Friday, June 12, 2015

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

 A son writes:  “My mother volunteered to help me with my wedding invitations while I visited her and my father in North Carolina.  We spent two long nights addressing envelopes and I added a handwritten note at the bottom of each invitation, "Please stay for dinner following the ceremony."  When I got back home, I realized I hadn't sent an invitation to my parents.   I also personalized it with a note at the bottom: "Mom and dad, please pay for dinner following the ceremony. Your loving son."

The Republican Party mistakenly sent an invitation to an Ohio prisoner for a $2,500-a-plate fundraising dinner in Washington with President Bush.   The invitation was sent to Robert Kirkpatrick at the Belmont Correctional Institution in eastern Ohio.   Kirkpatrick, 35, had been sentenced to three years for drug possession and escape.   He said: "I'm going to write and tell the president that I'd be happy to attend, but he's going to have to pull some strings to get me out of here."

Sending and receiving invitations are a part of life.  In this morning's text Jesus extends a personal invitation:  “Come unto me!”   Jesus our risen Lord and savior extends this invitation to you and me this morning - come unto me.  What comes to your mind when you hear Jesus’ words?   What is your response?   Jesus' words touch our hearts.   And when we respond, we open ourselves to a whole new spiritual world.  When we admit: “Lord, I can’t go it alone, I need you, I surrender myself to you,” Jesus’ words penetrate our hearts like a song in our soul, they are the most welcome and comforting and hopeful words in the world.

Jesus says:  “All who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens!” To be human is to carry burdens, we understand that well.   The question is not if you are carrying burdens?  The question is what burdens are you carrying or have you carried?   Burdens of broken relationships, burdens of guilt and shame, burdens of unrealized hopes and dreams, burdens of stress, burdens of pain and hurt, burdens of failure, financial burdens, burdens of grief, burdens of addiction, burdens of loneliness, burdens of jealousy and anger, burdens of ill health, burdens of feeling lost and aimless.   How ironic that burdens seem to have a way of inserting themselves into our relationships and activities no matter how noble, meaningful and joyful.  Sooner or later, they appear with parenting, friendships, marriage, being single, employment, health, to name a few.

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 the fourth commandment instructed the Jews to remember the Sabbath and rest from work, over centuries Jewish teachers had written hundreds of additional rules and regulations regarding Sabbath observance – the time between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  The Hebrew word Shabbot or sabbath as we pronounce it in English means “a time of rest.”  

But it was difficult to rest when you were worried about not breaking the religious rules of the day.  For example you were prohibited from working on the sabbath, but how was work defined?  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 could only help people or rescue animals, if their lives were in danger, because in all these things you were exerting energy and violating the command 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." Jesus is gentle and humble and offers us the opportunity to take upon ourselves his yoke and to learn from him.   Do you find it surprising that Jesus offers burdened people a yoke?  When we are burdened we need an escape, a party, a day at the beach, not a yoke. 

What is Jesus saying here?  He offers to ease our strain, to share our burden, to shoulder our load, to be our burden-bearer.  Nobody else can do that quite like Christ because he is portrayed in the New Testament as the supreme burden-bearer.  Jesus bore our burden of sin on the cross by His sacrificial death.  Scripture says: "Behold the Lamb of God who bears our sins away."

Jesus offers us a new kind of yoke.  Jesus compares the crowds he is addressing to oxen struggling under a heavy load.  He is borrowing an image from the agriculture of his day.  A yoke is the piece of farm 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 calls us to take on his yoke: to submit to his authority, to learn his teaching, to receive his Spirit, to obey his word, to follow his way, to surrender our hearts and minds to him, to turn to him in prayer.  Jesus is saying: “Yoke yourself to me.  Let me help you carry your 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, have you  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.   Jesus here uses the Greek word anapauo, which means “to cease from any activity or labour in order to recover and collect one's strength.”  It means “to refresh, to keep quiet, calm, to take one's ease, a time of rest.    Does that word appeal to you?  Are you tired, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually?

Well it's no secret as to why.  Do you realize that in the last 24 hours your heart beat 103,680 times?  Your blood traveled 168,000 miles.  You breathed 23,040 times.  You inhaled 438 cubic feet of air.  You gave off 85.6 degrees in heat.  You turned in your sleep 25-35 times.  You spoke 4,800 words.  You moved 750 major muscles.  And you exercised 7,000,000 brain cells.  If you weren't tired before how about now?

In 2013 the news reported that many orthopedic surgeons have noticed a disturbing trend—a serious spike in debilitating knee injuries among teenaged athletes.  Dr. Frank Cordasco calls it "an epidemic." Cordasco said that he and his team are operating on 200 to 300 kids a year, unheard of even a decade ago. Since the year 2000, there has also been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among young baseball and softball players.

What's causing this epidemic of reconstructive joint surgeries?  The article put the blame on one factor,  the lack of rest. The current emphasis on playing one sport all year long leaves virtually no time for muscles and joints to recover from the microtrauma that occurs during practice and play.

You see our bodies, our minds, our souls were not designed by God for overuse.  We need time to recover from the "microtraumas" of life.   Jesus invites us to find rest for our souls.   The Greek word here literally means “an intermission.”  Jesus makes a promise: “If you accept my invitation and come to me; you will have an intermission, a respite, 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, it takes swallowing our pride, to say: "Jesus, I need your power and your strength.  I accept your invitation.”  Resting in Christ is like feeling the heartbeat of God.

I close with Jesus word's from the Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible: “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.”

Jesus' gracious invitation is before you.   Let us prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s Table.  Amen!

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