Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 5: "Rest and Restlessness"

            “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens….”
            Come.  It’s an invitation, isn’t it?
             I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.
             But it’s an invitation.  But it’s not an invitation to a party. 
            It’s not an invitation to join a group. 
            It’s not an invitation to a club. 
             But it’s an invitation.  “Come.” 

            It’s possible that I am hearing this invitation in a new way since spending some time back in Minneapolis last week where we were cleaning up and getting packed up and discarding things and giving them away. 
            And in the midst of all of this we do what most families do:  we find the old pictures of our ancestors, and we sit down and remember what we know about their sea journey long ago.
             My Swedish grandparents came through Ellis Island back in the early 20th century.  

            We found pictures of them and their parents and the names of their brothers and sisters.  They got on a boat and they came.
             They heard an invitation, too, I suppose, in some way or another.  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” and they said, “That’s me.”
              They were tired, they were poor, they were longing…. For something.  Opportunity?  Space?  Adventure? 
            You know, I never asked them.    I don’ t really know why they came.  But they heard an invitation, and they came.  They knew it was for them.

            “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 
            And in this short passage of scripture, Jesus is inviting us, as well. 
            Or at least, he is inviting those who are weary, and who are carrying heavy burdens…. Whoever they are.  Is it you?  Do you find this invitation irresistible?

            One year during Lent, a Catholic church in Tulsa, Oklahoma ran an advertisement to invite people to “come home, to return to the church.”   The invitation that year extended a special welcome to “single, twice-divorced, under 30, gay, filthy rich, black and proud, poor as dirt, can’t sing, no habla ingles, married with pets, older than God, more Catholic than the Pope, workaholic, bad speller, screaming babies, three-times divorced, passive aggressive, obsessive-compulsive, tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts….
            Oh, and you.”
             “Come to me, all you who are weary….” And who isn’t? …the ad seems to say. 
            Which of us can honestly say that we aren’t sometimes bone-tired, that we aren’t carrying some kind of burden we’d like to lose?


            The invitation requires us though to be honest, to admit that we have burdens, to admit that we don’t have it all together, that we “are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves”, as the old confession used to say. 
            The invitation requires us to look into our hearts and say, “that’s me.” 
            I’m not really satisfied where I am. 
            My life isn’t like a glossy magazine advertisement.  I’m not “all that”. 
            The invitation requires us to identify ourselves with all the other needy who have found this irresistible, for one reason or another.

            I think of immigrants now and immigrants then – my own ancestors, and those who hear the irresistible invitation to “come.” 
            And I imagine that they have things in common.  I don’t know exactly what they are, since I never bothered to ask my grandmother or my grandfather why they came. 
             But I know that they were poor, I know that my grandfather came from a seafaring family in which there were 11 children. 
            I imagine that they were restless.  I imagine that they were carrying heavy burdens. 
            And I imagine that immigrants now are the same – restless, searching for a better life, whatever that looks like, admitting that the life they are living now is no great shakes. 

            It’s an invitation to sinners – that’s what Jesus’ words are.
             It’s an invitation to all who are weary from from trying to be righteous on their own – from carrying the burden of trying to save themselves.  
            Just put it down.  Come to Jesus.  And he will give you rest.

            And then Jesus says something odd. 
            After promising rest, he tells us, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” 
            I don’t know how many of us have a picture when we think of the word yoke – but for me, it conjures up something just the opposite of the word “rest.” 
            A ‘yoke’ means not rest but work. 
            My first picture when I think of a yoke is of two oxen who are yoked together to plow the fields.  
            However, in ancient times people captured in battle were also yoked as slaves to those who had won. 

            After promising us rest, Jesus offers us a yoke. 
            What is this, a great bait-and-switch?  First Jesus promises rest.  Then he offers us a yoke, his yoke, saying:  my yoke is easy. 

            Well, maybe it’s as simple as this:  As Bob Dylan once famously said, “you gotta serve somebody”. 
            We are bound to be yoked to something or someone in this life.      We can be yoked to our own fears and desires, we can be yoked to the power of sin in our lives, or we can be yoked to Jesus. 
            And his yoke is easy because we can trust him – because his promises are true – because when Jesus says “you are forgiven” – you are forgiven.  

            Bible scholars have noted that a yoke is “easy” when it fits, when it is the right one which does not chafe.
             If it is true, as we prayed earlier, that God has made us for himself, that the yoke of Jesus fits us – it is the one that is right for us, that directs us, but does not chafe or burn.  
            And the yoke is easy because it is shared. 
            Think about the oxen, traveling together.  That is the way it is with disciples.  We are meant to go together.  We are meant to share the load with one another.  

            I’ve been thinking a lot about the story about the Gard baby – that little boy who is – probably – terminally ill, and the burden that his parents have, wanting to care for him with the most love and respect.        Both Pope Francis and President Trump have reached out, saying they want to help the parents in some way. 
            What is it that makes us – in cases like this – so much wanting to help bear that burden?
             And what is it that makes our hearts harden to others who have burdens to bear -- the poor, the elderly, the stranger, the immigrant?
            All I know is that Jesus’ burden is light because it is shared.  And that is the yoke we are called to take up.

            Finally, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light simply because it means we are traveling with him. 
            Wherever we go, through whatever difficulties, he shares the burdens with us, he shares his life with us. 
            We get to be with HIM, and somehow that eases our restless hearts. 
            I remember once a little girl asking her mother, “Mom, will I have to do dishes in heaven?”  Her mother thought about it for a moment, and then said, “Yes…. But you’ll like it!”
             What a great answer! 
            Simply because you are with Jesus, traveling with him, you know that whatever you do, you will share with him.  
             And because you are traveling with Jesus, yoked with him, you know that wherever you go… you will share his abundant and eternal life. 

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