“Come to me, all you who 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.”
The invitation is clear: Come to me. It’s addressed to all of us as we make our way through these difficult times: You that are weary, and are carrying heavy burdens. The end result is one our bodies, minds and spirits long for: And I will give you rest.
If you’ve been in a church for any length of time, I’m certain you’ve heard this gracious invitation. You may have taken Jesus up on the offer, or you may have resisted the invitation, doubting its effectiveness.
But, trust me, what Jesus offers us this morning is very real. It’s an oasis for the soul; a balm for our wounded hearts; a respite for our bodies that have been in constant “fight or flight” mode for almost four months. But what exactly is Jesus offering us? How are we to understand this new yoke he wants to place on us?
Well, the first thing I think we need to do is shake up the imagery a bit. After all, there are very few of us who have driven an ox, donkey, or horse, behind a plow. And if you have, congratulations! You may have more insight into this saying than me!
But for those of us who are not farmers, I offer you The Message’s magnificent paraphrase of this familiar invitation: “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.”
Wow! I could read this many times over and still not absorb it all. To recover my life. To take a real rest. To learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (I’m not exactly sure what that is, but it wounds delightful!) To learn to live freely and lightly, without anything heavy or ill-fitting pressing down on our shoulders, is exactly what the doctor ordered.
As we ponder the meaning of this gracious invitation, several things come to mind. The first is that the kind of rest Jesus offers us is not a month-long vacation on a tropical island, although that would be wonderful. Instead, it goes much deeper than this. It involves learning a new way of being in the world around us. It is remembering that we are citizens of the kingdom of God, first and foremost. All other citizenships, political ideologies, social groupings, and religious affiliations are secondary.
Notice, I made a distinction between being a citizen of the kingdom and our religious affiliation. There is a difference. I know a number of non-Christians who act more like citizens of the kingdom of God, than some Christians do.
Citizens of the kingdom of God, share certain values that are reflected in the life and wisdom of Jesus. These values go way beyond learning the “unforced rhythms of grace,” although this is a part of it. They include having “compassion” for the harassed and helpless, Loving not only God and our neighbor, but our enemies as well. It’s possessing the mindset that the greatest among us is one who serves. It’s claiming our role as benevolent caretakers of creation.
These values are not shared by everyone, nor are they unique to Christianity. Nonetheless, they are kingdom of God values. They challenge those who make individual liberty a priority instead of doing things for the greater good. They confront those who hoard wealth and resources instead of seeing them as a gift to be shared with the poor and oppressed. They remind us that we are, indeed, strangers and aliens, in a nation I hardly recognize anymore.
Some people may call me a socialist, or a bleeding heart liberal, or a snowflake for holding these values. I simply don’t care! They are the values Jesus taught us. They are the principles by which he lived his life.
We also know that they are the reason why he was seen as a threat, by the religious and political leaders of his day. His kingdom of God values is what led to his crucifixion. So, if we’re gong to claim to be citizens of the kingdom of God, we can expect that not everyone will be happy with us. In fact, they may be downright hostile to us.
The second thing I see in Jesus’ invitation in our gospel lesson, is that we need to reevaluate the yokes we are currently bearing. There are simply some yokes we were never meant to bear. There are other yokes we’ve carried for far too long, and it’s time to let them go.
Jesus says that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.” In the words of The Message’s translation, he tell us, “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.”
Is this an accurate description of how you’re feeling these days? Are you learning the “unforced rhythms of grace,” or are you “worn out” and “burned out”? I know people who carry heavy burdens of guilt, shame, grief and sadness. It’s okay for us to carry these emotional weights for short periods of time. But we were never meant to cary them permanently.
I will freely admit that I’ve carried a few of these during my lifetime for way too long. We get used to them being there. Unfortunately, because of this, we hardly notice how heavy they actually are. Jesus, is constantly offering to lighten our load, But we’re stubborn as mules. We’re bound and determined to keep on carrying them, even if they’re sucking the life out of us.
The good news is that when we’re ready to let them go, Jesus is standing there, ready and willing to bear them for us. Every time I’ve been able to let go of an ill-fitted yoke, I’ve always heard the voice of Jesus saying to me, “I’ve been waiting for SO LONG for you to let this go. But I could not take it from you. You had to be willing to give it to me.”
So, my friends, if you are weary and carrying heavy burdens, perhaps it’s time for you to give some of those burdens over to Jesus. This is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes it takes a counselor or a conversation with your pastor. I want you to know that even in this time of social distancing I’m here for you. You can call me or we can schedule a one-on-one Zoom session if you like.
I speak from personal experience that letting go of these heavy burdens is one of the most life-giving and soul-freeing things we can do. I know without a doubt that Jesus is more than willing to bear these heavy burden for us. In their place, he offers us forgiveness, new beginnings and new life. as we learn the “unforced rhythms of grace.” What a wonderful invitation Jesus offers us in our gospel lesson. Let’s be brave enough to take him up on his offer. Amen.
Copyright ©2020 by David Eck