Sermon from September 4, 2011

09-04-2011 sermon text only

Come to Me

Heeding Jesus’ Invitation to Rest

Matthew 11:28-30

The photographer was working with school aged children.  In order to help put them at ease he started chatting with them.  He asked one little girl, “What will you be when you grow up?”  She responded immediately, “tired” [J.R. Love, Rushton, Lousiana,”Girl Will Be Tired When She Grows Up,”].  Anybody here today tired?  Have you grown up to find yourself – tired?  Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden 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.”

After one of the marches for civil rights in the 1960’s, Martin Luther King asked one older lady how she was doing at the end of the day, she responded, in typical improper grammar yet precise articulation, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”  Do you know what it is to be able to say at the end of any given day, everything I have to do, everything I have to know, everything I have to be has been attended to.  Nothing is left undone.  My body may be tired but my soul is at rest.  Thank you Lord.

Jesus in this passage from Matthew 11 invites us to experience this reality.  The question is how do we say yes, how do we heed the invitation and say yes?  I want to suggest that heeding Jesus’ invitation involves a repeating admission on our part, and a repeating exchange.  It’s a repeated admission of our vulnerability, a repeated and repeating voluntary exchange of burdens – in short, the burdens of the world, for the burdens of discipleship.  Let’s talk briefly about these two steps.

First saying yes to Jesus’ invitation involves an admission of our vulnerability.  This is the classic “I can’t but God can” statement.  Here is the thing, folks.  You can’t have it all.  You can’t know it all.  You can’t do it all.  I’m sorry.  You can’t.  I can’t.  We can’t.  Yet the fact is there are lots of cultural pressures that would burden us with the myth that we can.  We can have it all.  We can know it all.  We can do it all, these burdensome voices say.   I’m calling this the burden of impossible expectations.  Part of it comes out of a culture of consumeristic humanism.  It’s exemplified in the motivational speaker in our head, with the profit-driven slick consulting organization, who says you can have anything you can possibility dream of, you can master and do anything you set your mind to.  Half of Jesus gospel is you don’t have to have it all, you don’t have to know it all, you don’t have to do it all.  You will find rest, Jesus said.

But sometimes our response to knowing we can’t have it all, do it all, know it all, is simply to lower our expectations and say ok I can’t have it all, but I want some, I want enough.  I can’t know it all, but I want to know something, I want to know enough.  Ok I can’t do it all, but I want to do something, I want to do enough, I want to do my part.  There are lots of cultural pressures that would burden us in that direction.  I would call it the burden of mediocre expectations.  It comes out of a culture of chill, mediocre humanism.  For those of us in a certain era, it’s exemplified in the Eagles song, ‘Take it Easy.’  It says, look, lets just be realistic here, pursuing it all, pursuing excellence is kind of neurotic and difficult and impossible, therefore just lower your expectations, you can’t have it all but you can have enough; you can’t know it all, but you can know enough.  Yeah, you can’t do it all, but just chill, take it easy, you can do enough – at least to get by.  Realistic expectations have their place.  But that is not what Jesus is talking about here.   Realistic expectations have their place, but they are no substitute for God.  Ask yourself this: Is a culture of chill, mediocre humanism ever going to solve the national debt ceiling?  Is mediocre, chill humanism going to solve global economic collapse?  Do we really think that a philosophy of chill, mediocre humanism is going to lift a pinky to prevent the planet from self destructing?

How do we heed Jesus’ invitation to rest?  First is an admission of our vulnerability.  We can’t have it all, know it all do it all; in fact, on our own, we can’t even have enough, know enough, do enough.  The 2nd step is to take part in a voluntary exchange of burdens, ours for his.  What it is, is having permission from the God of the universe who has come to us in Jesus – permission to take off of our backs the burdens of impossible and mediocre expectations.  And instead we voluntarily take up the burdens of discipleship.  We can’t have it all, we can never have enough.  We can have Jesus and acceptance in him.  We can’t know it all, we can never know enough.  We can know more of his love and grace and courage.  We can’t do it all, we can never do enough.  We can love with his love.  We can always do that every time.

Last year at conference I saw one of my older colleagues and friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while.  I asked him how he was doing, and he responded, “I’m having the fullest spiritual experience I possibly can.”  If there was ever a person who would have an excuse to say I’m tired, it would be he.  Instead he said, “I’m having the fullest spiritual experience I possible can.”  I think he was really saying the same thing that one commentator said,

Because Jesus is himself among those who are timed and burdened, he can inspire the disciple to follow his life of total openness to God and thus attain true peace. .. The path to God passes through poverty (can’t have it all), immaturity in our understanding (can’t know it all), and burdens imposed on our souls (can’t do it all).  The poor, the immature, and the burdened are promised that they will attain what no learning and no successful activity can attain: the quiet in which [persons] can understand  [their] lives as God’s gift and be free for real service to God and … neighbor [Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew (Atlanta: John Knox, 1975), p. 273].

I think he was talking about that thing where your head hits the pillow and you know nothing is left unattended because you’ve admitted vulnerability and exchanged a burden.  I think about the times through the years when I’ve been aware of this individual’s crushing challenges and conflicts in his ministry situation, of the burdens associated with caring for a grown mentally disabled son, which he never saw as a burden, or health challenges like frequent nosebleeds and worse.  Yet I think also of the fruit of his life and how he has taught so many including me how to rest in the Lord.  I’m having the fullest spiritual experience I possibly can, he said.  If I had asked him at any time along his journey, how are you, how’ve you been I think he could’ve just as well responded more succinctly yet said exactly the same thing – how are you doing?  Resting.  How have you been?  Rested.

The man asked the little girl, what will you be when you grow up?  Anybody here feeling fired this morning?  You’re in the right place.  I wonder what Asbury church will be when we finally grow up?  Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Resting.  Rested.

Prayer: O Lord, help us in this observance of communion and thereafter, to admit our vulnerabilities, and to make an exchange between the burden of impossible or mediocre expectations on the one hand, and the privileges of discipleship on the other.  Come Lord Jesus, even as you have invited us to come to you and find rest.

Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna, Delaware

September 4, 2011

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