Friday, February 9, 2018

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

A young man forgot to notify his grandmother of a change in his cell phone number.  Wanda Dench texted a number that had originally been her grandson's, inviting him over for dinner.  Instead of her grandson, the text went to 19 year old Jamal Hinton.  The two figured out the mistake quickly, but Hinton, a lonely college student, far from home, asked if it was still possible to "come over for dinner.”  In grandmotherly fashion, Dench responded, "Of course you can. That's what grandmas do."  When asked about the dinner, the young man said, "I'm thankful for all the nice people in the world.   I’d never met her and she welcomed me into her house, so that shows how great of a person she is."

Receiving a personal invitation from someone is one of the joys of life, whether it’s being invited to someone’s home for dinner, to an anniversary party, out to the theatre or to a rock concert.  The only exception I can think of is being invited to a meeting with the IRS.   In this morning's text, Jesus extends a personal invitation -“Come to me!   Jesus extended this invitation to his disciples, and as the Risen Lord Jesus has extended it to His followers down through the centuries and he extends this invitation to you and me this morning – “Come to me!

How will you respond?   In times of trial, in times of stress, in times of exhaustion, in all times, Jesus’ words are like a song to our soul, like cold water to a parched tongue. They are the most welcome and comforting words in the world.  Come to me!

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 but what burdens are you carrying?   Burdens of broken relationships, of guilt or shame, of unrealized dreams, of stress, of pain, or fear, of failure, financial burdens, burdens of grief, loneliness, jealousy or anger, burdens of poor health.   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 in the 13th century B.C, where the fourth commandment instructed the Jews to remember the Sabbath and rest from work on the seventh day, over centuries Jewish teachers had added rules regarding Sabbath observance – the time between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  The Hebrew word Sabbath means rest.

It was difficult to rest when you were worried about 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 working, 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 on 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, a walk in the park, not a yoke.

What is Jesus saying here?  He offers to share our burden, to shoulder our load, to be our burden-bearer.  No one else can do that like Christ because he is portrayed in the New Testament as the supreme burden-bearer.  Jesus bore our burden of sin by His sacrificial death on the cross.  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 commit ourselves to him through faith, to follow his teaching, to ask for his peace, to obey his word, to seek his strength, 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 concludes his invitation with these words: “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 labor in order to recover and collect one's strength.  It’s a time to be renewed, to be refreshed, to be re-energized, in order to prepare to return to work. The Hebrew word Sabbath means rest.  Does that word resonate with you?  Do you ever get tired - physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually and you simply need a time to rest?  Take a Sabbath. Spend quiet time alone with God.

So you ask why do I feel tired?  Here’s why.   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.  You walked 10K steps.  You exercised 7,000,000 brain cells.    Is fatigue beginning to set in?

In 2013 the news reported that many orthopedic surgeons had noticed a disturbing trend—a serious spike in debilitating knee injuries among teenaged athletes.  Dr. Frank Cordasco called it "an epidemic."   Cordasco said that he and his team were operating on 200 to 300 kids a year, unheard of a decade before.  Doctors reported also on an increase in 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 micro-trauma that occurs during practice and play.

Our bodies, our minds, our emotions can go on overload.   They weren’t designed by God to go 24 – 7.   We need time to recover from the "micro-traumas" of life.   Jesus invites us to find rest for our souls.   Jesus makes a promise: “If you accept my invitation and come to me; you will have a respite.  You will experience spiritual renewal, relief, refreshment, a time of peace.

Will you accept Jesus invitation?  Will you say: "Yes, Jesus, I need your strength and your peace.  I will go to you.   Take a Sabbath.  Spend some quiet time alone with 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 heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.

Jesus' personally invites you to come to His table.  The Lord’s Supper is one place where Jesus promises that we will find rest.   Let us prepare our hearts to come to the table of the Lord.  Amen!

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