’s grace.” Another theologian, Lance Pape, indicates that “the easy yoke means having something to do: a purpose that demands your all and summons forth your best. It means work that is motivated by a passionate desire to see God’s kingdom realized. It means work toward a certain future in which all of God’s dreams will finally come true. To accept the yoke of the gentle and humble Lord is to embrace the worth task that puts the soul at ease.”
In closing, let us think about the invitation that Jesus has extended to us, especially those of us who have heavy burdens to bear. There is so much hope through Christ! He will give us the rest we need to deal with life’s ups and downs as well as guide us along life’s journey. Jesus is calling us to learn and follow in his ways, to be disciples of Christ, to see God’s kingdom realized. Amen.