Sermon: July 9, 2023 – Matthew 11:35-50 and Psalm 145:8-14

And Jesus said to them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

If you would, I’d like you to repeat the first and last part of this with me: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

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Before I say one more word in this sermon, let’s celebrate the great big positive side of this statement.  When we speak of the Good News of Jesus Christ, this is a big part of it!  It speaks of how Jesus – as the life-giving, boundary-pushing leader experienced by his disciples, and as the risen Christ experienced by nearly two millennia of disciples since then – invites us to come, no matter what challenges we are facing, confident that Christ Jesus is both willing and able to bring relief. Jesus invites us, not only to name the burdens we carry and the post-pandemic weariness that we carry, individually and as a Church, but offers ability and presence and capacity to help us. In this we recognize Jesus as SAVIOUR, for in Christ we encounter one who is committed to saving us, liberating us from the forces that work so hard to push us down, or minimize our humanity, or maximize our brokenness. “Come to Me” says Jesus, “and I will give you rest.”  That is such good news that I’m just gonna leave those words up on screen for the duration of this sermon.

Now, the other reality of this, is that the times we most need to hear these words, are our hardest times, including times of bereavement. Many of you will have heard of the Revised Common Lectionary, the ecumenical table of scripture lessons recommended for each Sunday’s worship service.  Each Sunday it has two selections from the book of Psalms, two from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the Gospels, and one from the other New Testament writings.  While United Church clergy are not duty-bound to use these readings, they always my starting point… and when I looked at the coming Sundays, I saw many of the scripture readings that are commonly used at funerals. A bit of an odd choice for July scriptures, I thought, but there they are: two weeks from now, Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” The week after that, Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life.. neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And this morning, this reading from Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I think back to my earliest days in rural ministry, when just about every funeral I conducted could have appropriately included these words from Matthew 11 as one of the readings:  women who had raised 5 to 10 children pretty much single handed, while also tending to all the expectations of housework, vegetable gardening and canning, and driving the grain truck at harvest… men who had served in World War II and had been rewarded with sandy, rocky scrip land to farm, which needed clearing by hand and produced a meager crop… people who had lived with chronic disease or long-standing injury for decades.  For people whose lives included such wearying burdens, it was no small thing to feel “seen” by a God who does not ignore or minimize the challenges. At their passing these words also brought comfort to those who mourn. Today we give thanks for God in Christ who intimately, ultimately and eternally receives us when this earthly journey is complete.

My mind also goes today, to those who are still in the midst of living difficult lives.  The 145th Psalm reminds us (verse 14) that God “upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.”  Though there is a tendency in some belief systems to view those who are doing well in the game of life as being “extra blessed” by God and those who struggle as, well, isolated from God’s blessings, that’s never been God’s understanding.  Those who fall – by circumstance or by choice – those who are bowed down, humbled or humiliated; those who are enslaved by their life conditions or limitations, repeatedly impacted by childhood trauma; those who are pushed down by judgmentalism, limited by underemployment or poor access to healthcare, good food and safe shelter – these ones are particularly cared for by God.  Their weariness from moonlighting at extra jobs to put food on the table, the heavy burdens they carry of illness or poverty or exclusion, are met with God’s loving care – and, we hope and pray, neighbours and governments and religious communities challenged by Christ to wade in with tangible assistance and systemic change.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” is not just about that eternal rest we looked at earlier, it’s also a statement by Jesus that rest for the weary is something that should be available to all, not just the affluent.

To go one step further on this, as we read of the war in Ukraine now reaching the 500 day mark… as we continue and intensify our five-year-long efforts to bring a refugee family of four from Nepal to Banff… as Indigenous Nations in this land wonder when the treaties of the 1870s will be honoured… as we watch the reproductive rights of women and the safety of queer folk being rolled back, state by state, nation by nation… we realize that any efforts we undertake in favour of peace and justice are essential, as our efforts are among the means Christ uses in bringing rest to the weary and relief to the heavily-burdened.

And my friend, Pastor Brian Stoffregen, opened me to another aspect of today’s gospel reading.  Brian, a retired Lutheran Pastor in Yuma, Arizona, writes a weekly commentary on the lectionary’s gospel reading, and his commentary this week reminded me that these words about the weary and burdened coming to Jesus to receive rest, are preceded with words about humility – admitting that we are not wiser than God – and are followed with the classic words, (Matthew 11: 29-30) “29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” He reminds me, from his Lutheran perspective, that while many of life’s burdens and weariness come from outside sources, there are also times when our pridefulness gets in the way of fully accepting God’s gracious gift of rest.

“Perhaps I’m too pessimistic” writes Brian Stoffregen, “but I believe that the power of sin is stronger than [our nation’s] great wisdom and intelligence. The human demand for and creative ways of producing and distributing illegal drugs will continue. Human fears and anger at others will continually rear its ugly head in violent and terroristic ways. Virus and bacteria seem to find ways to get around the cures we create to defeat them. We cannot stop death from happening.

“This is very similar to Step One of the Twelve-Step programs: ‘We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/drugs/etc. – that our lives had become unmanageable.’ …We must trust God to get us through.  [For addressing with our weariness and burdens] is not an “I can” experience, e.g., ‘I can do better’ or ‘I can try harder,’ but an ‘I can’t’ experience. ‘I can’t do any better.’ ‘I can’t try any harder.’ ‘I can’t do it.’ It’s admitting our helplessness and total dependence on God’s grace. It is dying to self, and being raised by God”.

Depending on what we’re carrying, then, seeking Christ’s relief of my burdens may include releasing the fantasy that I can control everything going on within me and around me, as master of my own destiny, separate from anyone else and most definitely apart from God.  Speaking personally, I can blow an entire day fretting about things well beyond my control, when I would be so much better off letting go of that over-functioning and instead leaning into Christ’s gifts: the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. (cf. the Serenity Prayer).  In many of our daily stressors, humbly releasing the reins is the way to find rest.

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, in reflecting on these words from Matthew: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”  We have considered their eternal consequences, for those whose earthly journey is done, and those who mourn their passing.   We have given thanks for the God who sees the plight of those who are truly burdened by life – individuals and nations – and our potential role in joining with God in providing support.  We have pondered what it would be to actually let go and let God – to really trust in the type of rest promised by Jesus, relief accessed by acknowledging Christ’s willingness to work with us. But rather than just leaving these as concepts, as a to-do list that might or might not make an impact an hour from now, I want to do one more thing with you.

However these words from Jesus have connected with you – “come to me, and I will give you rest” – I invite you to embody their truth in this brief exercise.  First, bring to mind whatever causes you fatigue or worry or pain – or whatever causes fatigue or worry or pain in the lives of those you love.   Pause with me, and take a deep breath in, as deep a breath as you can muster, hold it for a moment, and as you release the breath, imagine releasing that burden, as Jesus takes it on. Let’s do that a couple more times together: drawing in the breath of the Spirit, holding it for a moment, and letting go of whatever needs to be let go of.

And with that, we move forward in faith, love, and humble trust, giving thanks to Christ whose presence and guidance brings us hope, and light, and life.  Amen.

References cited:

Niebuhr, Reinhold.  “The Serenity Prayer”.  Cited at,if%20I%20surrender%20to%20Your

Stoffregen, Brian.  “Gospel Notes: Proper 9/Lectionary 14A”.

© 2023 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church.  Preached in Canmore.