Sunday, July 5, 2020
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
I began last week’s sermon with a disclaimer that I was doing something my homiletics professors insisted we NOT do in preaching – that is to share too much about ourselves which runs the risk of focusing the sermon on me rather than on the gospel. Well, I’m gonna do it again – but this time I will not be focusing on me. Ignoring the advice of my former professors, I am lifting a couple of verses out of context – a practice sometimes referred to as “proof-texting.” Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.
I promise, I WILL honor the integrity of the text. That is, I will adhere to an interpretation that complements the author’s original intent, but MY objective is to focus on our situation today as Jesus invites us to find rest for our soul. I am doing so because, I believe, we desperately need to hear these words today, words that offer us a kind of harbor amidst the storms of life – of which we are all intimately familiar right now.
I can’t speak for you, but I am sensing from my conversations with many others that we are all in desperate need of rest. The stress of our lives. The uncertainty of the future. And the need to discern, plan, and make decisions for “what’s next” is exhausting given our current circumstances. I think Jesus offers us some much-needed advice.
I really like the way this passage is translated in The Message version of the Bible, so I’m going “all in.” Not only am I pulling these verses out of context, I’m going to use a modern translation that, I believe, is so helpful for us NOW!
I’m going to break the passage apart into three sections, where I hope to highlight three important lessons, I believe, Jesus invites us to heed for our ultimate good. The first section says:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Kind of sounds like those old Geritol commercials. Do you remember? “Do you have iron-poor blood? Well, I have just what you need. Take Geritol and experience real life!” Or the new Plexiderm ads constantly flooding our televisions on how to get rid of all those unwanted wrinkles in just minutes. May sound funny, but haven’t you been tempted just a little?
These may be temporary solutions to vexing problems, but Jesus invites us to something much more long-lasting. Are you exhausted, or as the NRSV says, are you weary? The modern translation even pokes fun at our religious practices. But the challenge is so important, and it is “invitational.” “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. It’s as if Jesus is inviting you on your own personal retreat with him. [Pause]
I’m not as familiar with many of the members of Keawala’i Church just yet, but in my previous congregation we had quite a few members in various phases of recovery from substance abuse. In speaking with them, I grew to respect the care and nurture they experienced as they embraced the 12-Step Program and the communities that supported them in their recovery. The first two steps echo these words of Jesus – first, realizing that one is powerless over the substance – alcohol being just one. That is knowing that they were weary and in need of help. And, in the second step, the participant came to believe in a power greater than themselves that could restore their sanity – or to use Jesus’ words, “to provide rest – real rest.”
One need not be in recovery from substance abuse for these words to be a healing balm. What is called for is a level of honesty that admits I’m exhausted, I can’t do this on my own. I need help. [Pause] And then to accept the invitation that is continually being extended. Just like in 12-Step Programs – Jesus is always extending the invitation “Come to me. Get away with me. And recover your life.” [Pause]
The second phase demands that we DO something. It’s one thing to accept Jesus’ invitation. It is another to (borrowing from recovery language once again) “to work the steps.” Or as Jesus says:
“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
Jesus invites us into a mentoring relationship as budding disciples – one where we will learn by watching AND by doing. It’s one thing to realize we are exhausted and cannot manage everything on our own. That’s the first step – realizing that we need help. But the second is equally as important – as the invitation is to walk with Jesus and to work with Jesus as we learn new ways of living our lives to the full – EVEN in challenging circumstances. Doing so may necessitate changes in our lives and may not be easy.
You have probably heard one of the definitions of insanity – often erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein – is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. We simply can’t live life that way and Jesus is inviting us to a life based on learning how and when to let go of that which is no longer relevant or necessary to live meaningful lives – lives that embrace the unforced rhythms of grace.
An important part of doing this is to incorporate into your life that which brings you joy. In these very challenging days of pandemic and uncertainty there are things that we must do in order to keep our lives safe and moving in a positive direction. Maintain social distance, wash your hands, wear a mask, stay home as much as you can. Those are the necessary restrictions that are enforced for our own good.
But, I invite you to think of something that you might do that will bring you joy. Something you can do just for fun. Maybe it’s walking the beach, swimming with the turtles, practicing yoga, reading mystery novels, doing the crossword puzzle or sodoku – it’s doing what you enjoy that will bring life and energy to your soul. Do it regularly, and don’t let anything get in its way. [Pause]
And finally, the third phase Jesus talks about is probably the most important of all. The Message doesn’t do a good job in this portion of the translation, but we’ll begin there,
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
The NRSV says it better,
“Take my yolk upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yolk is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus invites us – as my homiletics professor friend Karoline Lewis reminds us repeatedly – to abide in him. The yolk he is talking about is not a burden, it is, as Kahu Bob Nelson commented the other day on our Zoom call, to “pull together” – as a team. When we are yolked to Jesus and to one another we come to understand the problem more fully. Together we walk with Jesus and work with Jesus. And together we keep company with the One in whom we “find rest” for our souls.
We will each need to find our own best way to abide in Jesus. For some that will mean a daily reading from a devotional book where we ponder a scriptural passage or thought. For others it will be cultivating a life of prayer – either intercessory or silent contemplative meditation. For still others it will be spending time in nature, experiencing the presence of holiness in the created order. You need to discover for yourself how best to yolk your life to the Divine Presence – and there – find rest. [Pause]
I am so well aware of the weariness we are all facing at this time. And I, for one, do not think this exhausting phase of our lives will be over for a long time – and I’m an eternal optimist. But as the scriptures also say, “We do not live as those without hope.” On the contrary, we live within earshot of the most important invitation – one that we will hear in our communion liturgy in just a few moments, and one that we need to hear each day as God’s Spirit stirs within us, “Come unto me. I will give you rest.