Friday, February 7, 2014

Come Unto Me (Matthew 11:28-30) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

You open your mail and surprise surprise there's an invitation.  What a joy it is to receive an invitation – to a birthday party, a super bowl party, an anniversary party, a graduation, or to a wedding.

In this morning's text Jesus utters perhaps the most tender and appealing words of his ministry:  “Come unto me!”  It is a gracious invitation.  These words have been immortalized in Handel's Messiah, in the famous aria in which Handel combines these words with others from the prophet Isaiah: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd. Come unto him.”

What comes to your mind when you hear Jesus’ words?  How do you respond to Jesus’ invitation?   True, these words might sound hallow, empty to some: “No thanks Jesus, I've got it covered.”  

Pride can stop us cold.  It can shut out our hearing and accepting any offers of help. “A friend says, Hey, I'm sorry about what happened, but I'm here for you, you know that.  And you reply, thanks, but I'm fine, I don't need any help.”  Pride stops us from reaching out to others for support.  We're just too proud to say, "Jesus, I need help, I need you."

But when our hearts are receptive to Jesus words, we open ourselves to a whole new spiritual world.  When we can finally admit: “Lord, I can’t go it alone, I need you,”  Jesus’ words penetrate our hearts, they are a song in our soul, they are the most welcome and comforting and hopeful words in the world.  

Come unto me!   

“All who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens!” To be human is to carry burdens.   The question is not if we carry burdens, but when.  True, we carry different burdens and we handle them in different ways.  Burdens of guilt and shame,  burdens of stress, burdens of pain and hurt, burdens of failure, burdens of fear and anxiety, burdens of addiction, burdens of loneliness, burdens of resentment, jealousy and anger, burdens of low self-worth, burdens of feeling lost and aimless, burdens of a lack of meaning and purpose.  They come with parenting, friendship, marriage, divorce, being single, work, unemployment, illness, money problems, grief, and a crisis of faith.  Are you carrying a burden this morning?

Sometimes, even religion becomes a burden.  This was the context in which Jesus spoke to the people.  From the time the law was given to Moses, where God commanded the Jews to remember the Sabbath and rest from work, Jewish teachers had written hundreds of additional rules and regulations regarding Sabbath observance – the time between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  The Hebrew word Sabbath means “rest.”  

But it was difficult to rest when you were worried about not breaking any of the religious rules.  For example on the sabbath you couldn't work: you couldn't carry anything, you could only walk a certain number of steps, you couldn't cook, you couldn't talk about business,  and you couldn’t help people or rescue animals – because that was work and the command was to rest.   Yes, anything, even religion, can become a burden.

Jesus continues: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart."  This morning, right now, Jesus is personally extending an invitation to you.  Jesus who is gentle and humble offers support, encouragement and an opportunity to learn from him.   Do you find it surprising that Jesus offers tired, burdened people a yoke?  When we are burdened we need an escape, a holiday, a party, a vacation, a trip to Disneyland, not a yoke. 

What does Jesus offer with this invitation? He offers to ease their strain, to lift their burden, to shoulder their load, to give them rest, to release them, to set them free.  Nobody else can do that but Christ, for he is portrayed in the New Testament as the supreme burden-bearer. He bore our burden of sin by His sacrificial death on the cross. " "Behold the Lamb of God who lifts up and bears away the sin of the world."

Jesus offers us a new kind of yoke.  Jesus likens the crowds he was addressing to oxen struggling to move while carrying a crushing load.  Jesus is referring to an agricultural method that was common in the first century. A yoke is the piece of equipment that binds the ox to the plow.  Whenever a young ox needed to be trained, he would be attached to the yoke of an older ox. The older ox would pull the yoke and the younger ox would follow in his footsteps and learn all the steps, even though he wasn't actually pulling any of the load.

Jesus is saying: “Yoke yourself to me.  Let me help you carry the load and I will  lead you and teach you how to live."  "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."   Jesus' words call to mind the poem Footsteps in the Sand.”

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.  In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints. So I said to the Lord, ‘You promised me Lord that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?’ The Lord replied, ‘The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you.”

And Jesus concludes his invitation – “I will give you rest.  You will find rest for your souls.”  What a comforting word -  Rest.  Do you get enough rest?  Are you tired – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?   Rest is indispensable.  We need rest in life.  Request is required to live.

Philip Melancthon, a 16th Century Reformed theologian, once said to his friend Martin Luther, “This day you and I will discuss the governance of the universe.” Luther said in response: “This day you and I will go fishing and leave the governance of the universe to God.” 

What does Jesus mean by "rest for your souls"? The Greek word here literally means “an intermission.”  Jesus makes a promise, he says: “If you accept my invitation; you will have an intermission, a respite, a reprieve, a break from the day-to-day struggles of everyday life.  You will experience spiritual renewal, relief, refreshment, a time of peace.”  

It takes humility to say: "Jesus, I' have run out of options, I need your power and your strength.”  When you arrive at that moment, where you can acknowledge your need for Him, Jesus will offer to yoke you to His YOKE and you will find rest.

In 2008 the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl due to a spectacular catch made by Giants receiver David Tyree.  Quarterback Eli Manning threw what looked like a desperate pass. Tyree somehow jumped high above defensive coverage, picked the ball out of the air, pinned it to his helmet, and fell to the ground for a completion. The Giants went on to win the game, 17–14.

In the wake of his new fame, Tyree has talked openly about a troubled past. He started drinking when he was in junior high. By his junior year in high school, he was regularly consuming 40 ounces of malt liquor and a half a pint of Jack Daniel's.  It was not uncommon for him to smoke marijuana in the same sitting. The habits continued throughout his college career.

After Tyree was arrested for selling drugs to pay off a fine he had incurred during his rookie season with the Giants, his pregnant girlfriend threatened to leave him. "I had no peace," Tyree says. "My life was obviously in disarray." When he picked up a Bible and read its message of redemption, he knew things would turn around. He decided to never drink again and started attending church for the first time in a long time. Tyree is now sober, married, and a Super Bowl hero.  Looking back on his life thus far, Tyree says, "It's more than just a feel-good story. It's about destiny and purpose."  I will give you rest, Jesus promises.

I close with Jesus word's from the contemporary language of The Message.  “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 heave or ill fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Are you trying to live without God's help?   Jesus invitation is before you – “Come unto me.” Let us prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s Table.  Amen!

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