Sermon Archives

Lifting the Burden ~ Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I don’t know if it’s because I start my vacation this afternoon or because we as a congregation have been through a lot lately. Maybe it’s because the energy of our country is so hyper: every day some caustic remark or divisive issue that leaves us wanting to turn off, self-medicate, or give up. Whatever the reason, these verses are  powerful to me.

It could also have something to do with the biblical texts that Lois and I have preached on in the past two weeks:

From Matthew 10:34: Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. And then Jesus talks about a division of families, and to some extent we are experiencing that even within this beloved family of faith.

And last week from Genesis 22, where Abraham is called on to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

These are heavy, agitating passages.

And yet, here we are today.

Here we are today and Jesus’ words said over 2,000 years ago feel to me the way I feel when I jump into the pool on a hot summer’s day or take the first sip of Ajah Hale’s famous sweet tea! Ahhhhhh…

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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.

I just want to do a “belly flop” into that and just rest – you have no idea.

Yes, faithfulness demands action and demands risk. But faithfulness is also about being present in the refreshing love of a God who adores you; a God who is present in each and every moment, even the hard ones, even when you are wrestling with your motives and down on yourself. And the great discipline of faith is to be present in each and every moment, trusting that God is present too. In fact, God was present before you were!

We have a tendency to see things in dualities: right and wrong, left and right, black and white, righteous and sinful. And sometimes these categories work, but more often  there are complexities to climb into, ambiguities to acknowledge, questions that can’t be answered fully. Questions about how you parent, how you face sickness, how you manage your budget and your choices.

We also have a tendency to want to solve problems. And sometimes there are problems to be solved. But more often than not the problems themselves are complicated and present many layers of problems. Think about health care, or tax cuts, or institutional racism – these are complicated problems with many sides, many reactions.

I remember going to a seminar several years ago about “Polarities” –  like the north and south poles – opposites that need to be taken into effect, that need to be balanced, to be weighed. We need dreamers and we need pragmatists, realists – we need each other.

But right in the middle of the complexities, and decisions to be made, and life as it is, stands Jesus saying, “Come to me!” Let me dwell with you and you dwell with me.”

Let your burden go.

I will never forget the words of a woman who was about to die. I was a lot younger then and more fearless. And because I didn’t know better, I asked this woman, “What is it like to die?” And she said–I swear to you these are her exact words–

“It is awesome, I just want to be silent.”

It is not that way for everyone, certainly. But for this woman, she had come to a center pole, a position of presence, knowledge, strength, and release. I felt as if I were looking through a peephole into eternity.

When I am on the Grand River off Vrooman Road, or in a kayak with a line in the water, or with friends who don’t care what I say or do, or with Sister Fran, my spiritual advisor who always asks me two simple question: “What is going on in your life?” and “what do you want to remain faithful to?”–this is when the stress just drains away.

When I take the time to come to Jesus – right in the middle of all the tension, I feel the release, and I catch a glimpse of a bigger picture, and it isn’t about success, and it isn’t about me, it just is. It’s like I’m 64,000 feet above it all, and simply fascinated by what is going on around.

Sometimes when I am taking my prayer walk, I deviate from my usual path and go a little farther. And that’s when I actually imagine Jesus walking with me, and I say to him (glad that no one is watching!): “What the hell am I supposed to do? How is this going to play out?” And in my imagination, I hear him say, “Calm down, breath deeply, let it go; I want to give you rest!”

Works some of the time–not always.

Come to me!  Yes, do the research, count the costs, have the conversations , do it all, but “Come to me.”

If it works, “Come to me.”
If it fails, “Come to me.”
If you become rich and famous, “Come to me.”
If you never have a full-time job “Come to me.”
If you are in prison, “Come to me.”
If you are struggling, “Come to me.”
If you are going through a really good patch, “Come to me.”

We are driven by “success, success, success” which leads to “protect, protect, protect.” Yet Jesus invites us to “faith, trust, and hope” and “let it go, let it go, let it go.”

Come to me and I will give you rest.

So many Christians think that faith is about intellectual answers. Look, I have a PhD. I get it. But faith is about presence, not knowledge.

Faith is not about us versus them. Faith is like standing in the hush of the eye of the storm as it whirls around you, like being in the center of the hub of the spokes of a wheel instead of locating yourself on the rim.

Faith is being fascinated even in your worry. It is being quiet in your action.

It is this centered faithfulness–trusting that God is present and that the yoke is light even when the cross is heavy–that led Jesus up the hill, and led Bonhoeffer to the scaffold, and Martin to the pulpit, and a single mother to press on, and a father to turn his invalid son every three hours, and a husband to still call his beloved wife “sweetie,” even though she hasn’t recognized him in over three years.

It is this centered faithfulness that caused the members of the bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist, Episcopal Church to forgive Dylan Roof.

I know this to be true: when you are centered on Jesus, you have a power that no one can take away from you.

You have an identity that is solid. They can kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul, they cannot still the spirit, they cannot quench the truth. We can do all things through Christ who loves us.

And the more you come to Jesus, the more you seek his peace, his yoke, his rest, you will discover a gentleness and a humility that you didn’t know you had.

Because faith is not about figuring things out. Faith is about letting them go.

This is why Jesus always used children as a model: they know where to go to get a hug. They know how to be, they just are. They will tell you their truth and ask their questions–even when they are acting out and need to be corrected,at least you know where they are coming from! I like a good tantrum every once in a while!

We are reminded of this truth in the baptism of little Ava Jane this morning! (Not the tantrum part, just the being a child part!)

So look, today – peace to you.

Today, come to Jesus. Rest, trust, believe, love. Don’t try to figure it out, or fix things.

Today, relax and lay your burdens down.

Let it go!

God loves you.