The final three verses from our Gospel reading will serve as the text for this morning’s message: Jesus said, "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."  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

There is so much meaning in this text, which some consider to be one of the most important and beautiful passages in all of the Scriptures.  One commentator likened it to a diamond, something to be looked upon from a variety of angles, each of which reveals a stunning truth.  Let’s use our time this morning to ponder some of these facets of truths.

+ “Come to me.”  Are you ready for a real ‘come to Jesus’ sermon?  Well, ready or not, here it comes!  Most of us with Lutheran or Roman Catholic backgrounds didn’t come to Jesus.  We were brought to Jesus as infants, brought to baptismal fonts where we were adopted into God’s family, our sins washed away, and the Holy Spirit of God given to us… all as gifts of grace.

That being understood, we still need to come to, and learn from Jesus.  For some, the process and rite of Confirmation may have served that role.  We learned the Biblical and theological content of our faith and publicly confessed our faith.  But as we all know, far too many newly confirmed youth and their families have disappeared from our churches over the generations, which seems to indicate that there still needs to be a come to Jesus-- or come back to Jesus--experience somewhere along the line.  We hope and pray the seeds planted will bear fruit.

You know what we need?  We need to do altar calls.  We need to invite people to come forward to receive Christ, and to demonstrate to all who witness their coming forward that it is their intention to receive grace and to follow Jesus.

Wait, we already do that.  We have altar calls every Sunday here at Zion.  The sacrament of Holy Communion is an altar call.  Every week we have the opportunity to stand up in the presence of others, to demonstrate our desire to come to Jesus and follow Him, to be granted the same gifts of grace and Spirit we first received in our baptisms.  Here we come forward to lay down the heaviest burdens that weary us: our sin and brokenness.  Here we receive Christ, and He receives us.  May God’s Spirit enable us to never take these calls to His altar, to His table of grace, for granted, but to recognize and receive the powerful gifts that are granted each and every time.

+ Another facet: Jesus also says “… learn from me.”  This is not to be understood as a call to merely gain new information.  Jesus calls us first and foremost into a relationship.  Someone put it this way: “This drives home one of the great concepts of Christianity that must be taught and grasped.  Christianity is a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.  This is not a call to a program, nor a system of religion, nor to a church, and certainly not to the discipler, or some human leader… While God uses churches, people, and theological systems, Christianity is an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.”  If you don’t yet understand that, you need to come to Jesus.

Coming to Jesus isn’t a one-and-done deal.  Like every relationship, we grow stronger when it is our intention to do so.  We seek to grow in our relationship with Jesus as we spend more time in prayer and in the Word, recognizing-- and drawing from-- His presence… His real presence in the Sacrament, and His ongoing presence with us moment by moment.  

+ Another facet: In calling us to come to Him with our weariness and heavy burdens, Jesus is bidding us to lay everything at His feet. When we come to understand that grace and love are unlimited, we are able to trust that every bit of our brokenness can be handed over to Jesus.  When we come to understand that God can make everything work together for good, we are able to trust that every care and concern, every burden we carry, can be handed over to Jesus.  And we when learn to practice the presence of Jesus, we can find true rest for our souls.

+ Another facet: Jesus calls “all [who] are weary and are carrying heavy burdens” to come to Him.  Far too many of God’s children are coming to Him last.  First they turn to doctors, medications, mental health practitioners, programs, or the latest fads.  Many of these resources possess very good potential and can be understood as gifts from God, but first and foremost, come to Jesus!  Not as a last resort, but as the first one to turn to with all of our burdens and cares, with the understanding that He has the power to heal us in the most important ways, and has promised to never leave us or forsake us, and to never stop loving us.  Come to Jesus!

+ The Greek word translated as “rest” is anapauo, which means ceasing from labor in order to recover one’s strength.  But Jesus calls us to a strange kind of rest, referring to easy yokes and light burdens.  At first glance, these terms almost seem like oxymorons, right?  But in calling us to the kind of rest He has in mind, Jesus isn’t so much calling us to a vacation, but to a vocation.

As we heard a few minutes ago, learning from Jesus is a process.  Jesus calls us to decide to “take” His yoke upon us, just as in the previous chapter in Matthew Jesus called His followers to take up a cross and follow.  This doesn’t sound like a recipe for rest and restoration, does it?

But here is another very profound truth: when we yoke ourselves to Jesus, learning to let Him carry our burdens and learning to live our lives in the way of Jesus, the way of grace and service and compassion and generosity, we discover a way of life that has the greatest meaning and the truest joy and peace possible.  Jesus desires to transform us, to re-create us into more fully living the way He lived, focused not on ourselves and all of our problems and burdens, but on serving God and others.  One of the best ways to deal with our burdens is to help others with theirs.

Jesus says that His yoke is “easy,” which comes from the Greek word chrestos, a verb which means “useful, manageable, serviceable, that which fills a need and is well fitting.” In other words, Jesus is calling us to a life-style that is designed to fit our most crucial needs; it is tailor-made for the children of God.  It reflects the way we were created to live.

What are your burdens?  What causes you weariness?  I have recently had the honor of listening to some of our members describe their burdens, and some are carrying some staggeringly heavy burdens, and are beyond weariness.  These burdens include serious health issues, various kinds of addictions, painful family dysfunction and conflict, loneliness, depression, confusion, loss of loved ones, and emotional and mental stress and fatigue.  If this describes you, I urge you with all of my heart: come to Jesus.  Come to Him now and come to Him always.  Receive grace.  Learn from Him.  Find true rest for your souls.

While the rest of us might not be carrying such exceedingly heavy burdens, we all have burdens of some kind.  Some have had a pretty easy way of things… relatively healthy family life, good health, good jobs and decent incomes.  A few of us have really had it pretty easy. 

And yet we might sense in our inner being that something is still missing.  Perhaps what is missing is true meaning and purpose.  Maybe we’ve bought into the so-called dream that the best life is the one filled with the most stuff, or the highest saving accounts, or the greatest career achievements.  It could be that we have spent our lives climbing the proverbial ladder to the top, only to discover that it is leaning against the wrong wall.

Come to Jesus.  Learn from Him.  Find true rest for your souls.  Come one, come all.  Come to Jesus!  Amen.

   April 2019   
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