Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bring Your Burdens to Christ: Matthew 11:25-30

Today I was honored to again have the opportunity to preach in the chapel at my school- Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The gospel passage from the daily lectionary today is Matthew 11:25-30 and the sermon I reference at the beginning of this one can be found here: http://www.thesquirrelfactor.com/2013/02/take-up-your-cross-this-seminary-gig-is.html.

Matthew 11:25-30
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[1]

The Word of the Lord is in our midst.

As I was preparing to preach on this passage, it occurred to me that the last time I preached in chapel this past spring, the passage was “Take up your cross and follow me” from Mark 8. I talked about how this following Jesus business is hard. And because God has a infinitely funny sense of humor, this morning the lectionary drops in my lap, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . .For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

So which is it? Is following Jesus hard or is it easy? Is the burden heavy or light? Do we rest or do we struggle?

Well. . . yes. All of the above.

Those of you who know me very well are probably not surprised that I struggle with this passage. I’m not exactly known for my ability to rest. Somehow the idea of the journey being hard is more appealing to me than the idea of rest.

But I’ve struggled with this passage for another reason too. It just seems so disjointed. There have been several of these difficult and seemingly scatter-shot passages from Matthew in the daily lectionary lately. After wrestling with a few of them, however, I’m increasingly convinced that they are actually very connected and cohesive.

Jesus begins today’s passage by warning his listeners that those who think they are wise are not always as smart as they think they are. This might be a hard pill to swallow for a room full of religious academics.

We are the spiritually adept – the ones who really know the Bible and church history and theology. Those of us in this room are the bright and shining future of the church. But Jesus says right here in Matthew 11 that he will reveal things to little children that are hidden from the wise.

About a year ago, my now 7 year old daughter schooled me big time.

She had been given a project at school to fashion paper medals for her parents based on their jobs. For my husband the software engineer, she made a computer shaped one. For me, she made a cross. On the cross was a stick figure with the word, “God” written above it. God was frowning. I had just been reading something in some class about the way children see God and that it’s reflected in drawings they make of God and how it affects or reflects their future faith and I totally freaked out.

“OH NO!” I thought frantically, “She sees God as grumpy and mean! We have taughter her God is a big frownie face!”

I asked Gloria why God was frowning, hoping I could begin a conversation about how God isn’t really grumpy and mean.

She very matter of factly replied, “Well you don’t think Jesus was smiling on the cross, do you?”

Praise the Lord that the gospel doesn’t rely on my cleverness in order to be heard! We don’t have to be wise in order to promote or understand the gospel.

I’m not advocating that we all drop out and close up shop here at the seminary. Clearly I find great value in theological education and in the seminary community. I wouldn’t be standing up here right now if I didn’t, but what a relief that Jesus can work wonders in spite of us and our own human wisdom. . .or lack thereof.
Jesus spent much of his time talking to people who were not considered wise or clever or educated. He didn’t just talk to the religious elite. In fact, he generally seemed pretty irritated by those who refused to admit they had any learning left to do.

It’s not about us or our ability to further or understand the gospel. Jesus does the revelation. We don’t have to be the smartest or the most well-read or the most energetic or the most anything. We just have to focus on Jesus and remember that he is the center of all of this.

If we are to help to further the gospel and Christ’s mission in the world, we would be wise to remember that we aren’t as wise as we think we are and that the unwise just may have a thing or two to teach us. We haven’t cornered the market on the revelation of Christ because were not the ones doing the revealing and if we are going to point to Jesus we should remember that he reveals himself to all sorts of people.

Jesus teaches us in our weakest moments. In those moments when we just can't fathom taking one more step, he reaches down and he offers us rest.

Christ teaches those who are weary and burdened. While some of us are more weary and burdened than others, the nature of this present world is that we are all tired at least sometimes. And it’s important to remember that the trials we face do not mean we don’t get to rest. They are what bring us real rest. Not rest like the world defines it- sleeping in every day and watching season after season of something on Netflix – but real rest – resting in Christ. Taking up a cross is difficult for certain, but it is by far the easier option in the long run.

C. S. Lewis says:
Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works the hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for the exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run.

Dallas Willard tells us that “Nondiscipleship (trying to manage our own burdens rather than taking up Christ’s yoke) costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10)”

Non-discipleship costs us this very rest that Jesus offers to teach us.

As part of our service today, we will be praying for peace- rest for this world. As you bring your burdens to Christ, listen to what he has to teach you. Approach with humility and acknowledgement that we cannot carry our burdens by our own devices. Take up Jesus' yoke. Rest in the knowledge that Christ’s is a different kind of rest -a rest- a peace- that passes all understanding.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 11:25–30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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