Some people are forced to disproportionately carry undue burdens, and we are invited to share the load with each other and with Jesus.
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28).
The great invitation got its name because of all the invitations in the Bible, this one stands out to the church historically as the one where Christ is most pointed in saying, "Come to me," and then he gives his reasons.
As we meditate on that this morning, I'd like to just kind of drill down on that. There were so many invitations given in the Bible. There's one where God says, "'Come now, let us reason together,' saith the Lord." There's a wonderful invitation at the end of the Bible, "The spirit and the bride say come. Let whosoever heareth say come, and whosoever will may come and drink freely from the fountain of the water of life." "All you that are thirsty, come to the water without money, without price."
Transcript of sermon Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on July 5, 2020 at Briensburg UMC
Come unto me
There's constantly an invitation, and that helps us to see that the commandments and the teachings in the scriptures, the teachings that Christ brought, and our faith is an invitational faith. We don't force people to become a Christian or we don't try to scare people into becoming a Christian. We don't, and that's not how Christ does. He invites us to be a part of his fellowship. He invites us into these commandments, into the fellowship of love. He gives the command, but then he also gives with that the choice. Of course, I mean with the choice comes to consequences also of our choices, but so it's a constant invitation.
If we hear in each passage of scripture the invitation, then also can sense our appropriate response to that invitation, become a part of the mystery that Christ is calling us into in that invitation. It becomes some more than just something we're just told to do, but something we're invited to be a part of. There's a difference there. There's a big difference in that, in the ownership and in the belonging and in our whole participation in the kingdom of God.
In the Message Translation, this first part of the invitation is translated, "Are you tired, worn out, burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life." The invitation is to come to Christ personally, and that goes beyond even the teachings, into the person, into the personal saving relationship with God in Christ. In prayer, prayerfully we come to the Lord. We turn our thoughts to Christ. We center our hearts and minds on him, and he becomes for us a personal Lord and savior and not just the savior of the world or the center of the universe, but the center of our own universe, and of our own world, and our own savior, and our own Lord, and our own companion and guide.
All of you who labor and are heavy laden
Then the invitation is given to ... well, it's given to all of you who labor and are heavy laden, or in the Good News Translation it says "all of you who are tired from carrying your heavy loads." There we begin ... As I said, we're looking at this through the lens of justice. There we begin to think, if we think about that in terms of justice, then we can think about our heavy loads that we're carrying, but sometimes those loads are unjust burdens on some people, burdens that'll be put on some people for reasons that are not fair, maybe on ourselves, maybe on others. Carrying undue burdens because of racism, or discrimination, or exploitation, or violence, or all these things that we've been trying to take a stand on to try to at least diminish or push back.
The remission of sins that we speak of, that's pulling that back and making it a little less than it was. Anything that we can do to address that and make it diminish just a little bit, even if it's only in our own minds and hearts, maybe it's in their own family and friends or however that we're able to, wherever we're able to do the work of the remission of sin, of pulling back this and these injustices, then we have done what about the scripture last week was about, about giving somebody just a little cold water, a drink of water will not lose their reward. It helps.
Christ invites all who labor and are heavy laden. If we think about some of the things that we've done in our lives, all of us could probably think of some times when we felt a little overburdened, when we felt like there was just a little much on us at that time. It can be in all of these realms. Sometimes it could be finances, sometimes relationships, sometimes employment or any other kind of things that are just hard, get hard to carry and we could get tired from carrying that. That's when Christ hopes we most remember his words, "Come unto me. If you're tired from carrying your heavy load, bring it to me."
Take my yoke and learn from me
Then he said, "Take my yoke and learn from me." Again, in the Message it says, "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." The yoke is a symbol of unity, a symbol of working together. Christ in his invitation is inviting us to be the other side of that yoke.
When the beasts of burden are trained to the yoke, they usually put an older one that has more experience along with a new one that is beginning to learn how to do this, because the new one will just learn from the older one, will learn from that experience. Nobody, they don't read a book about it. They just hook them up. The one with the most experience just goes ahead and plods away doing what they know and have learned through their experience of pulling the load, and how to pace themselves, and how to draw whatever it is they're pulling. While the new one might struggle against it and might work against it for a while, but gradually kind of learns how it works, and it eases into the knowledge and becomes proficient in pulling the load to the point, and then maybe then that beast will be used to train another.
In that sense, when we're yoked with Christ, then we are his disciple in that kind of a sense that we are learning by doing. We're learning by being a part of the work that Christ is already doing, and we're brought in to that, and we gradually learn not to struggle against the load, but to pull it as it's meant to be pulled. Also, we're sharing that load, because if we try to carry everything by ourselves that's meant to be carried and meant to be shared, then we'd be carrying too much. Christ invites us to share the load. If we're not trying to do it all ourselves, then we find that Christ is helping us and the load becomes lighter and easier to bear.
The same thing works with us as we can use the same imagery with Christ and us in the yoke with ourselves and each other, someone else, other people and the carrying of their loads, because we kind of have the same system. We have the same system for teaching and the same system for learning. It's how we learn from each other. We help each other.
Going back to the commandment of Christ, he said, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you, and everybody will know you're my disciple by this." That's a part of this invitation, because Christ offers this commandment as an option that we can choose. If we do, then everybody will know we're a disciple, but mostly we'll know we're a disciple because we'll be becoming a disciple by actually practicing the love that Christ practices. That's the invitation that we would become a part of that love that Christ demonstrated and that we would then share that with other people.
Saint Paul used to like to emphasize how that love was the fulfillment of all the law. Especially in Romans and Galatians he wrote about that. When he wrote about it in Galatians, he said, 'Love fulfills all of these laws, and so we don't need to get tangled up in all of those again. What we need to do is love one another as Christ taught us to love, and then we'll be fulfilling the law." Then he went on to the say, "And this is how you do it. This is how you fulfill that law, by bearing each other's burdens." That fits right in with this invitation, doesn't it? By bearing each other's burdens, you fulfill the law of Christ.
It really kind of helps us to know a little bit more about love just in that statement, doesn't it? It's not just that we feel affectionate toward the people around us, and we hope we do. We care about people. We love them, but it doesn't stop there. If we love as Christ loved, then we bear one another's burdens. We become yoked with them.
Then this is again a place where I think we can see the injustices that some people have in being maybe forced to have too much of the burden on them. It's coming out a lot for example in the news in the COVID crisis about segments of our population who are bearing too much of the burden. I think one thing I think about it is the healthcare workers, that they're bearing so much the burden of this crisis. Then if people are not helping them by trying to just be safe and trying to keep prevent the spread, then they're adding unduly to the burden, and they're also adding fighting against the yoke and causing making that burden harder, heavier to bear it. Heavier in the first place and then making it harder to bear, harder to pull, harder for those who are having to do that part of the job. We could probably apply that to all these other things about population, parts of the population that suffer more, not because of any fair reason or not because of these problems themselves, but because of additional burdens and additional expectations that are placed on them.
I am meek and lowly in heart
Jesus said, "I am meek and lowly of heart." A lot of times we think of Christ more in that one incident where he cleansed the temple and that he's going to just go around and do everything like that, but that's not really representative of most of his ministry. In the Beatitudes, he said, "Blessed are the meek." He teaches us and the apostles taught about being humble. He says here, "I am meek and lowly of heart. I am gentle and humble." That's part of the invitation for us then is to be gentle with each other, gentle with the world around us, humble in our approach.
In seeing Christ that way, I think he's trying to remind us that we don't have to be afraid. Again, another way of saying that, "Don't be afraid to come to me. Don't be afraid to be yoked with me. Don't be afraid of the burden that you want to share with me. But instead, realize that I'm meek. I'm lowly of heart. I'm tender and compassionate. I'm empathetic to everything you're experiencing, and I want to be there with you through it all, and to be a part of it, and to help you bear that burden."
It reminds me of the song, Leave It There. "Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there." Do you have a burden on your heart today for anybody or anything, something that you're going through or something that somebody else is going through that you care about, somebody you care about? Maybe a rhetorical question, because I think we all do have those burdens and we have a burden for our community, and for the world, for our country, and everything that people are going through at that time. There's only so much that any one of us could do on our own, but together with Christ and with each other, we can do more because the burden is lighter. We can do more and the burden will still be lighter because we're doing this together. We're yoked together with each other and with Christ, and we're invited into that kind of approach to life.
Find rest for your soul
When we think of these burdens, they can feel oppressive to us and become oppressive to us, and it can be even more oppressive to those who don't have this yoke, who aren't wearing it already, haven't already begun to work their way into the fellowship of this mystery of Christ. Think how heavy that burden can be for people that have tried to do everything alone without Christ. It almost like weighs you down. It makes you feel under labor, like you're laboring and carrying a heavy load already thinking about it.
But then it comes to this promise. "You shall find rest for yourselves. You will find rest, for the yoke I will get you is easy and the load I will put on you is light." Then you can feel, I can breathe again. The air is coming back. The wind is coming back into my soul, because the Lord is breathing breath into me. The Lord is lifting me up. The Lord is helping me through, and I'm not doing this alone.
That's the promise that we claim in this invitation, and it's why when Christ invites us, "Come unto me. You shall find rest." It's to lift that burden, to share, to teach us how to work it, and then to help us to become those who help others to do the same thing. Together, we all find that our burden is lighter and the load is easier to bear. All the while, we begin to find the rest for our souls, and it feels a lot better, amen?
This is the great invitation. "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
In the name of Jesus, Amen.