Lay your burdens down

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-30

16 "But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,  17 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;    we wailed, and you did not mourn.'  18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

20 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?    No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you."

25 At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.27All 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 you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Sermon

We all know how hard life can be. I think most people have times when they'd just like to throw in the towel; it all gets too hard.

There are a couple of ideas floating around which really don't help us when life is hard.

The first idea is that some people have life all together. They are living the dream. They don't have problems. Everything is easy for them. Why can't I have that? In fact, we can beat ourselves up over not doing the right thing to get there,

...   or we can drag ourselves down with resentment.

There can be a grain of truth in the idea that some people are more fortunate. Life is easier without arthritis ... than with arthritis. It helps a great deal ... to have enough money to pay your bills easily. And it's far better to live in a place  where you are not being abused.

But what I notice, is that some folk who live, or have lived,  in absolutely terrible circumstances, seem remarkably at peace. They even have a level of ... contentment. And other folk who have everything--  or so it seems--  are miserable.

A whole life... a good, peaceful, purposeful life, doesn't necessarily correlate with fortunate physical circumstances-- you have probably seen the magazine articles about how winning the lottery often does not make people happy.

The second unhelpful idea is that Jesus will take all our problems away. "Just follow Jesus and all your problems will cease." These claims come from the dodgy salesmen of the shonky church. "Come unto me all you who are heavy laden," they say, quietly ignoring the chapter before this one: "I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves ... brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against their parents and have them put to death."

Jesus does not take all our problems away!

But we do have those words about rest, don't we?

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.

They are true-- but what can do they mean? How do we understand them?

One way into Jesus' meaning is to consider what it means to be human.

We are all Homo sapiens. That's what makes us physically different from Felius catus, that other creature which thinks it is the Lord of the Universe.

But to be human, in the fuller sense, means to know pain; it means to see the shortcomings of the world. Being human ... means living with the knowledge that we are going to die. My daughter said to me, recently, that being human is the art of learning to die well. A human life is not easy.

What I'm saying is that if we want to have a care-free life, a life without burdens, we are asking to be less than human. We are asking to be free of the very gifts of feeling, and being, which mean we are made in the image of God.  To be god - like...  to live up to our image, and to be free, means to transcend pain, and overcome burdens, not to be without them. It means to use life's circumstances to grow, even while we seek healing and relief.

The short way of saying all this is to note that Jesus does not say, "I will take all your burdens away." Instead, he says his yoke, his way of living, is light. It is a rest for our souls in all the difficulty and challenge of life. There is a way of living... a discipline ... which lightens the burdens of life, and which begins to transcend them. There is a way of living which suits being, and becoming, ...  Human.

Reverend Professor Alice Mackenzie says

To be told we can lay down our burdens sounds so sweet until we realise that, in Jesus' eyes, many things we view as blessings are actually burdens.

These would include, both in his age and ours, judging others, viewing oneself as occupying a superior position to others and entitled to a more comfortable life with more material possessions, and making a vocation of excluding and avoiding the unclean and the sinner, those on the bottom rung of the social ladder.

To those who view these things as their birthright and most cherished possessions, to be required to divest themselves of them sounds like sacrifice. And it is. But it is on the way to a life of being forgiven, being refreshed, and being empowered to live with the humility, discernment, courage, and compassion ... that [lets us see life with new eyes.] (I have altered her phrasing for a verbal presentation.)

This way of living lets us lay down old burdens, and live life in a new, healing direction, where the burdens are a whole lot lighter and healthier. Where the burdens make ... and heal us.

You may have seen the little proverbs people put on their fridges, and on their Facebook pages:

It's not what's done to you that matters, but how you respond to it.

The cynic in me, wants to say that sort of thing gets said by people who have really big fridges, and who don't seem to have had too many bad things done to them. But then I meet the folk who have suffered most terribly, and yet seem to have avoided being destroyed by the pain. They inspire me. They challenge me most strongly: What have they seen, which lets them rise above the evil that's been done to them?

That's the heart of the question about life's burdens: How...  can we respond differently? How... can we find the energy, and the courage to change the way we live? How... can we see what Jesus sees?

Do you remember that in the text it says some folk who think they are wise and intelligent just don't see...  that it's hidden from them? And that other people see another way to live, another view of life? How does that work?

Rev Professor William Davies said about this text

Revelation does not come to all. It comes only to those who have prepared themselves to receive it.

It's a polite way of saying the rich get richer--  Jesus said something similar:

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have... even what they have will be taken from them. (Matthew 13: 12)

We see what God gives us, and we see the world with new eyes, when we live God's way.

God can, and God does, break into people's lives--  anyone's life. But unless we respond, unless we give ourselves to the way Jesus showed us, we won't see and experience the lightness of being he promises.

It's not that God refuses to give us these things. It's just that:
if we insist on carrying our bitterness instead of laying it down;
if we won't let go of our anger about the things done to us, or the things that didn't work out;
f we insist that it has to be done our way;
if we insist on being comfortable and having certain possessions, or we won't be satisfied;
all these things blind us to what Jesus shows us and to the rest which God offers us.

These things get in the way of seeing and receiving the healing of God.

And the longer we hold on, the more we risk losing the things we have seen.

It can be that  life closes in around us.   You know how we can think ourselves into a dark mood?     Well, we can do that to our life: even what we have can be taken away from us.

Lay down your burdens.
Forgive.
Take up the burden of loving and caring.
Struggle with the discipline of not grumbling, and bitching, and gossiping.
Help the unlovely.

Shouldering this yoke, enables us to see life in new ways.

It even lets us be able to let go of the hurts which seem impossible to ever let go!

And we begin to find there is a surprising, transcendent freedom in life-- a lightness of being--  in which we find our humanity is altogether more splendid --- and more glorious ---  than we ever hoped for.

Amen


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