The text is Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30. Thoughts after the jump:
I love Willie Nelson. To my mind, there is never a wrong time to play Willie. Whether you’re thankful or nostalgic or heartbroken, there’s a Willie Nelson song for you. And when you’re tired, when you’re weary and heavy laden as our passage today puts it, when it takes everything you’ve got to get up out of bed and put one foot in front of another, well, for those mornings, there’s “Tired,” a song Toby Keith wrote for Willie to sing.
My name is Jackson I was named after my father I followed in his footsteps down here to this factory And I ain’t complainin’ Wouldn’t waste my breath to bother This work ain’t hard It’s only boring as can be
I married Rebecca back in ’77 And I still love her And I guess she loves me too We go to church on Sundays ’cause we want to go to Heaven Me and my family Ain’t that how you’re supposed to do
But I’m tired, Lord, I’m tired Life is wearin’ me smooth down to the bone No rest for the weary, you move on And I’m tired
Only missed six days and nights on twenty years of workin’ Money went to taxes and these bills I’ve paid on time The raise I got six months ago Don’t meet the cost of livin’ Selling my body for these nickels and these dimes
The smell of Becky’s coffee rolled me out of bed this mornin’ I showered and I shaved and dressed and pullled my work boots on Walked in the kitchen She was starin’ out the window The way she said “good mornin'” made me ask, “Is somethin’ wrong?”
She said, “I’m tired, I woke up tired Life is wearin’ me smooth down to the bone No rest for the weary, you just move on I guess we’ll just keep going ’til we’re gone And I’m tired, Lord I’m tired I said, “And I’m tired, Lord I’m tired”
We may not work in a factory, but we all know what it is to wake up tired. All of us come, in due course, to days of the doldrums, defeat, and desperation.
Our demons can bring us there, as can the simple wear and tear of daily life. The struggle for a better world can easily bring us to that place as change seems too slow to come, or like a pipe dream that will never come. Even the rhythms of faith can wear us out when we find ourselves wrestling with doubt or longing for God to come near.
Whatever the cause, we’ve all felt this, haven’t we? That’s why these words from Jesus sound to us like cool water on a hot day. “Come to me,” he says, and his voice is so gentle, “come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden,” who are tired, so very tired, “and I will give you rest… rest for your souls.”
Could it be true? Our hearts barely dare to hope.
It sounds like a trick, doesn’t it? Like when your mom tells you that broccoli is better than candy. Silly mom, everyone knows candy’s way better.
We wonder what the trick is here, with this rest. It’s probably just talking about after we die, in the sweet by and by. Or it’s like the broccoli–calling dour piety by another name.
And we can be forgiven for thinking that way. So much of what the world promises will make life easier does not.
And yet. And yet, we are so tired, some days. We long for this rest that we’re promised. And we we wonder, could it really be?
Could Jesus really be talking about new life, right now, in the midst of this life, life more abundant than anything we’ve dreamt? Could that be?
Could Jesus be offering something that is not pie-in-the-sky escapism, and also not uptight religiosity called by another name?
Here is one thing I believe about Jesus. He was a realist. He dealt with real people, like you and me, and he dealt with them honestly. Jesus knew, as Bob Dylan put it, that you’ve gotta serve somebody. We are all living in service to a god or gods. Some hold out the false promise that we can be free of that, that we, ourselves, are all we need. That falsehood is just as much a god as any of the other things we would worship. Jesus is not selling us that.
No. Jesus says, follow me. In other words, you’ve gotta serve somebody. Let me be the one you serve, for I am gentle and humble of heart.
Jesus also knew that there is going to be pain and heartache in life. Not even he escaped the pain of being a creature. What great lengths we go to to try to escape the pain that is simply part of being on this earth. So much trouble starts that way. Realist that he is, Jesus is not offering us the false promise of, follow me, and I will take away all of your burdens.
Jesus says, take my yoke upon you. In other words, you are going to have to carry burdens in life, let me show you how to carry them so that they’re not crippling.
A yoke, remember, is a wooden bar placed on work animals, usually oxen, that enables them to pull a load that would otherwise be unmanageable. It’s like the difference in going back packing and trying to carry your tent and sleeping bag and clothes and food and all your gear in your arms, like a pile of laundry. You just can’t carry it all that way. And Jesus is saying, here, take this backpack. It’s balanced. Put your stuff in here. See if that’s any better.
That’s the kind of rest Jesus is offering. It’s not a trick or a bait and switch. He’s offering a way to carry our burdens, a way to live our lives. He’s saying, all those things you think are going to get you the good life? Set them down. Let me show you what the good life really looks like. Here, try this yoke on for size.
A yoke, in Jesus’ time, was an old metaphor for God’s law. The law gets lots of bad press among Christians. But to Jews, God’s law is God’s attempt to point us toward life, to set before us the ways of righteousness. We’d be wise to learn from our Jewish friends on this matter. When Jesus invites us to put on his yoke and learn from him, he’s inviting us to tread what Jeremiah called the ancient paths, those well-worn ways that guide us from birth to death, from life into life.
Are you longing for rest, says Jesus? Remember these words, then, I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. Trust this, do this, and find yourself freed from all the petty tyrants that nip at our heels and would extract a pound of our flesh if we would let them.
Are you weighed down by life? Follow the old ways. Do not kill, do not steal, do not covet–boy, that one’s hard, isn’t it? But it sure helps, even if we’re only able to live into it a little bit at a time. It offers rest from that relentless race to have more and have better, that race we know deep down we’ll never win.
Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Keep on seeking justice and loving kindness, just don’t forget to walk with God. Remember, he says, I am the alpha and the omega–not you. Do your part. Serve me as you find me, in the sick and the hungry and the imprisoned, but do not imagine you have to do it all. I am Lord. Trust that I will send justice rolling down like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Are you worn clear down to the bone, says our Lord, the Sabbath was made for you. Take one day out of every seven for rest. Remember that we do not earn our spot on this earth. It is a gift. You are a creature of the Living God and thus fundamentally free. One day, every seven. My way is gentle and humble of heart, he says.
Jesus knows that whether we are religious or not, we all serve somebody and something. And he knows that most all of what we would serve is death-dealing. Too much work, love of money, notions of individual self-sufficiency, status, attention, affection, respect, all of these different gods we hold up for ourselves, Jesus knows they lead ultimately to exhaustion. And he invites us to a different way.
Follow me, he says. What does my way look like? Love God, the ultimate and the highest, the creator and sustainer of it all, the love at the core of everything, give your heart and your mind and your soul to that. And love your neighbor as yourself.
And here’s the best news, we’re all invited. The rest Jesus offers is an open offer to us all. That’s what he’s getting at with the whole bit about, I thank you that you’ve hidden this from the wise and intelligent and revealed it to infants.
We don’t have to be righteous, or even particularly religious. Nope, Jesus says to all of us who are tired, but especially those of us who feel like infants when it comes to faith, those of us who feel unworthy–intellectually, morally, economically, socially, those of us who do not have it all figured out and fear we might never, to all of us, Jesus says, come to me.
Follow me. I’ll teach you a new way, a way that doesn’t ask you to be more or less than who you are, a way that is not oppressive religiosity or false freedom, a way that puts you in right relationship with God and with the people around you. What does that way look like? Why, it’s not new at all. It’s as old as the hills, as old as God even. Look, it’s right here. My way is this: love God first and with all of your heart. Love your neighbor. Welcome the stranger. Do not neglect the poor or the orphan or the widow. Feed the hungry. Pray for those who persecute you. Seek peace. Do not fear, for love casts out fear.
And if all that sounds overwhelming and like too much, take a deep breath. I know that you’re human, says Jesus. Start where you are. In this moment. How can you love God right here? How about your neighbor? Right now? Just start with that. We’ll learn as we go, he says. You don’t have to get it all right, right now. Just come, just as you are, and follow me. I promise: this is going to be good.
My way leads to a table where there is room for all, a feast where all are fed. My way is like streams, rivers of water overflowing. My way is rest for your souls. Each day. Every day. This day. In the midst of whatever you face. Turn to me. Follow me. I will give you rest.
All of you. No matter where you’re from or what you’ve done or left undone. This gift is for you. All you need to do is open your hands and accept it. Exhale. Let me live in you. Let me give you this gift, and make no mistake, it is gift. This is not rest you earn. This is rest that comes as pure, good, gracious gift.
Come, he says. He’s calling even now. Come, follow me. I’ll show you a new way to live, a new way to bear the burdens of life with integrity, righteousness, and lightness of heart. Come, all of you who are tired, who are weary, and heavy laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. I am gentle and humble of heart. I will give you rest for your souls. Come. He’s calling you. He’s calling me. Will you follow?Bethany Presbyterian Church July 3, 2011