I will give you rest (A sermon on Matthew 11:25-30)

“Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

When I was a much younger man I attended a Pentecostal church for a while and I guess I did so primarily because I loved the singing. I enjoy singing with my current church, of course, but I have to confess that the Pentecostals tend to have one up on us in the singing department. They really get into it!

I remember one song we used to sing there where the chorus simply repeated the words “I exalt Thee, O God”, echoing the words of Psalm 145. I’m not sure I really understood what “I exalt Thee” meant at the time (and I’m not entirely sure that I understand what it means now) but it was a very rousing chorus, though less so, I was told, for one mum who, when she listened closely to her six year-old son who was standing alongside her in church – hands raised and singing loudly – realized that he was singing “I’m exhausted”.

And that’s a statement we have no trouble understanding! Indeed, if we can find the tune we might want to add that variation to our song list at our church for it pretty well sums up, I suspect, how a lot of us feel a lot of the time!

We might not really want to sing about it, but I know for myself that by the time I reach church on a Sunday morning I am regularly exhausted, so why not put it into a song – “I’m exhausted, I’m exhausted, I’m exhausted, O God” (all together on the chorus …)

Some of us are exhausted because we are getting old, though it always worries me when I hear one of my elderly friends says, “I’m very tired”, because such a statement is almost always followed by: “I think it’s time the Lord took me home!” Since I’ve been at Holy Trinity I’ve seen an entire generation of parishioners get tired and subsequently shuffle on! I don’t want to hear of any more parishioners getting tired!

For most of us, of course, it’s not really old age. It’s just that we feel old because we are overworked! I remember when I was in early High School the teachers used to tell us that by the time I was their age we’d all be working only part-time with lots of leisure time on our hands! We’d go to the beach and do as we pleased most of the time! It hasn’t worked like that, has it?

I guess my teachers forgot to take into account that as wealth grows so do prices and so do expectations. The truth is that we as a community have never had more and yet we’ve never been working so hard! We’ve gone from having one ‘breadwinner’ in each household to having everyone working, and still we’re struggling with higher rents and more oppressive mortgages than anything experienced by previous generations!

My favourite example of being overworked is the true story of tattoo the basset hound, whose owner accidentally took him for a walk one evening (or rather ‘a run’) when he mistakenly caught the dog’s lead in the door of his car before driving off! Apparently the driver got some considerable distance before being pulled over by a policeman who noticed that the car seemed to be dragging something!

The dog survived but had apparently reached speeds of 50kph and rolled over several times. The quote worth remembering was from the attending officer, Constable Terry Filbert, who said, “The little fella was just pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down as fast as he could”.

That sort of sums it up for many of us, doesn’t it? For a long time, a lot of us have been pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down as fast as we can, but we still find ourselves regularly hitting the ground and rolling about while we desperately try to keep up!

Some of us are feeling old. Some of us are feeling overworked. Some of us are just feeling spiritually and emotionally drained, and in many ways that is the toughest form of exhaustion to deal with.

When your body is tired and you can get yourself a good night’s sleep you generally wake up feeling a lot better.  But when you are exhausted in your spirit, you go to bed tired and you wake up tired, and sometimes it can be very hard to muster up enough energy to make it through the day.

Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience, and I know that I am by no means on my own, even in my own church community, when it comes to having struggled with the old ‘black dog’ (as Winston Churchill used to term his depression).

Many great saints from Martin Luther to Mother Theresa have been ‘clinically depressed’ (as we now term it). Luther indeed had a list of strict instructions that he gave his wife, Katie, to help him deal with his depression:

  1. Make sure things are never so quiet that I sink into my own thoughts.
  2. Never leave me alone, even for a moment (believing solitude is poison).
  3. Leave nothing within my reach with which I might harm himself.

Those are quite chilling maxims, coming from the ‘father of the Reformation’ (especially the last one), but no more chilling than the testimonies that I collected and published a few years ago on www.christianswithdepression.com!

If you haven’t seen the site I commend it to you – a collection of diverse stories from a diverse range of people, brought together only by a common commitment to both Christ and to anti-depressants!

I published there myself, having spent about a year on Zoloft. I’m thankful not to be on anti-depressants at all at the moment but I recognize that I may need to avail myself of them again one day if I get hit again by that sinking feeling – that feeling of being dragged down to a point where you can no longer breathe and no longer lift your head and where you just can’t handle it any more but where you can’t see any way out of the blackness either!

“Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

These are beautiful words and they are probably my favourite words in the entire Anglican Eucharistic liturgy. I regularly (if not normally) come to church feeling tired and I look to my experience of worship to give me strength and energy to get back into the fray and move forward with another week, and I need those words as I need the gift of spiritual quiet!

“Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

If nothing else, I’ve been pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down for a whole seven days by the time I reach my time of Sunday worship, and sometimes my body is exhausted, and oftentimes I’m feeling emotionally drained, and all the time I’m struggling to hold in check conflicting feelings of faith and doubt and joy and pain and frustration and fear and trust and hope.

“Come to me”, says Jesus!

It’s a call to faith, isn’t it – a call to cast all our cares upon Him – and it’s based on the deep truth that He cares for us!

Every hair on our heads is numbered, we are told! Not a single sparrow falls to the ground that He does not know about, and are we not worth more to Him than many sparrows? “Cast all your anxieties on Him”, St Peter says, “because he cares for you.” (1Peter 5:7)

“Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

These are beautiful words that promise rest and peace, and yet the exhortation, as we know, does not stop there!

“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.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

It is bizarre that one of the most beautiful promises in all of scripture – this promise of rest and relief to the weary and over-burdened – is coupled with an exhortation to take on another burden! This sword that cuts the rope that ties the burdens to our backs has, it seems, another edge to it!

“Take my yoke upon you”, says Jesus. There’s no ambiguity here but there does seem to be a deep irony, and Martin Luther didn’t miss it! “Only Jesus”, said Luther, “would invite the heavy-laden to take on another yoke”.

The key though, I believe, is to recognise that Jesus isn’t expecting the over-burdened to take on another burden, but rather to take on a different one – a burden that is more worth carrying than we one we currently have on!

It always depresses me when I read the statistics on marriage – that the number one reason why marriages fail in this country is not because of abuse or even because of infidelity but simply because of money! From what I’ve read, it seems that arguments over money and stresses over money continue to be the number one causative factor in marriages falling apart throughout the Western world!

Now, I’m not wanting to downplay the sickening feeling of being in a financial crisis, and I’ve certainly been in a few of them, but I do believe that in this city, in this country, in this day and age, if the biggest thing you’ve got to worry about is money, you don’t have much to worry about!

There are more important things in life than money and when we come to Jesus, He will relieve us of the unnecessary burden of believing that we need to accumulate great amounts of it, along with the burden of feeling we need to look like Brad Pitt (or Angelina Jolie), along with any number of other unnecessary and useless burdens that our culture sees fit to lay upon us.

And yet He does not leave us burden-free!

In place of worrying about money, He gives us a burden for the poor. In place of worrying about looking good, He will place upon us a burden for those who don’t have the clothes they need. Instead of worrying about ourselves, our careers, our security and our future, He gives us a heart for the sick, the imprisoned, the lonely and the destitute.

I appreciate that it’s part of the culture in some churches that you’re supposed to be looking good and feeling great all the time – happy, happy, happy!  Maybe that’s why I left that Pentecostal church of my youth? I loved the music but it could be a tough place to be if you were prone to depression!

Moreover, the idea that having a relationship with Jesus is something that should always fill you with some ongoing sort of glib merriment is outrageous! I heard one guy say recently, “I’m sick of hearing testimonies from thugs and ruffians who came to Jesus and their troubles were over! My experience was that it was when I came to Jesus that my troubles began!”

I can understand that! Jesus was not someone who was constantly jolly so why should we expect to be? Jesus wept, and the more I get to know Jesus the more I find I weep too!

Before I found Christ I wasn’t overly concerned for anybody beyond myself. Once Jesus got a hold of me I started to weep for those who slept on the streets during winter. Now I weep for the homeless in Syria as well as here!  At this rate, by the time I retire, I’ll be a complete mess!

“Come to me, all you that labor and are 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.”

It is a burden that He gives us, and yet it is light, and it is light, I believe, because it is one that Jesus shoulders with us!

A ‘yoke’, as you probably know, is something you put around an animal’s neck to help it drag along a plough or some similar weight. The ‘yoke of Jesus’, as I understand the image, is not meant to be simply the yoke that Jesus passes on to us, but rather the yoke He shares with us as He allows us to bear some of the weight that is on His shoulders!

“Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden”. Come to Him with all your useless burdens – your money worries, your fears for the future, your fears about how you look and how other people think of you, your fears for your safety, wealth, health, and reputation. Bring all your useless burdens to the feet of Jesus and leave them there!

Leave your yoke at His feet and then prepare to shoulder another yoke – the yoke of Jesus. Take on burdens that are worth bearing, experience pain that is worth suffering, a cross that is worth carrying!

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.”

First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, on Sunday the 29th of June, 2014.

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four. www.FatherDave.org

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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