“God’s Gift of Rest”
July 9th, 2017
Matthew 11: 28-30
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Let us now open our hearts and our minds to this reading of our morning’s scripture lesson, taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 11, verses 28 thru 30.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“May the Spirit of Christ now rest upon our hearts as we consider this message from Jesus, regarding the gift of rest.”
Today’s scripture is all about rest for our burdens of life. But, before we get started I want to give everyone here the opportunity to answer a question. “Is there anyone, anyone at all that are here today who have never been weary?” “Never had to carry a heavy heart burden?” /David Ewart/ Really, I want to know if anyone doesn’t understand, through personal experience, what it means to be tired, or beat, and perhaps just plain exhausted! In the course of life’s burdens have you ever felt done-in or worn out? Have you never carried a concern for a loved one’s health or a friend who is going through some type of treatment? Well, if you can’t relate to any of the burdens, troubles, or true problems of life that we all carry – then perhaps you won’t appreciate today’s message, because you won’t perceive that you do perhaps need some of this ‘rest’ which Jesus is offering! If this is the case for you personally, I pray you will listen with an open heart. For those of you weary travelers, whom are seeking some rest, the hard part is over. You have acknowledged you are indeed, truly human, with real life situations and concerns which weight you done virtually every day!
Sadly, there are those who are perhaps too proud or overconfident with their own abilities to overcome life’s challenges, that they will miss out on receiving what is being offered. Of course, as we get into this discussion we need to clarify, that worriers which weigh heavy on our hearts – are different then daily nuisances or irritations and bothersome things, which we are more than capable of handling on our own! A heavy burden is dealing with a serious attack of cancer. Or a broken relationship in your life that is weighing heavy on your heart. Things of these nature are what we are talking about.
Now that we are clear and have accepted that some of these ‘all too real’ life-challenges are things we could use some help with, possibly even some relief from, let’s go a little deeper and see if we can more openly clarify what the root causes generally are! Take for instance fear, fear is something we all know… all too well! Many of us are afraid to admit this fact! What is your greatest fear? When I was still a lad I feared I would fall off my bike… as I grew older that fear left me! Riding a bike, is one of those things most of us are capable of handling with a little help from a caring parent or older sibling. There are more difficult fears that we have all faced. Fear of losing a loved one is one many of us get burdened with. Fear, in of itself, therefore, needs a more serious look.
“What fears do you live with?” Is it a fear of heights, or the fear of the ocean, especially when you are on a cruise ship and all you can see in any direction is the vastness of the deep, dark, raging sea! In the Twenty-First century, many now fear traveling by air. Do you have a fear that you may end up on a flight that is in jeopardy? Statistically, despite all the real tragedies and even counting acts of terror around the world these modes of travel are, for the most part, still the safest way to travel. What we might all want to fear is getting in an accident with that next drunk driver on our highways. The latest statistic I could find was for the year 2015… there were over ten thousand deaths attributed to drunk drivers. If you personally know someone that was part of that statistic your heart may be carrying a heavy burden. These are the kind of burdens that can really weight us way, way down.
Perhaps you fear the next hurricane… maybe we all should. Worrying about them is pointless of course. Preparing for one is the responsible thing to do. Being in one is fearful to be sure. Realizing your insurance will leave you with a very large deductible, before you can begin to rebuild your badly damaged home, or church, can be a heaven load to carry. Being in denial of real danger is not the solution to our problems! Nor can we become naïve’ about our human condition. The ‘rest’ that Jesus is offering us will not stop us from being human; nor will it stop the next hurricane from damaging our communities. Yet, Jesus is offering us a way to more fully live – as we travel this mortal journey here on Earth!
Many of us here today, have gotten over our childhood fears. Granted, as adults we may have some well-grounded concerns of things that are affecting our lives or the lives of loved ones. However, as adults we have learned how to face these situations without fear. Good! Yet, they still weight us way down. Finding rest from these burdens is something we all long for and or need! Many times, we feel captive to the burdens we carry through life. Perhaps we cannot resolve these burdensome situations in our lives, yet we can live through them with a deeper sense of peace… if we accept the help which Christ offers to us.
You may have wondered why I picked such a short piece of scripture for our text today. It is quite simple, this famous and heavily used short piece of scripture brings forth a soothing, healing offering from Jesus. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Who among us do not want what is being offered here! We all have felt the heartache of unresolved issues that seem to have no solution. Yet, Jesus offers us rest for our weary souls! It seems so reassuring that our God understands what weights us down and pulls at our hearts everyday! With this invitation comes a summons, a bidding in Jesus’ words which we are obliged to accept. “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.” We are being enticed though Christ’s offer to lighten our loads by taken on his burdens. It seems very difficult to consider this based on what we know of Jesus’ journey. Yet, it seems Jesus expected our response, our fears and concerns, and thus goes on in his offer explaining to us his understanding of what this means. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” /Matthew 11: 28-30/ These words of Jesus, found hidden in this eleventh chapter of Matthew, seem to be perhaps one of those most compelling, yet provocative quotes within these verses from the gospel according to Matthew!
Elisabeth Johnson tells us, “It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Following him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery.” Oppression and Bondage come in many forms and in many packages! Following in the footsteps of Jesus offers us a pathway which shall release us from much of what weights us down. We can choose to continue to go it alone, or enter into the life of a willing disciple of Christ. The rewards of being free to fully live, in spite of the hardship, the drudgery of oftentimes a difficult pathway through life, truly this is worthy of exploration!
One pastor put in his writings this provoking statement: “We all need to wear the yoke of Jesus. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Mercy, love, and kindness. A faith that moves mountains and carries momentous burdens.” /Edward F. Markquart/ Another pastor suggests to us that moving into the Light of God is well worth the venture! “Living in light of the freedom and dignity of every person, and especially the poor, is not a ‘burden’ but is, in fact, the way of true rest and true refreshment.” /John Petty/ Many of you here this morning have-been living into these words for quite some time! Your lives are a witness to this teaching! I have seen your dedication for others. Many have observed your peace and serenity as you have lived through some of life’s steepest and most difficult mountains. Yet, here you are! Looking for more clarity as to how to ‘indeed’ take upon yourself the yoke of Christ!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quotes from the Beatitudes to put across his point. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ These followers of Jesus, as if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation of others. They have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety.” This is the burden Jesus speaks of… to love our neighbors with all our hearts! Reaching out in the midst of our own anxiety to assist another; this is the way! This shall lighten our own heaviness!
For those of you who are struggling with this, it is not as hard as it may seem. If you have never served a meal to the homeless at a shelter or food bank, give it a try. Being kind and compassionate may cost you some sweat or a blister now and then, but it sure does make your own troubles seem less heavy! Over my years as a pastor, I have carried some heavy burdens, there is no question about it. My heart has ached at the loss of a friend, or loved one. It was hard to let my mom and my dad go. I struggled with it. Some days are better than others. Yet, I have been blessed to be a pastor. On my lowest days, I have pushed myself to go visit someone in the hospital or some nursing type facility.
This one day, when my heart was about to break over a relationship that was in trouble, I went to visit this man in a local rehabilitation center. Over the course of the previous year they had cut off his lower leg and promised him he would be able to have a prosthetic leg and walk again. He never did. On this particular day, I went to visit him and his stub was hurting him pretty bad. Yet, as we chatted I heard from somewhere down deep, his unrelenting faith that God would be at his side no matter what happened next. He had been a beloved member of the church. After a few years, and more surgery’s I was about the only person who visited him. It was not easy making those visits, yet I did. He always was grateful for my visits and told me he prayed for my ministry and the church. He died in that bed. On the days of my visits, I always left with a skip in my step as my heart always felt lighter, and my gratitude for all that I have sometimes overwhelmed me.
The rest that Jesus offers to us, “and you will find rest for your souls,” /Matthew 11: 29b/ is a tremendous gift. With this gift, you will experience moments of clarity, periods of peace, peace which surpasses human understanding. You will feel the weight of the world lifted from your shoulders. It is something you must experience for yourself. No one can do this for you. If you put your faith in God, reaching out for guidance from those in front of you, all the while reaching behind you, helping that next fellow or gal, over their next hurtle; you will not have time to focus on your own troubles, and thus they become lighter! Following in the path of Jesus is like riding a bicycle: you may fall off now and then, but you will instinctively know how to get back up and try, try again! You want some relief from your burdens? Start reaching out to others with a desire to carry the love of God to them. Do this and you will know peace, and you will find rest from your troubles.