The Message (MSG)
28-30"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."
I was asked to fill in for Minister Bev when she took a vacation the first part of July. I didn't know that would mean writing a sermon. It would have been easier if I had been given an agricultural passage, but the "Ye who are weary and heavy burdened" text turned out to be just the thing I needed to think about.
SERMON-- July 3, 2011
When Rick asked me to help with this service, I thought it would be like when the Minister goes to the Synod assembly and they provide me with a sermon. So a couple Sundays ago when I asked Rick who I should get the sermon from and he said "well- you prepare it" I thought that he was joking. But he wasn't kidding and he handed me the readings and the gospel lesson for today's service.
(Click on Continue reading, below, to see the rest of the sermon)
Today's readings include some of the most comforting and uplifting passages from the Bible. The Psalm verse that many of us know as part of our liturgy "The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." And the gentle gospel invitation from Jesus of "Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest."
It's quite a gift to spend time reflecting on these passages and to form my own untutored thoughts to share with you. A couple things: 1) my husband reminds me that I'm much better at being earnest than being funny and 2) I'm a soil scientist by training and so my theological credentials are suspect, to say the least.
And so that first Sunday evening that I had today's lessons in my hands I began to reflect on those beautiful and comforting words that Jesus gave to us "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." I thought about those words in between getting the kids bathed and ready for bed, gathering up the dirty laundry, setting my alarm clock for 4am so that I could drive to Brainerd the next morning for an 8 am meeting. It even crossed my mind that I might be the wrong person to reflect and share on these verses.
Then I saw God's hand at work in the coin toss with Rick that landed me with this scripture on this Sunday morning. And so I'm grateful that I was blessed to spend time meditating on these verses.
This gospel lesson seems to have three parts to it, at first reading they seem almost unrelated. It opens with Jesus chiding his critics, then in the middle saying how God has revealed himself to the infants and not to the wise and intelligent, and then just when you think that Jesus could lay in some really biting words to his detractors, he takes an entirely different track and we get that comforting and sweet passage where our gentle and humble in heart Lord offers us rest.
The gospel lesson starts off with Jesus sounding rather fed up, frankly, with criticism. He says "John (the Baptist) came neither eating nor drinking, and they say 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say 'Look, a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." When I read that I hear exasperation along the lines of "can't win for losin'." No matter which way the messenger came- eating or not eating- condemning sinners or consorting with them they were found at fault. Jesus refers to them as bickering children in the marketplace.
Amazing how people are the same 2,000 years later. It's so easy to bicker and criticize and to find fault without the burden to put things right. Part of the human condition is to have minds that can be prone to rumination. We spend so much time dwelling on the past--thinking of past wrongs, grief and heart aches, the things we have done and things we have left undone. Or else our mind is occupied with the future--wondering how we will handle a certain situation or deal with problem person.
I'll give you an example, my boss at the University put me in a national leadership training that I just recently finished. At our first meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, we received this fancy bound notebook along with a fancy pen. I was so excited. We were finally going to learn - once and for all--how to deal with those problem people in our workplaces. The facilitators had us open our leather bound books and write on the first line, of the first page.
"I, Kathy, am somebody's difficult person."
We were told that we needed to remember this 'pledge' throughout our training and beyond.
And taking a lesson from Paul's self chastising letter to the Romans shows--not only are we other people's "difficult person." We can be that difficult and critical person to ourselves.
Just take a look at the 2nd reading from Paul's letter to the Romans. 90% of that text is full of anguish and self criticism to the point of self hatred. Paul says "I do the very thing that I hate" "that sin dwells within me" and "I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin... Wretched man that I am."
Now, I'm not saying that self-chastising doesn't have its role. How else do we learn not to make mistake that harm ourselves and others.
But it is the burden of being thought filled people whose minds can go to harsh and critical places. Those hard words and thoughts directed towards others and to ourselves.
The rest that Jesus is offering is rest for the soul and by extension rest from our troubling and criticizing mind. I think Jesus is even offering rest from over intellectualizing. In the middle part of this gospel lesson Jesus says that God has "hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants." What does a baby have that adults don't? What has God revealed to them? What is it that our precious babes have that God shows to them and not to the wise? For one thing, babies aren't ruminating on their own wrongs, filled with self-hatred, or picking fault with others. Babies aren't turning the facts over and over in their minds. Replaying past conversations, action, attributing motives and wondering where they went wrong. Babies are content just to be. A comfortable, clean, fed baby is pure of mind and able to just live in the present moment, without the burden of an active and critical mind.
Having had 4 sweet little lovies of my own- it is striking how a comfortable baby can relax. We've all heard the phrase "sleeping like a baby." Many of us have had the pleasure of watching the peace of sleeping baby. Their every breathe shows their complete relaxation. How they breathe with their whole abdomen, with their whole bodies. As adults we learn to sit up straight and sometime forgot to take those deep, soul filling breathes.
When we brought our middle daughter, Milly Rose, home from the hospital where she had been in the Neonatal intensive care unit for 5 days after she was born, she was curled up in a tight little ball. We could barely unwind her to get her into her carseat. All the lights, noise, bells, and alarms of the NICU had been too much for her newborn senses. Within minutes of being in our quiet comfortable home, with a doting big sister, and two caring and loving parents she unfolded like a flower. Mike and I could see her whole body relaxing minute by minute until she was spread out on her blankie, peaceful and relaxed.
Just like Milly had the relief of being in a comforting and loving home, so can we move from the outside world of tumult and conflict and from our inner life of ruminations and cares into the presence of our God who is, in the words of the Psalm "gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." Isn't that exactly the gift that God is offering us in this lesson? Offering us rest--rest for our souls and rest our minds from the cares of the world, relief from the ruminations of our minds, the criticisms, self loathing, regret from the past and fears for the future. We can take up the yoke offered by our Lord and Savior who says "learn from me. I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Oh sweet rest. Not a rest from being busy or working hard, but a rest for our souls amidst being busy. As a mom, employee, boss, farm wife I know busyness. There are seasons of life and seasons of the year that are busy- as farmers and gardeners know. And these verses were written when farming and growing food was all manual and animal labor. And this text includes a familiar animal powered farming metaphor in the words "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." The path, especially for those early Christians was difficult and dangerous. John the Baptist met a brutal end and some of the early apostles were martyred. That is certainly not the easy path.
But the rest that Jesus invites us to in these verses, is not the rest from being busy or from hard work. It's not even rest from being persecuted.
So what is this promised rest? What is God calling us to do in the gospel lesson? There are so many layers to this message. I think that God is calling us to accept the gift of a restful mind. The gift of forgiveness that we may let go of our regrets and mistakes and our grudges. Each week when we have the order of confession and forgive, I lean over to Alma and tell her 'this is my favorite part." We ask for forgiveness for 'what we have done and for what we have left undone.' That pretty much covers it. And for those seconds after Minister Bev says 'all your sins are forgiven' I know complete peace. Asked for and given complete forgiveness.
The heavy burdens that we can give to Jesus are the burdens of a thinking mind. Our thinking minds can be so bickering and critical--to ourselves and others. Jesus invites us to have rest from those thoughts. To know the peace --like a baby-- who can rest completely in the present moment and know the peace of a quiet mind.