Monday, June 30, 2014

Come to me all who . . . are carrying heavy burdens

(A recent sermon:)

Everyone has their burdens. Everyone! Whether it’s trying to stretch out meagre incomes that never go far enough. Or managing difficult marriage and family relationships.

Or being out of work. Or desperately wanting a better job. Or anxiously awaiting the results of medical tests. 

Or coping with the wounds left by emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Or parents carrying burdens, trying to provide for their children, trying to nurture their character in spite of everything that is wrong in our culture.

We struggle under our burdens. 

They get to us. They cause our thinking to spiral downwards, and we are plagued by self-doubt, self-blame, shame, and guilt: “ . . . this is ALL my fault.” “If I were a better wife . . .” “If I were a better husband . . .” “If I’d tried harder at work . . .” “If I could only be more loving . . .” 

On and on it goes!

The little passage out of the Bible I want to share with you today is something Jesus said. Listen to these words: 

“Come to me, all who labour 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, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 N.A.B.)

Isn’t it amazing that we take so long to come to Jesus! Do you know that some people never come to him!

One reason they don’t come to him is that what Jesus said and did has been so twisted by Christians that they can’t take it seriously. There are so many BEAUTIFUL TEACHERS of the Good News. You’ll find them in churches of all backgrounds and traditions. But there are FALSE TEACHERS out there as well. There always have been. Some of them say that faith in Jesus removes our temptation to sin, or that it automatically gets rid of doubt and fear. Or that with Jesus in our lives we’ll never feel lonely again. Some of you have even been told that if you really trust in Jesus your kids won’t go wrong, or they’ll get rich quick, or they’ll never get sick. If only! 

Jesus himself was not free of pain. And he had so many burdens to bear. Just look at his irritating friends, or the rejection he got from those he was trying to help! Yes, he prayed, and he enjoyed his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit (and so do we, in him)!  But the Word of God makes it quite clear that CHRISTIANITY IS NOT AN INSURANCE POLICY AGAINST CALVARIES OR GETHSEMANES. 

What Jesus says to us in that little verse out of Matthew’s Gospel is that if we let him, he will yoke us up to himself, and pull us through. (Actually, I think that a lot of the time he ends up DRAGGING us through!) Sharing his yoke – being yoked up to him - means that his strength is what we draw on. Together we overcome obstacles. Together we make progress in what he’s given us to do. We still have to do it. We still have to struggle some of the time. But we’re not alone. He is stronger than we are. And he gets us through!

Some of you will know the old story of the mouse and the elephant who had become good friends. One day they were out walking in the jungle. They came to a precarious looking rope bridge over a deep chasm at the bottom of which was a roaring river. They got onto the bridge, the mouse and the elephant, these good friends. And the rope bridge creaked and groaned under the weight. It swayed dangerously as they reached the middle, but eventually they got to the other side. The little mouse looked up, smiled at the huge elephant and said, “Boy, we sure shook that bridge!”

Well, that’s what it’s like being yoked with Jesus. It’s HIS strength that matters. We draw on HIS strength for our struggles, our burdens. So it was that St Paul, who suffered so much, could say that because “HIS grace is sufficient” . . .  “when I am weak I am strong” (2 Corinthians 11:9-10).

But there’s more! When you read the Bible, you see that the people around Jesus bore really heavy burdens, and their religious leaders – without any shame – imposed even more: laws, rules and regulations that could never be met, as well as the idea of a viciously angry God who was never satisfied.

No wonder the relationship they observed Jesus having with his Father-God was the envy of his friends. They said to him, “Lord, teach US to pray.” Jesus knew his Father to be gentle, caring, and generous, with a love infinitely greater than any human love. 

Did you know that being yoked up to Jesus is letting him drag us into his relationship with the Father. 

That’s why he came. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why he’s reaching out to you right now. According to the Good News of Jesus there is nobody who cannot be forgiven. There’s nobody who cannot have a new start. Nobody. In the words of the old hymn: “His blood can make the foulest clean - his blood avails for me!”

Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd
who restores my soul.
You forgive me, you heal me,
you pour your love into my heart
and make me a new person.
You ask me to come to you and rest.
It is the last thing I imagined you would say
or want from me.
You surprise me with your gentleness
your humility, your kindness and your love.
Help me to rest in your presence.
May I find peace for my soul.
Lord Jesus, strengthen me to bear my burdens,
with your grace that is sufficient
for all my need.
And help me reach out to others
as you have reached out to me.



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