It’s a holiday weekend — and happy Independence Day! But it is a strange holiday indeed. With much of our world still shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a different perspective on the idea of freedom and liberty and what it means to care for each other in sacrificial ways.
We know many are carrying heavy burdens. Today’s prerecorded worship service includes a sermon from Interim Pastor David Mueller that looks at Jesus’ invitation in Matthew’s Gospel: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
The service, which is available at 10 a.m., is led by Pastor Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts. Also participating are Greg Landrey, worship assistant, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. There is other special music, too.
The link to our YouTube channel is below, along with the text of Pastor’s sermon.
“Rest! What is that?” (Matthew 11:25-30)
David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor
We are into a moment in history where there are those who seem given to the taking of risks, especially young folk but some older folk who should know better as well. Being in a crowd — whether in a bar or a church — not wearing masks and keeping distance is as risky as it gets these days. There are Christians who claim they are exempt from or immune to the virus due to the protection of God.
In the book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — all Jews — were thrown into a furnace of blazing fire for refusing to give homage to Nebuchadnezzar, but God preserved them (Daniel 3:8). Christians meeting without protections are like those running into a burning building not to save anyone but to prove God would protect them, like our three friends from Daniel. They might just be in for the surprise of their lives. With one exception, we are not to tempt or test God.
I am reminded again of the book of Daniel when in Matthew 11:25, we read: “I thank you, Father, the Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” That sounds very much like Daniel 2:20 and following: “Daniel said: ‘Blessed be the name of God … for wisdom and power are his … he gives wisdom … and knowledge … he reveals deep and hidden things.’”
In the Zechariah passage, which foreshadows Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the King comes “triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey.” Just as the entry of Jesus was a slam on Roman pomp, so also Zechariah’s is a slam on the comparatively ridiculous image of seemingly more powerful earthly kings with their decorated steeds, banners and well armed troops. The earthly powers here mean nothing. The King of kings is The Humble One!
And He comes for the humble ones and not the proud; the poor and not the rich; the common folk and not the “upper crust,” that bunch of crumbs connected by a lotta dough. We would do well to listen to the words of the Prophet and those of the King.
“Come to me, all you who think you are special, who wield the power, who have the wealth, who believe they need nothing.” Whoops! Wrong book! That is an unholy book. The Holy book invites the weary, burdened and nearly worn out!
It would seem that if you are rich, you lose! Is there inherent blessing in being poor? Doubtful. So what is going on here? It is simply that those who don’t have much are open to gifts Jesus offers. Those who have much don’t need Jesus!
The “yoke” here is an interesting matter which requires an explanation. The image is of the yoke that holds two cattle together leading a wagonload of whatever. What we are offered is a trade, the yoke we are burdened with in exchange for that of Jesus. What we get with this trade is relief and rest.
We have all heard it said that so and so has a great cross to bear due to reasons of poor health, broken relationships, financial ruin, job loss, etc. We may have said that of ourselves when we feel overloaded. There are, indeed, crosses like that to bear, but Jesus invites us to “take up our cross and follow Him.” We get a new cross; it is His cross and not ours. The cross must be born before the crown is worn. Here also, we get a new yoke, Christ’s yoke, which is easier and lighter.
We turn to Paul who must be exaggerating his flaws when he makes his claim in Romans 7. “Wretched man that I am!” Even on the surface, there is a lesson here. Just imagine Paul if instead he claimed: “I am the greatest of Apostles! I know everything! I am holy! I am wise! Whatever sins may linger in me are few! Do what I tell you and maybe you can be the wonderful Christian that I am!” It would be as if he were still the Pharisee he was. Instead: “I am the least of the Apostles and the greatest of sinners.” I can relate to that.
It really takes a great deal of energy as well as nerve to pull off being someone we are not nor meant to be! It can be exhausting. The person who has wealth, power and influence could use all of that in the service of humanity and the praise of God, but all too often does not. To be free of self-centeredness, false pride, which is the only kind there is, and the desire to manipulate and take advantage of others is to become open to caring and sharing and daring to be truly alive. That is what Jesus offers here! “Give me all your junk and I will give you joy!” “Give me your burdens and I will give you rest!”
There is something else here. Scholars believe the “yoke” is the “Law.” The Ten Commandments are good, but to think we can keep them is a burden for sure. Jesus kept them. In trusting Him and casting our sins and shortcomings on him is to be free to live; free to let the law come alive in its invitation to love God and others and ourselves for positive reasons. It is the intelligent wise thing to do!
Jesus here in Matthew claims: “I am gentle and humble in heart.” In Biblical Greek, “gentle” is “praus” (“meek”) and “humble” is “tapenos” (“of poor estate”). Remember that Jesus entered Jerusalem, as did the king in Zechariah, on a donkey, the humble beast of burden and not a war horse. If Jesus is who he says he is, then to have wisdom and intellect capable of knowing him is to be humble and of poor estate ourselves. Those of the high and mighty crowd just don’t because they cannot get it.
Jesus offers a prayer here as well, not only thanking God as did Daniel, for who are the truly wise and intelligent ones, but claiming this as God’s “gracious will.” God the Father, gives “all things” to Jesus and Jesus offers “all things” that matter to us. Wealth, power, influence and the like will not last, but “all things” do!
Jesus is not a spiritual sleeping pill, nor a tranquilizer to numb the effects of our reality, whatever that may be, nor a pious cocktail to calm the nerves. Jesus is the one who offers us freedom from burdens of guilt, shame, blame and whatever other game our unredeemed hearts and minds would have us play. In THAT freedom to love and care, to rejoice and share, there is genuine rest because THAT is what we were initially created to be and do.
I don’t know how much we really need open bars and restaurants right now. I feel for the owners and managers of those businesses. I cannot for absolute certain believe that what we need is open churches and other places of faith. I do know that God-given and Jesus-won wisdom and smarts requires of us to humbly wear masks, keep appropriate distance, stay out of large crowds and wait patiently as God’s gifts of medical scientists do their thing.
Oh, there is plenty else to be about in hopeful, healing and helpful ways to come. In this meantime, let there be rest and quiet rejoicing.