I’m not sure that I’ve shared this yet with you all, but ever since COVID closed down my gym, I’ve been running three times a week. I’m not telling you to brag. Although I am proud of this accomplishment.
I will admit, this wasn’t easy at first. In the beginning, I could barely make to the end of the block without cramping up. It turns out I’m was better at running out of breath than actual running. But I didn’t give up. Instead I committed to taking the next step forward. I’m happy to say that same block only hurts me on my way home.
Don’t get the wrong impression, I still frequently stopped to catch my breath.It usually happens around the time my lungs or knees are about to give out. I also know that if I am going to reach my goal, then I’m going to need to take a moment to catch my breath every now and then. It’s good for us to pause, to take those moments to slow down, so we don’t burn ourselves out.
Science agrees. Rest is important. It reduces stress, inflammation and heart disease. It restores mental energy and creativity. And if you’re the type of person who likes to work out, rest helps restore muscles. My kids know this. They've been using the pandemic as an opportunity to spend more time with their pillows. When I get upset that they are wasting away the day in bed, they are also quick to point out that most religions require a day of rest.
Of the nearly 700 laws in the Old Testament, taking a day of rest made it on the top ten. So, It’s that important. The Hebrew word is – sabbath. A day God expects us to take off from work so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. This rest was meant for you, your family, your workers, and even your animals. God also commanded us to let our land go fallow every seventh year in order to restore its health and fertility.
All of this might seem like a foreign concept in a busy culture that takes pride in working around the clock. If it weren’t for holiday weekends sprinkled into our calendars, would we ever catch our breath? I find it a bit ironic that COVID-19 has forced us to slow down while at the same time made most of us more exhausted.
Let me ask you this. Are you tired of living in the fear of getting sick? Are you worn out from the flood of depressing news that’s out there? Are you feeling fatigued from all the political divisiveness, or the angry arguments you’ve had to endure? Are you tired of struggling to get ahead or keep your head above water? Are you exhausted from keeping up appearances or putting on a brave face? Are you overworked? Over stressed? Or simply over it all?
If so, listen carefully. Jesus has something to tell you. It comes from Matthew 11:28-30.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
If you ask me, this is one of the best bits of advice in the entire bible. Of course, what Jesus is talking here is tied to a much greater story in Matthew’s gospel. And I don’t often like taking a small slice of scripture out of its context. But sometimes we have to let the Bible speak to us, where we are, if it’s really going to do what it’s supposed to do.
In the modern translation from the Message, this passage begins with Jesus asking, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burnt out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” That is music to my ears. Ministers are often the first to get burnt out on religion. If you are physically, mentally or even spiritually exhausted, Jesus has your remedy.
He knows how exhausting it is to be human. He knows what struggle and hard labor feel like to tired muscles. He knows what doubt and anguish can do to one’s mental health. And the toll that a corrupt system can take on a person’s well-being.
Jesus knows what you’re dealing with. He’s been there, done that. Which is why he’s offering you a solution – a teaching, a way of living to help you reclaim your life. He’s inviting you to find yourself again in Him. “Come to me. Bring me your burdens. I will give you rest.”
I invite you to think about this: What are the burdens you’re still carrying? Some shame or guilt over something you did – something hurtful that ended a relationship?
Maybe it was something you didn’t do when you should have. That weight can be just as heavy to carry. Maybe something happened to you, a past mistake or regret that’s too hard to deal with. There are so many burdens we carry. The stress alone is enough to kill you.
Jesus is calling. Offering you just what you’re in need of so you can live life abundantly. What is it that he is offering? A yoke. By that I don't mean he's offering you the high cholesterol yellow blob inside an egg. Or that heavy wooden contraption that hangs over the shoulders of oxen. The yoke Jesus is talking about is something completely different.
As Rob Bell explains so well, in an ancient Judaism, like today, it’s the responsibility of the rabbi to study scripture and interpret it in a way that people could understand what God was saying to them about how to live faithfully to God’s words.
Different rabbis had different ways of interpreting Scripture. Each rabbi had different sets of rules of what people could and could not do. That set of rules on how to live out a particular interpretation of the Torah, was known as a Rabbi’s yolk.
To follow a rabbi meant you believed his interpretation and lived it out by taking up his yoke. Most rabbis taught a yoke of a well-respected Rabbi who had come before them. Yet every once in a while, a rabbi would come along teaching a new yoke, a new way of interpreting the Torah [Bell, 2005].
Enter Jesus, who didn’t just interpret God’s word, but lived it perfectly. He was, as John describe him, the very Word of God.
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If you are burnt out on the life that you are living, Jesus is inviting you to walk with him and watch how he does things. He said, “Come to me” and “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” He promises not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” Jesus is the way, you might say, to the right way of living into God’s righteousness. And thus, into God’s peace.
This text wants us to believe that following Jesus is easy. In many case it is, and many cases it is not. What we need to remember is what Jesus offers us isn’t freedom from work but having real work to do. God’s work.
The easy yoke Jesus offers calls out to anyone who wants to see God's Kingdom realized. It teaches us a way to put God’s love, mercy and grace at the center of everything we say and do. I can honestly say, following Jesus’ yoke is not exhausting like running, instead exhilarating, life giving, true God worshipping.
Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” That is his promise. However, to accept the yoke of the gentle and humble Lord means answering God’s call to embrace a life of work that puts the soul at ease.
What that means for us today is exactly what it meant when Jesus first invited his disciples to follow him. That is to say, to go out into the world and be his yoke. Go out and be the visible presence of God’s love wherever you are. In being peace makers you find your peace. In blessing the meek and the poor, you find yourself and your true worth in God’s Kingdom.
Take what the Apostles did for example. They took Jesus’ yoke and built the church. They became the visible body of Christ – teaching his way by living it. Yet sadly, somewhere along the way the church forgot the yoke of their humble teacher. Choosing instead to take up the yoke of the world.
Richard Rohr often says, “The Christian tradition became so concerned with making Jesus into its God and making sure everybody believed that Jesus was God that it often ignored his very practical and clear teachings.”
One needs to look no further than to those Christians who are willing to sell their vote in exchange for political favors. I don't recall Jesus ever doing that, do you? When did he ever put his needs, wants or desires above someone else?
Joseph Pagano warned his post-Apartheid church in South Africa, “We must guard against turning Jesus into someone or something he is not. He is not a commodity that we distribute to consumers. He is not a professor of political theory. He is not a modern therapist.” I would add, Jesus is not ours to exploit, but only to follow.
Jesus says, “Come to me.” And when we go to him, we find our peace and rest in him. For he is the personification of God’s love in the world. He is the incarnate One, the Anointed One, our Emmanuel, God with us. He is our rabbi, our teacher, our savior who saves us from ourselves.
He is calling us to be with him. It’s in our going, in our commitment to take that next step, that we learn that Jesus is the One who teaches the way of God and shows us how to live it in our daily lives.
His yoke is easy. His burden is light. It is not dominated by doctrine or dogma. But can be taught with a single word: Love. It’s what is, what has been, and what always will be. Love is who God is, Love is who Jesus is, and love is who we are meant to be.
On this day of sabbath rest, I encourage you to stop for a moment and listen to what Jesus is saying to your heart in these words. Give him your burdens and learn his way of gentleness and peace. Free yourself from all that stuff that has weighed you down - any shame, guilt or past mistakes you have made.
Give yourself over to him, put on his yoke, his way of living God’s truth in the world and see how it fits. Be the love that Jesus has given freely to you. Be that for yourself and for one another. And you will find rest for your weary soul.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Bell, Rob. Velvet Elvis. New York: Harper One, 2005.
Pagano, Joseph S. Come To Me. 06 29, 2020. episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/come-me-pentecost-5-july-5-2020 (accessed 07 03, 2020).
Rohr, Richard. Yes, And. cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”