Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pentecost 5A

Matthew 11:25–30

 

THE GREAT INVITATION

 

Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.

 

Millions and millions of Americans suffer from what has been called “pathological busyness.”[1] As Arthur Boers writes, “everywhere we turn, people say that they are overwhelmed by their schedules, just too busy. Parents complain of time spent shuttling children from one extracurricular activity to another. Children are introduced to using planners in elementary school. Folks spend hours of their day commuting from behind the wheel.” Boers adds that “this unsettled sense of being harried, hurried, and harassed is not just anecdotal. Statistics suggest that North Americans may in fact be working longer and longer hours. Our lives are congested with demands and expectations.”[2]

 

I have been amazed in recent years by the number of retired people who have commented on how busy they are. In theory they do not have to do so much, but it is hard not to get swept up in the frenetic pace of our culture. It is like being on an eternal treadmill, one a person can get off only if a health crisis or death intervenes.

 

Boers has noticed that in the wake of this chronic busyness there has been a rising interest in spirituality. “People feel distracted, disoriented, dissipated, and despairing,” and they sense there must be “something more, and their deep yearning is a response to the mad pace of their lives.”[3]

 

More than 30 people from St. Andrew will be going to Holden Village next week. There are many good reasons to go to Holden: beautiful setting, unique adventure, wonderful experience of Christian community, special opportunities to worship and learn, great hiking, and cheap monstrous ice cream cones. But for many a key reason is the chance to unplug for the week, not only from cell phones and computers, but also from our hectic pace of life. There are no lack of activities at Holden; nonetheless, Holden has a more relaxed rhythm of life.

 

People are not only feeling weary because of the pace of our lives. I have heard from a number of people in the past several months who are weary of the incivility in public and political life. Public and political incivility is not a new phenomenon; it just seems more pronounced in recent times. We are afflicted with it on a daily basis.

 

In addition to these particular sources of weariness, we also have to deal with a full array of life’s burdens: health concerns of one’s own or of a loved one; employment uncertainties; challenges to make financial ends meet; relationship conflicts; children and grandchildren struggling to find their way in life; spiritual doubts and distresses; and the like. For people who care, we can be overwhelmed by the extreme need of so many people, by the level of injustice and violence in the world, and by the urgent ecological crises we face. The burdens of life do seem heavy, indeed.

 

At the end of the gospel of Matthew Jesus gives his disciples what has been called “The Great Commission”: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Here in our gospel reading for today, Jesus offers his disciples and the gathered crowd what might be called “The Great Invitation”: “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.” This is one of the most well-known and beloved of all Bible passages. It is as timely today as it was in the time of Jesus. Richard Foster calls it a grand invitation of grace. Jesus invites us into a new way of life in him. We can enter into this new life as a disciple of Jesus right now. Jesus promises to yoke to us “as we are yoked to him.”[4]

 

The symbol of the “yoke” had both positive and negative connotations. Oxen, prisoners of war, and slaves had yokes laid across their necks and shoulders. Thus, the yoke symbolized the bearing of burdens, oppression, and subjugation. For many in the time of Jesus the religious law had become an oppressive burden to bear. Peter, for example, in Acts 15:10, speaks of the yoke of the law.

 

On a more positive note, yoke was also used to refer to a student being yoked to a rabbi— a teacher. One of the strategies for training a new ox was to yoke it to an experienced ox. The yoke compelled the new ox to follow the experienced ox and learn to move in the desired way. Likewise the Amish like to team up a young mule with a veteran mule. The yoke forces the young mule to act in concert with the veteran mule.

 

By being yoked with Jesus, we learn to operate in the way Jesus operates. We are schooled in living a life of service. We learn how to devote our lives to God and to doing God’s will. We learn how to care for our neighbor in need. We learn how to care for our Earth home and all its inhabitants.

 

At our Team Ministry meeting on Thursday, someone commented that Jesus’ yoke was not easy in the way we tend to think of “easy.” Because of the way Jesus lived, he suffered, was persecuted, and died on the cross. How is that easy?

 

It is easy in the sense that Jesus did exactly what God called him to do: to live a life of service. As he tells his disciples in Mark 10:45, he came not to be served, but to serve and give his life for many. Nothing is more fulfilling in life than to be who God calls us to be.

 

A well-fitted yoke makes the task of a team of oxen easier. We are made to be yoked to Jesus. His yoke fits us just right. When we reflect on our lives, it is likely that we have felt most fulfilled when we have followed Jesus and given our lives for others. The good news is that Jesus is willing to work with us, to teach us, to help us discover who God wants us to be.

 

In Matthew 11:29 Jesus promises to give his followers “rest for their souls.” “Rest” here is not understood in a narrow way. The Hebrew word for “soul” is nephesh. Nephesh is also the word for the throat. The life of a person can be choked out if someone were to grab that person by the nephesh. The soul is that which breathes life into the whole person. It is the vitality of life. To promise rest for the soul is to promise rest for the whole person. Jesus promises to give rest to our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and our spirits. Jesus promises to give rest to us in our relationships. Rest can also refer to the eternal rest we have been promised. Rest is all about physical healing, emotional healing, mental healing, and spiritual healing. The Great Invitation is an invitation to all people to receive rest for all that afflicts them.

 

In the final verse of the gospel of Matthew Jesus assures his disciples that he will be with them always, to the end of the age. That means Jesus is with us here and now, inviting us to come and rest.

 

Are you weary with fulfilling your daily tasks and keeping up the pace of your life? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

Are you worried about losing your health coverage or not receiving the health care you need? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

Have you lost a job and don’t know how you are going to make ends meet? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

Have you been a victim of discrimination due to your race, sexual orientation, or gender identity? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

Are you weary of the loss of civility in our society and the level of violence in our world? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

Are you dealing with a broken relationship with a spouse, a child, or a friend? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

Are you grieving the loss of a loved one? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

Are you struggling with spiritual doubt or emptiness? Jesus is inviting you here and now, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

 

A final clarification is in order. As Richard Donovan explains, the Greek word translated as “rest” refers to a temporary rest or respite— an opportunity to refresh ourselves “for the work that lies ahead. Jesus does not invite us to the lay-about rest of an easy chair but to the discipleship rest of a purposeful life. He does not promise clock-watchers an early quitting time, but instead offers disciples energy, vision, and purpose.”[5] It is this discipleship rest of a purposeful life that Jesus has in mind when he assures his followers that “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It is this discipleship rest that leads to the eternal rest we have been promised.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Quoted in Boers, Living into Focus, 11.

 

[2] Living into Focus, 10–11.

[3] Ibid., 11.

[4] Streams of Living Water, 220–21.

[5] http://www.sermonwriter.com/