We all know what it’s like to feel the weight of the world pressing down on our shoulders; every piece of bad news, every sadness, every disappointment piled on top of one another, until we cannot carry them anymore. We all know what it’s like to feel as if we’re dragging a giant boulder behind us; every worry, every problem, every expectation tugging at our bodies and spirits until we cannot take one single step forward.
We all know what it’s like to feel that, somehow, our lives are “ill-fitted”; every doubt, every wrong turn, every bad decision takes us to places we never intended to go, and leaves us feeling like we’re living someone else’s life. We all know what it’s like to feel tired, worn out, burned out, in a word—weary. So weary, it hurts to think; so weary, we cannot remember a time when we felt rested, refreshed, renewed.
To all you weary people out there I bring a word of good news; a word from Matthew’s gospel that was spoken by our Savior: “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.”
These words are familiar words. Some of us can recite them by heart. They are among our favorite sayings from the gospels. However, I would like to argue this morning that their familiarity robs them of some of their power. We need to hear them in a fresh and new way if we are to claim them as our own.
Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite masters of the English language, paraphrases these familiar words of Jesus in a way that shocks and amazes me Here is his rendition from The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out by religion? Come to me. Get away with me and I’ll show you how to 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.”
Eugene Peterson makes Jesus sound like a beat poet from the 1960’s! When I hear his words, I picture Jesus wearing a beret and a pair of dark sunglasses. He’s sitting on a stool in a smoky bar with a set of bongo drums tucked under his arm beckoning the people to listen:
“Hey man…Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out by religion? [You know what I’m saying.] Come to me. Get away with me and I’ll show you how to 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 [Can you dig it?] I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. [No way, man!] Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Who among us does not find these words appealing? Who among us does not long to recover our lives? To take a real rest? To learn the unforced rhythms of grace? These are the promises Jesus makes to us today; and it is a mighty tempting offer. But how do we move from weary to rest? How do we set aside our ill-fitted yokes and learn to live freely and lightly; unburdened by the challenges and disappointments life throws at us St. Paul, in our second lesson, gives us a hint regarding how we can accomplish this task. As I hear his words this morning, I’ve come to the conclusion that he was one stressed out person, and rightly so! Listen to how he describes himself: “I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do.” [CEB]
Let me ask you a question: Does this sound like a well rested person? Hardly! Paul is one big stressed out, burned out mess! His yoke is NOT easy. His burden is about ready to crush his body, mind and spirit. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes this burden as a “thorn in his flesh.” Here’s an excerpt from that letter:
“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was give me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.'” [2 Cor 12:7-9]
For centuries, scholars have wondered what Paul was talking about when he referred to the thorn in his flesh. Some believe he had epilepsy and was prone to seizures. Others say he was short and disfigured. But whatever the case may be, it’s safe to say that Paul was not a well rested person. He was one big stressed out, burned out mess!
Those who have studied Paul with me in Sunday School know that he was a bit of a walking contradiction: a liberator of women on one hand, and a male chauvinist pig on the other. A well of deep wisdom and insight on one hand, and someone with his foot constantly in his mouth on the other.
But I would argue that Paul’s conflicted nature makes him rather endearing to all of us. He is a real person: saint and sinner, foolish and wise, often burdened out and stressed out by his personal life as well as his vocation. Paul is our kind of guy who knows what it means to be weary, who knows what it is like to carry heavy burdens. Therefore, it’s important that we listen to his words of advice this morning because Paul has been there. He has walked where we find ourselves walking nearly two thousand years later.
And what is his advice to those who are weary? What is his advice to those who struggle with thorns in their flesh and feel like they’re carrying heavy burdens? Well, in our second lesson, after Paul shares with us his struggle with doing the things he doesn’t want to do, he ends his ranting and raving with a question born out of frustration and desperation:
This is the NRSV version of his question: “Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?” He shouts from the rooftops. His conclusion is “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” [Rom 7:24-25]
Paul realizes that when life get tough, when we are weary and carrying heavy burdens, when we feel like walking contradictions who constantly struggle with thorns in our flesh; Jesus is the only one we can turn to. Jesus is the only one whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. Jesus is the only one who can teach us the unforced rhythms of grace so that we may live freely and lightly. This is what is offered to those who turn to Jesus to be their strength
Paul repeats this same wisdom in 2 Corinthians 12 where he referred to his “thorn in the flesh.” After he appealed to God to remove the thorn, God’s response was “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Confronted with this spiritual truth, Paul concludes “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” [2 Cor 12: 9-10]
If we listen to Paul very carefully this morning we learn that every time we feel weary and are carrying heavy burdens, every time we feel worn out and burned out, it is a sure and certain sign that we are relying on our own strength instead of turning to Christ to be our strength. Every time our yoke feels ill-fitted, every time our own wisdom takes us in a direction we did not want to go, we are relying on our own insight instead of turning to Christ to teach us the unforced rhythms of grace, to learn to live freely and lightly.
Friends in Christ, our gospel and second lesson are giving us an invaluable, lifesaving piece of advice today. Their collected wisdom is telling us that we do not need to go through life feeling weary and burdened all the time. We do not need to wear a yoke that is ill-fitted. If we turn to Christ on a weekly, daily and hourly basis, we will discover a source of strength that far surpasses our own. We will find a way of living in this world that leaves us feeling free and light even when complete chaos is all around us. Let us turn to Christ, always and in all ways so we may discover the one whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. AMEN
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck